Round-up of Session

23 March 2001


(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 23 March (UN Information Service) -- The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning concluded its fifty-eighth session, after examining reports on efforts by the Governments of Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Portugal and the Sudan to implement the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Further, the Committee examined the situation of the implementation of the Convention in the Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Togo, whose periodic reports were seriously overdue.

The Committee, the first body created by the United Nations to review actions by States in fulfilling their obligations under a specific human rights agreement, held question-and-answer sessions with government delegations from the presenting countries. All 157 States parties to the Convention are required to submit periodic reports to the Committee, which consists of 18 experts.

During its three-week session, the Committee experts also spoke extensively about the World Conference against Racism, which will be held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who will be acting as the Secretary-General of the World Conference, briefed the Committee about preparations for the gathering. Since the Millennium Summit was held last September, five new countries signed the Convention, bringing the total to 157, she said.

Further, three new countries made the declaration under article 14 of the Convention, which recognizes the Committee's competence to receive and review complaints from individuals about violations of the treaty. Mrs. Robinson also said she had sent letters to all heads of government of countries that had not ratified the Convention or made the article 14 declaration, urging them to do so. In closed meetings during the session, the Committee experts dealt with communications received from individuals or groups of individuals who claimed that their rights under the Convention had been violated by a State party and who had exhausted all available domestic remedies. So far, 30 State parties have made the declaration under article 14.

The Committee's fifty-ninth session will be held from 30 July to 17 August at the Palais Wilson in Geneva. At the three-week session, Committee experts will examine periodic reports from Cyprus, Viet Nam, Ukraine, Italy, Morocco, Sri Lanka, United States, China, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Country Reports


On the fifteenth report of Argentina, which was presented to the Committee on 6 and 7 March, the Committee noted, among positive aspects, the measures taken by Argentina to strengthen the National Institute to Combat Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI); the activities of the Institute, such as organizing training seminars for primary and secondary schoolteachers to embrace pluralism, training courses for law enforcement officials, publicity campaigns in the media, and the establishment of a mechanism to receive complaints and take action thereon by mediating and intervening in the courts; the measures designed to give greater autonomy to the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs, to build its capacity and to elaborate a national plan for indigenous peoples; and the recent ratification of the Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO Convention No 169).

Among the concerns, the Committee noted the absence in the periodic report of detailed information concerning the representation of indigenous peoples in the civil service at the federal and provincial level, in the police and judicial systems and in Congress; the State party's statement that the territories where indigenous peoples had settled coincide with the areas with the highest index of unmet basic needs, and that the poverty and unemployment indices among indigenous populations and other vulnerable groups had risen as a result of the economic crisis; there were still situations where consultation with indigenous peoples to participate in decisions which affected them did not occur; and the difficulties that arose in some cases of transferring estate land to indigenous peoples due, primarily, to the existence of individual title deeds and to the conflict of jurisdiction between national and provincial governments.

The Committee recommended that, in the courses and seminars organized to provide human rights education for members of the police, armed forces, immigration and prison officials, particular attention should be given to the dissemination and implementation of the Convention; and that steps be taken to address the difficulties INADI was experiencing in covering the entire national territory with regard to receiving and handling complaints of racial discrimination.


On the fifteenth and sixteenth reports of Iceland, which were presented to the Committee on 7 March, the Committee noted as positive aspects Iceland's efforts with regard to the prevention of ethnic discrimination and to ensure equal rights and protection from discrimination for the growing immigration and foreign-born population; the 1995 amendment of the Constitution that provided extensive additions to human rights provisions; the publishing of its reports and the concluding observations of the Committee on the Internet home page of the Ministry of Justice, and for their distribution to the media which facilitated and stimulated growing public interest and debate on human rights issues; and the introduction of new curricula for nursery and primary school levels, with increased attention to the role of schools in facilitating the integration of children from different cultural backgrounds without the loss of their ties to their own culture.

The Committee acknowledged the more favourable treatment received under the naturalization laws in cases where the applicant was stateless. It also noted that Icelandic nationality was lost by persons who acquired another nationality by their own application, while dual citizenship was allowed for foreign nationals who acquired Icelandic citizenship.

