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United Nations Reviews UK Race Law and Practice

The 1990 Trust

UN committee reviewing race equality in the UK gains fuller picture after NGO intervention

The key UN committee overseeing the elimination of racial discrimination (the UN Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – “CERD’) has spent two days ( 6th – 7th August 2003) reviewing the state of race equality in the UK. Under UN law the UK had been required to submit its biennial report (the sixteenth and seventeenth review).

The 1990 Trust organised a coalition of UK NGOs who worked for months before the meeting to prepare a joint submission as a shadow report and gathered in Geneva to present their report to the CERD committee on the situation of racism in the UK. At a briefing prior to the UK government’s presentation to CERD, UK NGOs presented their version of the progress and setbacks in the area of race equality. The NGO Shadow report was commended repeatedly by members of CERD and at times directly quoted. This report impacted directly on the questions raised by CERD to the UK Government delegation. The Danish representative on CERD commented:

“British Race Laws are more complicated than Danish Tax Law!”

This was the opinion expressed after consideration by the committee that there were approximately 30 different pieces of legislation necessary for a proper understanding of the law relating to race which included the new 2003 Race Regulations as supplementary to the Race Relations Amendment Act. Mr. Kjaerum asked why there had to be such complexity. This opinion is bound to influence the debate on a domestic Single Equality Bill. The UK delegation accepted that there was complexity, but stated that they were not convinced of the arguments for a Single Equality Bill. NGOs have argued strongly that calls for a single equalities body are premature while there is no Single Equalities Act or Human rights commission.

In the context of growing Islamophobia the UK Government also stated it was going to review the lack of protection against incitement to religious hatred. After pressure from CERD during questioning on the 6th August the UK delegation stated as above that further legislation was under consideration:

“We will explore the possibility of extending [the protection against religious discrimination] to cover goods and services”

Other key points suggested by NGOs and picked up by CERD included

  • The pressing need for a Human Rights Commission (the UK Government said it was considering a Human Rights function as part of a single equalities body)
  • The reasons behind the disproportional representation of Black and minority ethnic groups throughout the Criminal Justice System (under-representation in employment in the system, over-representation in Stop and Search and as accused and convicted persons, and treatment in the Prison service)
  • The need for political structures for the Chagos Islanders
  • The urgent need for more accurate information in relation to Gypsies and Travellers- this could have been achieved via a Census category specifically relating to Gypsies/Roma /Travellers.
  • The way in which in Anti -Terrorist legislation had impacted on minorities – specifically internment.
  • The urgent need for the proscription of racist organizations and effective prohibition on race hate speech and literature (the majority of committee members)
  • Repeal of the power of the Home Secretary to discriminate on the grounds of nationality and ethnic origins in the course of some immigration processes (section 19D of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000)
  • The need to work with NGOs on the follow up to the World Conference on Racism (Durban 2001)
  • The next report should give more analysis of statistics – for example on why racial attacks have risen (from committee member January Bardill from South Africa)

Overall the CERD urged the UK to reconsider the incorporation of the convention as a whole into domestic law and specifically the right of individual complaints to the CERD reflecting the practice in many other countries and supported by Lord Lester QC of Herne Hill.

The NGO coalition committed themselves in Geneva to operate as a monitoring group on the UK’s position in relation to implementing international instruments on race related Human Rights.

For more background information and to download the NGO Shadow Report, see article: Coalition of human rights groups challenge government report to UN Committee

For further information please contact Karen Chouhan Director 1990 Trust on +44 (0)790 358 1968 or Audrey Adams 1990 Trust on +44 (0)775 268 5777

The 1990 Trust is a national charity working on race equality. It worked to draw together other key NGOs concerned with race issues to develop a joint submission to the UNCERD. With a grant from Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, 14 representatives from the 24 organisations involved were able to attend the Geneva Convention meeting.

The organisations attending included representatives from Justice, Liberty, The Runnymede Trust, The Gypsy council Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit, Trans European Roma Federation Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, National Association of Citizen’s Advice Bureau (Black workers group). For others involved please contact the 1990 Trust.

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