The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was adopted in 1965 by the UN General Assembly, and entered into force in 1969. With 175 state parties as of 2014, CERD is one of the most widely ratified human rights treaties. The CERD defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and sets out state parties’ obligations to combat racial discrimination by, for instance:
In addition, the CERD establishes the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (“the Committee”), a group of 18 independent experts who meet twice a year in Geneva. This is the first UN human rights treaty body. The Committee provides guidance for and also monitors each state party’s compliance with the CERD by drafting general comments on the scope of the treaty obligations, convening thematic discussions regarding racial discrimination, and conducting reviews of state parties’ progress in implementing the treaty. The Committee may also issue decisions under its early warnings and urgent action procedures to prevent and limit serious patterns of racial discriminations, address escalating racial hatred and violence, and accept individual complaints and communications alleging a state party’s violation of rights under the Convention where that state has recognized the competence of the Committee for this purpose. As of mid-2014, China has not yet recognized the Committee’s competence to receive individual communications, and therefore the Committee may not accept individual complaints related to China.
To comply with the review process, each state party must submit a report to the Committee every two years on steps taken to implement the Convention, but, in practice, reports are often combined and reviewed every four or more years. To prepare for a state party’s review, the Committee designates one of its members as the “Country Rapporteur,” who takes the lead in drafting documents for and conducting the state party’s review. One such document is the “list of themes,” which provides a non-exhaustive list of topics that should be raised during the interactive dialogue session of the review. Unlike the list of issues employed by other treaty bodies, the list of themes does not require that the state party provide written responses prior to the dialogue, but rather serves as a guide for the discussion. After considering all the materials, the Committee conducts a review of the state party in the form of an interactive dialogue with representatives of the state party. Following the review, the Committee adopts concluding observations, which include final remarks and recommendations from the review, and may request that the state party submit a follow-up report or information on select areas.
Through the review process, civil society members can provide input to the Committee at various points by submitting reports, making oral statements, and organizing side events and briefings for Committee members. The Committee also encourages state parties to consult and incorporate information from civil society members in their national reports and follow-up procedures, and requires that the concluding observations are widely disseminated following the review. In addition to information from civil society members, the Committee also considers that from other stakeholders such as national human rights institutes.
China ratified the CERD in 1981.
When states become parties to international treaties, they are permitted to do so with reservations, understandings, or declarations, which clarify the states’ interpretation of certain provisions, or change the state’s rights and obligations under the treaty. To be valid, any such conditions cannot contradict the purpose of the treaty itself. At the time of ratification, China declared that it would not consider itself bound by article 22, which states:
Any dispute between two or more State Parties with respect to the interpretation or application of this Convention, which is not settled by negotiation or by the procedures expressly provided for in this Convention, shall, at the request of any of the parties to the dispute, be referred to the International Court of Justice for decision, unless the disputants agree to another mode of settlement.
Since its ratification of CERD, China has been reviewed by the Committee six times. Its next review is yet to be scheduled. See side bar for official documents and HRIC contributions related to China’s CERD reviews.
Combined Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Review (2009)
Combined Eighth and Ninth Review (2001)
Combined Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Review (1996)
Combined Third and Fourth Review (1990)
Second Review (1986)
Initial Review (1983)