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International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
New York, 1966
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  This convention not only defines what racial discrimination is and condemns it—it also demands that countries change national laws and policies that create racial or perpetuate discrimination. It was the first human rights agreement that actually established an international system for monitoring its provisions; the fact that it provides national measures for advancing specific racial or ethnic groups who had been discriminated against is considered revolutionary.

  Because racial equality is one of the convention's main goals, it strives to achieve that goal not just de jure (in the law) but de facto (in reality), so that members of various ethnic, racial and national groups can enjoy the same social development. But because of long-time discrimination, not every racial or ethnic group can develop at the same pace as those who weren't discriminated against. Knowing this, the Convention points out that some groups may need special protection or assistance to be have a fair chance and it says that these measures aren't what some people call "reverse discrimination," as long as they're ended once equality has been achieved.

Key Provisions

  The Convention's definition of racial discrimination includes "indirect discrimination," meaning for example laws that may not sound like they favor one group to the disadvantage of another, but do have (or perpetuate) an unjust situation. However, it does not include distinctions made between citizens and non-citizens.

  Included in the Convention's long list of rights and freedoms which should not be blocked by racial discrimination are some rights not mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as:

  • the right to inherit
  • the right of access to any place or service intended for use by the general public
  • the right to work
  • the right to join trade unions
  • the right to housing

  Along with the establishment of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to monitor countries compliance with the terms, the Convention lays out three procedures:

  • all countries participating in the Convention must submit regular reports
  • one country may complain to or about another
  • a person (or group of people) claiming to be victims of racial discrimination may make a complaint against the country they argue is discriminating against them (although only if that country has accepted CERD's right to hear this kind of complaint).
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