Information Note - the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the periodic reporting process

Australia is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The Convention has been ratified by 170 nations (only the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women have been ratified by more nations).

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The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is established in Article 8(1) of the Convention to monitor the implementation of the Convention by its State parties(i).

The Committee is comprised of 18 independent experts who are nominated and elected by States Parties to CERD. Members(ii) serve as individuals as opposed to representatives of their country of origin. Committee members are elected for a four year term with elections taking place for half the membership at two year intervals.

The Committee meets in Geneva and normally holds two sessions per year consisting of three weeks each.

How the Committee monitors compliance

All States Parties (or States) are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how they are implementing the Convention. These are known as periodic reports. States must report initially one year after acceding to the Convention and then every two years.

The Committee also monitors the implementation of CERD through the additional three mechanisms:

  • The early warning/urgent action procedure is a process included in the Committee's regular agenda which aims to prevent potential violations of CERD from arising or turning into conflicts as well as to respond to problems requiring immediate attention to prevent or limit the scale or number of serious violations of CERD.(iii) Australia was placed under this procedure in 1998 in relation to amendments to the Native Title Act and other issues.
  • State-to-State complaints are complaints dealt with by the Committee where one State alleges that another State is not upholding its obligations under the CERD. To date, no State party has initiated such proceedings.
  • The Convention also includes an individual communications process. After exhausting domestic complaints procedures and legal avenues, individuals or groups may apply to have their complaint examined only if the State being complained about has accepted the optional complaints procedure under Article 14 of CERD.

Purpose of the periodic reporting process

The periodic reporting obligation is designed to assist each State party fulfil its obligation under the treaty, as well as provide a basis on which the Committee can discharge its responsibilities to monitor State parties' compliance.(iv) The purposes of the reporting process include:

  • ensuring that a comprehensive review is undertaken with respect to national legislation, administrative rules and procedures, and practices in an effort to ensure the fullest possible conformity with the treaty;
  • ensuring that the State party monitors the actual situation with respect to each of the rights on a regular basis and is thus aware of the extent to which the various rights are, or are not, being enjoyed by all individuals within its territory or under its jurisdiction;
  • providing the basis for the elaboration of clearly stated and carefully targeted policies, including the establishment of priorities which reflect the provisions of the treaty;
  • facilitating public scrutiny of government policies and encourage the involvement of the various sectors of society in the formulation, implementation and review of the relevant policies.
  • providing a basis on which the State party itself, as well as the Committee, can effectively evaluate the extent to which progress has been made towards the realization of the obligations contained in the treaty;
  • enabling the State party to develop a better understanding of the problems and shortcomings encountered in effort to realize the full range of rights recognised in the relevant treaty, and consequently to provide the framework within which more appropriate policies can be devised;
  • enabling the Committee, and the States Parties as a whole, to facilitate the exchange of information among States and to develop a better understanding of the common problems faced by States. This also assists in identifying the most appropriate means by which the international community might assist States through the provision of technical assistance.

Australia's 13th and 14th reports to the committee

The Australian government submitted its 13th and 14thperiodic reports to the Committee in 2004. The Committee will examine these reports at its February / March 2005 session.

Consideration of periodic reports by the Committee

The Committee considers the periodic reports of States Parties in its formal sessions. States Parties are invited to attend at a scheduled session and to engage in a dialogue with the Committee. The general process of the Committee is that a member is designated as the Country Rapporteur and will lead the questioning and consideration of the report. Other members may also ask questions.

Non-government organisations, individuals and national human rights institutions of the State being examined may make submissions to the Committee, although they have no status to participate in the formal processes of the Committee.

At the conclusion of the dialogue with the State, the Committee will develop 'concluding observations'. The concluding observations note the positive developments in the country in complying with the Convention, as well as areas of concern. It also makes recommendations to the country to improve its compliance with the obligations under the Convention. These observations and recommendations are not binding. They are provided to the country to assist them in complying with their obligations under ICERD.

Figure 1 below provides an overview of the periodic reporting process.

Figure 1: An overview of the Periodic Reporting Process (vi)

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Submissions to the Committee on the Australian periodic report

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has lodged a submission with the Committee in relation to the Australian periodic report. This submission provides information that has previously been brought to the attention of the Government and is submitted in accordance with the Commission's role as the principal mechanism for implementing the Convention in Australia.

A coalition of Non-government organisations have also made a submission to the Committee. Their submission is available online: Click here for the Australian NGO submission for the 13th and 14th session of the Committee.

Previous consideration of Australia by the Committee

Australia previously appeared before the Committee for consideration of its periodic reports in March 2000. The Committee's concluding observations and recommendations are available at:

A website has also been established to coordinate information from NGO organisations about the CERD process. See:

The Social Justice Report 2000 by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner provides an overview of the dialogue and concluding observations from 2000. It also addresses a number of misconceptions about the CERD periodic report process. It is available here: Social Justice Report 2000

Further information

  1. This is the terminology used to describe countries that are bound by the Convention.
  2. Current members of the Committee are: Mr Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr (Egypt), Mr Nourredine Amir (Algeria), Mr Regis de Gouttes (France), Mr Kurt Herndl (Austria), Mr Morten Kjaerum (Denmark), Mr Jose A Lindgren Alves (Brazil), Mr Agha Shahi (Pakistan), Mr Linos Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece), Mr Patrick Thornberry (United Kingdom and Northern Ireland), Mr Alexi Avtonomov (Russian Federation), Mr Ralph Boyd Jr (United States of America), Mr Jose Francisco Calitzay (Guatemala), Ms Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah (Burkina Faso), Ms Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill (South Africa), Mr Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai (India), Mr Tang Chengyuan (China), Mr Luis Valcenia Rodriguez (Ecuador) and Mr Mario Jorge Yutzus (Argentina).
  3. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Native Title Report 1999, HREOC, Sydney, 1999, p25.
  4. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2000, HREOC, Sydney, 2000, p36.
  5. See further: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2000, HREOC, Sydney, 2000, p36.
  6. Based on an overview of the reporting system as outlined in Bayefsky, A, How to Complain to the UN Human Rights Treaty System, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 2003, pp129-131.
Welcome to the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity CommissionHuman Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Website: About the Commission Last updated 18 February 2005.