The Committee recommended that Iceland investigate fully the possible existence of associations advocating racial discrimination and take appropriate action; that Iceland ensure that the provisions of the Convention were fully reflected in existing legislation; that Iceland review carefully the allegations of racial insults and threats suffered by immigrants, and that it consider additional ways in which the formulation of formal complaints in any such cases should be encouraged.


On the initial and second periodic reports of Japan, which were presented to the Committee on 8 March, the Committee noted, among positive aspects, Japan's efforts to consult with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the preparation of its reports; the legislative and administrative efforts made by the State party in order to promote the human rights and the economic, social and cultural development of some ethnic and national minorities; the recent jurisprudence recognizing the Ainu people as a minority people with the right to enjoy their unique culture; the efforts made to raise awareness about existing human rights standards, particularly the publication of the full texts of fundamental human rights treaties on the Web site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Convention; and the similar dissemination of the State party's reports on the implementation of treaties and the concluding observations of the respective United Nations monitoring bodies.

Referring to areas of concern, the Committee noted with concern that the provisions of the Convention had rarely been applied by national courts; that the only provision in the legislation of Japan relevant to the Convention was Article 14 of the Constitution; that racial discrimination as such was not explicitly and adequately penalized in criminal law; statements of discriminatory character made by high-level public officials and, in particular, the lack of administrative or legal action taken by the authorities; discrimination affecting the Korean minority; and that elementary and lower secondary education of children of foreign nationality in Japan was not compulsory.

The Committee recommended that the Government take more resolute measures to prevent and counter acts of discrimination against the Korean minority; the Government train public officials, law enforcement officers and administrators with a view to combat prejudices which lead to racial discrimination; that Japan ensure the protection against discrimination and the full enjoyment of the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights contained in article 5 of the Convention; that steps be taken to further promote the right of the Ainu as indigenous people; that the necessary measures be taken to prevent and abolish the practice of Koreans who are seeking Japanese nationality who feel obliged to change their names to a Japanese-style name; and that necessary measures be taken to ensure equal entitlement of all refugees, and that all asylum-seekers were ensured of the right to an adequate standard of living and medical care.


On Algeria, which presented its thirteenth and fourteenth reports on 9 March, the Committee, citing positive aspects, noted that Algeria had made a declaration under article 14 of the Convention recognizing the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from individuals or groups of individuals; the fact that international instruments that had been ratified and promulgated by the State party, including the Convention, formed part of and took precedence over norms of the State party's domestic law, and could be invoked directly before the Courts; the ongoing reforms with regard to the administration of justice and the setting up of a national commission for the reform of the justice system; the announcement by the delegation of the forthcoming establishment of a new National Advisory Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights; the initiatives taken by the Government in the area of human rights education; the recognition in the Algerian Constitution of the Islamic, Arab and Amazigh components of Algerian identity, and further, the efforts to introduce the teaching of the Amazigh language in schools.

The Committee noted that it was concerned about absence of statistical data on the ethnic composition of Algerian society; about the Law on the Generalization of the Arabic Language, which prohibits the use of languages other than Arabic in various fields; about the inadequate provisions in domestic legislation to address diverse aspects of racial discrimination; about Algeria's failure to comply fully with all requirements of article 4 of the Convention; and about the inadequate functioning of the High Commission on Amazighness.

The Committee recommended that Algeria provide information on the composition of the population; consider incorporating in its domestic legislation a prohibition of racial discrimination; provide detailed information on the application of the provisions of article 5 to the nomadic groups in the next report; and that the next periodic report contain all available information on complaints and court cases relating to racial discrimination, and also information on the right of individuals to see adequate reparation for any damage suffered as a result of such discrimination.


On Portugal, which presented its ninth periodic report on 12 and 13 March, the Committee cited, among the positive aspects, the enactment of a new law modifying the regulations on the entry, stay and departure of foreigners with a view to introducing penal legislation in Portugal against the illegal trafficking of migrant workers, as well as an enlarged definition of the beneficiaries of family reunification; enactment of a 1999 law and a corresponding 2000 law prohibiting discrimination in the exercise of rights on grounds of race, colour, nationality or ethnic origin, which contained a non-exhaustive list of discriminatory practices and provided for administrative sanctions for conduct falling under that list; the establishment of the Commission for Equality and against Racial Discrimination; the establishment of the Consultative Council on questions of immigration and the participation in it of representatives of immigrant associations; and the information provided by Portugal about the sentences handed down by the competent courts in the case of the demolition of gypsy dwellings in Vila Verde.

