The United Nations has a committee dedicated to fighting racial discrimination. But civil society organizations don’t always take full advantage of it.

Race & Equality recently published a report on the work of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the UN body in charge of overseeing the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, an international treaty ratified by every country in the Americas.

Across the region, governments have stated their commitment to combating racism and discrimination. These include the five countries in which we work: Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Peru.

But to reach its full potential, the Committee must overcome a number of challenges. First, CERD’s mission relies on greater engagement by citizens and organizations on the front lines. Second, greater efforts must be made to ensure governments take into account CERD recommendations on improving laws and policies to combat discrimination.

At Race & Equality we believe that greater participation by civil society in the Committee’s work is key. And a more effective Committee means more concrete actions by governments to reduce discrimination in the region.

Here are 5 ways you or your organization can become more involved in the Committee’s work.

1. Read Up!

For a better understanding of what CERD does, the Committee’s website is the place to start. It has general information about CERD’s work, its membership and how activists can use the Committee. More importantly, it also holds the archives of all documentation produced through the Committee’s work, searchable by country or session, including reports governments have submitted to the Committee, “alternative” reports submitted by non-governmental organizations, and the Committee’s recommendations to each country after its review. Bookmark it!

2. Know the Committee’s Calendar!

While we think it’s important to keep up with the Committee’s work year-round, year after year, there are key points when a more active participation is crucial, especially once a government has submitted a report to the Committee. CERD publishes on its website the dates of its sessions at least six months in advance, and it lists countries who have submitted reports but have not yet been scheduled for review. Keeping up with the Committee’s calendar will help your organization know when your country will be reviewed and better include CERD in its strategic planning.

3. Send the Committee Information!

After a government has submitted a report, people and organizations can submit “alternative” or “shadow” reports. There’s no set formula for the content or length of these reports, but they should include up-to-date, relevant information about situations relating to discrimination or groups that suffer from it, and—ideally—they should reference rights guaranteed by the Convention. While informing the Committee prior to its review of your country is important, information can be sent to the Committee at any time. This can include follow-up information (one year after the review) or information on specific, urgent situations that require the Committee’s immediate attention.

4. Apply for Funds to Attend CERD Sessions!

Traveling to Geneva is expensive, and most organizations face tough budgeting decisions. But incorporating CERD into your organization’s strategic planning and actively seeking funds for travel to Geneva can make advocacy at the UN an attainable goal. Every person we spoke to in our research said attending the sessions made a lasting, positive impact on their work, raising their organization’s profile and increasing its legitimacy with their government. A concerted effort to attend the sessions can have a big payoff!

5. Promote the Committee’s Recommendations!

After each country review, the Committee makes recommendations to the government about how it can better fight discrimination. When we argue that a certain policy should be adopted, noting that CERD has made a similar recommendation gives our claim greater legitimacy and support. We should make every effort to use CERD’s own recommendations to support our agenda and remind our governments when they fall short of their promises.

CERD can make a difference, but it’s up to all of us to take advantage of the Committee’s work and incorporate it into our strategic planning. Please include a comment below if you have other tips for engaging with the Committee or if you’d like more information about how to get involved in CERD’s work.


About The Author

Dominic Procopio – Program Officer at the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

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