Civil Rights and Human
Rights in the Obama Era
The Convention for the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
June 24, 2010
The U.S. Social Forum
I. What is the CERD?
II. CERD in Action – How CERD
III. Why is CERD Important to
social and racial justice
I. What is the CERD?
(C)onvention on the
(E)limination of All Forms of
What is the CERD?
Multilateral treaty negotiated through the
UN in early 1960s
Adopted & opened for signature and
ratification by UN General Assembly
Entered into force January, 1969
US signed in1966, and ratified in 1994
Article 1 Defines Racial
What is Discrimination
CERD? Article 2 Prohibits Discrimination
•Seven main Affirmative Measures to
articles in CERD Address Disc.
•US reserved to Article 3 Racial
Article 4 and 7 on Condemned
1st Amendment Article 4* Hate Propaganda
•Article 8-16 Article 5 Enumeration of
Establishes CERD including health care
Committee and and housing
Reporting Process Article 6 Effective legal
•US says treaty is Remedies Provided
not ‘self-executing’ Article 7* Promote Human Rights
Education and Combat
“The term ‘racial discrimination’ shall mean any
distinction , exclusion, restriction or preference
based on race… which has the purpose or effect of
nullifying or impairing…the enjoyment of human
CERD is unequivocal: Effects matter.
Racial discrimination includes facially neutral
policies and practices that have an unintended
negative effect on a racial group.
Intent to discriminate is not necessary.
Other Components of
Creates Affirmative Obligation requiring
Govts. to pro-actively identify and remedy
racial discrimination in law and policies
Requires “Special Measures (Art. 2, ¶ 2)
Requires data collection and evaluation
by race to measure discriminatory impact
Requires countries to report to the CERD
Committee on their progress
II. CERD in Action
How CERD affects the USA and
How NGOs use CERD
1) State Party files Periodic Report
2) CERD Committee accepts reports from
activists and NGOs (Shadow Reports)
3) CERD Committee questions state
4) CERD Committee issues “Concluding
Periodic Reporting Process:
1) State parties submit reports on CERD
implementation one year after entering
2) State Parties thereafter submit reports
every two years and as requested
The United States has submitted an Initial
Report (2000) and a Periodic Report
(2007) as well as a follow up Report
2007 US Periodic Report
Submitted by the Bush Administration
Outlined policies and practices that are in
compliance with the CERD.
Did not address how the country falls
short and reiterated our reservations to
hate speech and hate group
NGOs: CERD Shadow
A shadow report is information submitted by
NGOs to the treaty monitoring bodies that
addresses omissions, deficiencies, or
inaccuracies in the official government reports.
This is one way for NGOs to get the attention
of the United States.
The USA is obligated to answer questions
based in part on the information in Shadow
Shadow Reports to the 2007
In 2008, Kirwan & over 200 other groups
submitted a shadow report to the UN,
detailing where the US has fallen behind
on commitment to CERD
Kirwan was part of the Structural Racism
Report, first report in 500 page total
Structural Racism Shadow
Kirwan and other groups attacked:
The intent doctrine of the 14th Amendment
US failure to review and correct policies that
perpetuate racialized disparities
US failure to enhance government
coordination with states, using the Katrina
fallout as an example.
• The United States was questioned on its
CERD Committee Response:
CERD committee requested
that the US report back on
racial profiling at the federal and state levels
life sentence without parole against persons under the
age of eighteen
return of persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina
Public awareness and education programs on the
Convention and its provisions.
US 2009 Report Back
Bush Administration response shortly
before Obama took office.
Reiterated the information in the 2007
Report and defended its record of civil
rights and protections as all in
accordance with US Law.
CERD letter Sept. 2009
Reiterated the need to end racial
profiling, address racialized disparities,
and addressed the committee’s concern
over the slow progress of the United
What’s the Use of CERD?
No “teeth” to CERD. Can’t sue under it,
can’t enforce it?
Basically, CERD can be used as a way
for NGOs to put the government and the
world on notice of its human rights and
civil rights abuses. While there was no
movement in 2007, a more responsive
administration might move to action.
Obama Administration and
In 2009, Obama Administration decided
not to go to the CERD Durban
There was some movement by the
Justice Department to have CERD
meetings in early March 2010, but the
meetings have been postponed.
III. Why is CERD
Why is CERD Important?
US HAS Ratified US has signed, but NOT Ratified
International Covenant on Civil and International Covenant on Economic,
Political Rights (ICCPR) Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
ICERD Convention on the Elimination of all
forms of Discrimination Against
Convention against Torture (CAT) Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention on the Protection of the
Rights of all Migrant Workers and
Members of their Families
Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities (CRPD)
American Convention on Human
Why is CERD Important?
Exposure and Shaming
Framing Issue as Human Rights Issue
Use shadow reporting to elevate your issues
Using shadow reporting to implement cerd at
local level, with city and state govt.
Legal Advocacy Given Limited Domestic
Higher Standards than Domestic Law
Using Shadow Reports as an Organizing
Select an issue
Collect information, organize meetings
Collaborate with other organizations
Draft a shadow report
Testify at Congressional Hearings
Meet with/Submit questions to CERD
Frame as “Human Rights”
Sometimes issues feel like ‘old news’
even when important
Framed as ‘human rights’ issue, CERD
allows you to create public record of legal
Draw media attention
Supreme Court often cites International
Justice Ginsberg, concurrence in Grutter v.
Bollinger, citing CERD twice
Justice Kennedy in Roper v. Simmons, citing
ICCPR, American Convention on Human
Rights, and Convention on the Rights of the
Cite in Briefs and as Amici
State and Local Action
Pennsylvania state representatives held
hearings on CERD
Massachusetts Human Rights Bill would
implement CERD, CEDAW and CRC
Cook County resolution recognizing
CERD and CESCR right to housing
California adopted CERD definition into
state statutory law
Next Periodic Reports
7th through 9th due November 20th, 2011.
Universal Periodic Review:
New UN mechanism that reviews all
countries based on ratified treaties and UN
Charter/Declaration of HR
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