Listing areas of concern, the Committee noted the lack of detailed information in the periodic report about the number of complaints of racial discrimination brought before the Portuguese courts, as well as the corresponding decisions, and recommended that the next report include information in this respect; discrimination against illegal migrant workers in some industrial and services sectors; and that the report did not contain detailed information about the effective enjoyment by ethnic groups, including refugees, foreign workers, Gypsies and citizens who obtained Portuguese nationality after independence of former colonies, of the rights contained in article 5 of the Convention.

The Committee recommended that authorities continue to monitor incidents of racial discrimination and take appropriate steps to deal with them; take measures to ensure that discrimination against illegal migrant workers in some industrial and service sectors comes to an end and that the principle of equality among all workers was fully respected; Portugal take measures to inform the population in general, and the most vulnerable groups in particular, about the possibility of bringing complaints before the Commission for Equality and against Racial Discrimination; and that, in its next periodic report, Portugal provide information on the demographic composition of the population, in accordance with paragraph 8 of the Committee's reporting guidelines.


On Germany, which presented its fifteenth periodic report on 13 and 14 March, the Committee, listing positive aspects, noted recent developments that had taken place in the field of human rights; that since Germany's previous report, additional extreme right-wing associations had been banned; the efforts made by the Government, as well as by the Federal Council and the Federal Parliament, to bring the important and delicate issue of constitutionality of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) before the German Constitutional Court; that measures taken by Germany in order to combat racial propaganda were effectively implemented, leading to the conviction by the judicial authorities of approximately 900 people during 1998; the establishment of three new special programmes aimed at combating racism and xenophobia among young people; and the establishment of the foundation for the compensation of persons to forced labour.

Referring to areas of concern, the Committee listed repeated reports of racist incidents in police stations, as well as ill-treatment inflicted by law enforcement officials on foreigners, including asylum-seekers and German nationals of foreign origin; the fact that Germany had not made the declaration provided for in article 14 of the Convention; and the increase in 2000 of racist-related incidents and xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes.

The Committee recommended that Germany reinforce its efforts to prevent and combat racial discrimination, including through further studies and research, in order to understand fully the reasons for the recent increase in racial violence and to devise appropriate measures; continue seeking solutions to tackle the problem of racist propaganda on the Internet; provide updated information on the number of persons of foreign origin in the police forces; provide updated information on the new draft anti-discrimination legislation in the field of both civil and labour law; and that it provide updated information on the numbers of persons who had been convicted following racist incidents.


On Sudan, which presented its ninth, tenth and eleventh periodic reports on 14 and 15 March, the Committee noted, among the positive aspects, Sudan's increasing willingness to cooperate with some of the United Nations bodies, international agencies and NGOs in the field of human rights, including on matters relating to racial discrimination; that international treaties ratified by the Sudan formed part of domestic law and the information that treaties took precedent over national legislation in case of conflict; the adoption by a national referendum of the 1998 Constitution; the efforts by all parties to implement the Khartoum Peace Agreement; and efforts to put into place a legislative framework, based on the common law system, to ensure the protection of constitutional rights and freedoms and in particular the 1998 amendment to the Criminal Act, making racial discrimination a specific crime.

As concerns, the Committee noted the lack of details in the report concerning the demographic composition of the population; continuous reports and allegations regarding the abduction by armed militia of primarily women and children belonging to different ethnic groups; the forced relocation of civilians from the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups in the Upper Nile region and reports that the relocations involved significant military force resulting in civilian casualties; and the large number of internally displaced communities within the territory of the Sudan due to the civil war and natural disasters.

The Committee recommended that the Sudan do everything in its power to achieve a peaceful settlement of the war, which undermined efforts of combating ethnic, racial and religious discrimination; provide in its next report full details on the composition of the population as requested in the reporting guidelines of the Committee; continue to establish a domestic legal order giving full effect to the provisions of the international conventions, and to ensure effective and equal protection remedies through the competent national tribunals and other State institutions against any acts of racial discrimination and related intolerances; and implement immediately effective measures to guarantee all Sudanese, without distinction based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, freedom of religion, opinion, expression and association, the right to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm, the right to study and communicate in a chosen language, and the right to enjoy their own culture without interference.


