What is CERD?
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1966 (CERD) (the Convention) was one of the first human rights treaties to be adopted by the United Nations. More than 156 countries (four-fifths of the membership of the UN) have ratified the Convention; including Australia, which ratified the Convention on 30 September 1975.
What is the CERD Committee?
To assist in giving effect to the Convention, an international committee was established to monitor each State’s compliance with CERD’s articles. This committee, known as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee), is made up of 18 independent experts from countries across the world. Every country which has ratified the Convention must submit a biennial report to the CERD on the legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures it has taken to give effect to the Convention. The CERD Committee meets in Geneva, Switzerland and ordinarily holds two sessions a year, each being 3 weeks in duration.
Australia and the CERD Committee
Each State’s government must also appear before the CERD in Geneva, where their report is examined, and suggestions and general recommendations are made for future actions.
The Australian Government submitted its last report to the Committee in February 2010. A copy of the Australian Government’s report can be found here - http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/cerds77.htm.
Australia appeared before the CERD Committee on 10 and 11 August 2010.
The Australian Government is currently preparing a new report to be submitted to the CERD Committee. Once this report has been received, the Government will again appear before the Committee.
What is the Commission's role?
As the country's national human rights institution, the Australian Human Rights Commission has an independent role in international treaty reporting. The Commission prepared an independent report for the CERD Committee, which outlines Australia’s progress against and compliance with the Convention.
Then Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, represented the Commission as part of the reporting process.
In the lead up to the CERD reporting process, Commissioner Innes engaged with relevant community organisations and relevant Australian non-Government Organisations (NGOs) to understand their key current issues in relation to racial inequality in Australia.
In his independent capacity, Commissioner Innes addressed members of the CERD Committee on 11 August 2010 with a ten minute statement based on the Australian Human Rights Commission's ICERD Report.
Based on the draft Government report once it is released, the Commission will prepare an independent report to be submitted alongside the Government’s biennial report. When the Australian Government comes before the CERD Committee the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, will represent the Commission.
What were the outcomes of Australia’s 2010 CERD appearance?
The Committee’s concluding observations involved a number of recommendations based on the information presented by the Australian Government and NGO’s. These included:
- drafting and adopting comprehensive legislation that provides entrenched protection against racial discrimination
- the appointment of a full-time Race Discrimination Commissioner
- the development and implementation of an updated comprehensive multicultural policy
- criminalizing the dissemination of racist ideas, incitement to racial hatred or discrimination
- continue to genuinely consult and engage with Aboriginal communities; and that Government actions that affect these communities respect Australia’s human rights obligations and conform with the Racial Discrimination Act
- increased resources for the new national approach to preserve indigenous languages
- increased funding for Aboriginal legal aid
- immediate action to review the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, identifying those which remain relevant with a view to their implementation
- reviewing the mandatory detention regime for asylum-seekers with a view to finding an alternative to detention
- removing of the suspension on processing visa applications from asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and ensure standardised asylum assessment procedures and equal entitlement to public services by all asylum-seekers, regardless of country of origin or mode of entry.
In late 2011, the Australian Government provided a follow up report to the CERD Committee on progress made since the 2010 reporting session. Dr Helen Szoke also sent the CERD Committee a parallel statement, which can be found here.