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Statement by The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

The 20th anniversary of the World Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 8 September 2001 and of the outcome document, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), comes at a time of increased racial discrimination, especially in the wake of the murder of African-American George Floyd, the globalization of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Covid-19 pandemic, which disproportionally affects individuals and groups who are marginalized and vulnerable to racial discrimination, perpetuates existing structures of racial injustice and has led to new instances of racial discrimination and racial injustice, in particular with regard to the uneven distribution of vaccines within and among States.

Within this environment, and on the occasion of the DDPA’s 20th anniversary, CERD renews its commitment, continuously expressed since the adoption of the DDPA in 2001, to the principles expressed in the DDPA; and urges States to implement its recommendations.  In conjunction with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the DDPA presents an effective United Nations framework for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.

The 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (W-CAR) held in Durban, South Africa, was a momentous global effort to address the scourge of racism and to recommit the international community’s resolve and humanity to creating just and fair societies free of racial discrimination. The resulting Declaration, the DDPA, firmly held that racial discrimination constitutes a serious obstacle to, and violation of, human rights, in its inherent denial of the self-evident truth that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Establishing that racism is among the root causes of both internal and international conflicts, the DDPA implored the world’s leaders to commit to greater understanding, tolerance, and respect for diversity in a search for peace and reconciliation among nations and peoples.

Recognizing the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s (CERD) ongoing fight against racial discrimination, the DDPA called for universal accession to, and full implementation of, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) as the principal international instrument to eliminate racism and related intolerance. Today, twenty years later and more than halfway through the International Decade for People of African Descent (Decade), the ICERD boasts 182 States Parties and three Signatories, 95 percent of the world’s independent nations.

The Committee urges member States to uphold the shared principles of the DDPA and ICERD, including:

  • Eliminating all forms of racial discrimination on protected grounds;
  • Strengthening domestic legislation to promote the human rights of victims of racism and racial discrimination, including ethnic and national minorities;
  • Increasing access to justice;
  • Formally sanctioning racist hate speech;
  • Educating and training police in anti-racist principles and methods; and
  • Disaggregating data collection for clear accountability.

But CERD has also taken additional measures over the past two decades to endorse and promote DDPA-specific guidance.

CERD’s Follow-Up Actions Since 2001

Since 2001, CERD has joined other Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and UN Agencies and Mechanisms to hold States Parties accountable for implementing the DDPA. In its Sessional examination of States, CERD systematically asks States parties to inform the Committee about measures taken in light of the DDPA. A standard paragraph is included in all concluding observations, recommending that States Parties effectively implement into domestic law both the DDPA and the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference of 2009. The Committee has a representative on the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGEPAD), the mechanism established as a follow-up to the W-CAR to address racial discrimination against one of the world’s most marginalized groups; and CERD has held Thematic Debates on issues that align with the DDPA, including the situation of ethnic minorities.

Following the conclusion of the W-CAR in 2001, CERD adopted General Recommendation No. 28 to recognize the symbiotic relationship between the DDPA and the ICERD, and to establish an expectation for States Parties to periodically report specific steps toward implementation of the DRPP.

Again in 2009, as a follow-up to the Durban Review Conference, CERD adopted General Recommendation No. 33, encouraging:

  • Full and unreserved implementation of the ICERD, including Article 14 concerning individual remedy for violations of rights under the Convention;
  • Implementation of the DDPA in light of the Outcome Document of the Review Conference; and
  • Greater cooperation and coordination with NGOs and civil society in implementation and reporting.

Based on the DDPA’s overarching concern with the vulnerability of people of African Descent who still suffer from the legacies of colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and chattel slavery, CERD adopted General Recommendation No. 34 in 2011. Following a thematic discussion with States Parties, UN organs, specialized agencies, special rapporteurs, and NGOs regarding the International Year for People of African Descent, GR-34 clarified and intensified support for the fight against this discrimination, with special emphasis on rights regarding women, children, hate speech, racial violence, justice, citizenship, and education.

CERD added General Recommendation No. 36 in 2020, responding to the DDPA’s urging to design, implement, and enforce effective measures to eliminate racial profiling in policing. The Committee recognized that specific groups, such as migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, people of African descent, indigenous peoples, and national and ethnic minorities, including Roma, are most vulnerable to racial profiling.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, CERD Members have increasingly used opportunities created by virtual networking platforms to bring visibility to the GRs, and to participate in fora that focus on ways in which the pandemic has affected vulnerable groups championed in the DDPA. Committee Members have joined other Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and other UN mechanisms in issuing statements against racial profiling of people of African and Asian descent. CERD initiatives, informed by the intersectionality of the DDPA and ICERD, have had the effect of also further developing a number of DDPA issues.

CERD’s Continuing Commitment:

The mid-point of the International Decade for People of African Descent and the 20th anniversary of the DDPA are opportune moments for the international community and Member States to adopt a transformative agenda to uproot systemic racism using the Programme of Activities (Decade) and the Programme of Action (DDPA). To that end, CERD reaffirms its ongoing commitment to implementation of the DDPA, including support for:

  • The Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which reinforces the need to implement the DDPA, for relevant states to acknowledge responsibility for past wrongs and engage in reparatory justice actions;
  • The Permanent Forum for People of African Descent, which will provide another opportunity to implement the DDPA’s Programme of Action;
  • State Party cooperation with NGOs in implementing the DDPA at the national level;
  • Member States working toward peace while remaining vigilant against new manifestations of discrimination, especially xenophobia and Islamophobia;
  • National efforts to educate State institutions and mainstream populations about the DDPA as a comprehensive guide for combatting racism;
  • Treaty Bodies planning Thematic Debates to mark the 20th anniversary of the DDPA; and
  • Recognizing that colonialism has led to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, and that Africans and people of African descent, people of Asian descent, and Indigenous Peoples were victims of colonialism and continue to be victims of its consequences.