On Georgia, which presented its initial report on 15 and 16 March, the Committee noted, among the positive aspects, that Georgia had made important progress in the area of legislative reform; had ratified a large number of international and regional human rights instruments, which became an integral part of Georgia's domestic legislation and could be invoked directly before the courts; the creation of the Committee on Civil Integration, which dealt specifically with minority concerns; and the creation of human rights commissions in many local elective bodies.

Areas of concern for the Committee were the lack of information provided on measures for the effect ive implementation of the Convention; that racial segregation and apartheid were not expressly condemned as stipulated in the Convention; the failure of Parliament in 1994 to adopt a special law on national minorities; the legislation currently in force in Georgia did not fully cover the requirements of article 4 of the Convention; and the absence of provisions explicitly banning the advocacy of national, racial and religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, as well as propaganda and organizations.

The Committee recommended that Georgia continue to provide its utmost support for special legislation on minorities; that Georgia include in its next report statistics on cases where the relevant provisions of the Civil and Penal Code had been applied; take necessary measures to facilitate the return of Meskhetians and the acquisition of citizenship by them; provide additional information on the role, responsibilities and achievements of national institutions; and that Georgia widely distribute its reports and the concluding observations to the public.


On Greece, which presented its twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth periodic reports on 16 and 19 March, the Committee, citing positive aspects, noted the self-critical approach of Greece's reports, and by the commitment of Greece to the Convention; that since the submission of its last report, Greece had ratified a range of international human rights instruments, and had signed – although not yet ratified -- the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities; and the information provided in the report and by the delegation concerning the extent to which courts and other tribunals and administrative authorities give direct effect to the provisions of international human rights instruments in their decisions, and the attention given by courts to the case law of international judicial or quasi-judicial bodies when interpreting human rights instruments.

The Committee was concerned about Greece's characterization of the "Muslim minority of Western Thrace", notwithstanding its historical and legal origins within the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne on the grounds of consistency with the Convention.

The Committee recommended that Greece take note of its General Recommendation VIII on the right of each person to self-identification; build upon its educational programmes at all levels in order to counter negative stereotypes and promote the objectives of human rights and tolerance; pursue further its dialogue with representatives of the Roma, Pomak, Albanian and other linguistic minority populations, with a view to expanding as necessary the available range of multi-lingual educational programmes and policies; explore and implement appropriate remedies, including the possibility of reinstatement of citizenship, for the benefit of persons who had lost their citizenship in the past; and provide, in the next report, comprehensive demographic data disaggregated by race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin different from the majority or from other groups in the population.


On Bangladesh, which presented its seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh reports on 19 and 20 March, the Committee, citing positive aspects, noted affirmative action programmes undertaken to ensure the enjoyment of the rights contained in article 5 of the Convention by the socially and economically disadvantaged groups, in particular the tribal population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts; the signing of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, and the implementation of certain of its provisions; and the importance accorded by Bangladesh to the educational curriculum as a means to spread awareness of human rights among the population and, in particular, the emphasis given to the inclusion of human rights standards, as set out in the different United Nations Conventions.

Among the concerns noted by the Committee were the lack of details in the report on the demographic composition of the population; that racial discrimination as such was not explicitly and adequately prohibited and penalized in criminal law; reports of human rights violations by security forces present in the Chittagong Hill Tracts affecting the trial population, including reports of arbitrary arrests, detention, and ill-treatment; the slow progress in implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord; and the poor living conditions in the refugee camps for Rohingyas.

The Committee recommended that Bangladesh provide in its next report information on the composition of the population, in particular, the disaggregated information on the economic and social status of all ethnic, religious and tribal minorities, as well as their participation in public life; consider giving full effect to the provisions of article 4 of the Convention in its domestic legal order to ensure penalization of acts of racial discrimination; and implement effective measures to guarantee to all Bangladeshis, without distinction based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin, the right to security of person and protection by Bangladesh against violence or bodily harm.

Togo, Gambia, Sierra Leone

The Committee also reviewed the situation of the implementation of the Convention in Togo, Gambia and Sierra Leone. Togo had not filed a report with the Committee since 1981, Sierra Leone since 1974, and the Gambia since 1980. The Committee urged the three countries to file reports, and to avail themselves with the technical assistance programmes offered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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