International Human Rights Law

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)

I. Introduction🔗

The prohibition against racial discrimination is fundamental and deeply entrenched in international law. It has been recognized as having the exceptional character of jus cogens which creates obligations erga omnes, an obligation from which no derogation is acceptable.

Gay McDougall, CERD Vice-Chair (2018-19)1

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) ‘is the centerpiece of the international regime for the protection and enforcement of the right against racial discrimination’. It was adopted in the 1965 and entered into force in 1969.2 The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) monitors States’ compliance with the treaty.3

Note to reader
For an explanation of the Committee’s powers and other international legal mechanisms that may be available to enforce a State’s obligations under the ICERD, please consult the “Ratification and Enforcement of Treaties” chapter, “International Human Rights Law” section.

I.1 CRSV under the ICERD🔗

Under article 1, ‘racial discrimination’ means ‘any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin’ which denies the recognition or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any field of public life.

In some cases, racial discrimination ‘only or primarily affects women, or affects women in a different way, or to a different degree than men’. It ‘may be directed towards women specifically because of their gender’ and encompasses ‘sexual violence committed against women members of particular racial or ethnic groups in detention or during armed conflict’. Racial discrimination may have consequences that affect only or primarily women, ‘such as pregnancy resulting from racial bias-motivated rape’.4 Importantly, ‘women from minority backgrounds and immigrant women remain more likely to experience violence than women in the general population’.5

However, sexual violence, as prohibited under the ICERD, does not affect only women, as the CERD has more recently emphasised (see obligation III.6).

Note to reader
In this subchapter, CRSV refers to sexual violence that affects only groups that may be subjected to racial discrimination.

Sexual violence need not be conflict-related for the ICERD to apply. While armed conflict may severely restrict a State’s control over parts of its territory and, as a result, limit a State’s ability to ensure the full application of the ICERD, the ICERD remains applicable. A State still ‘bears the primary responsibility to protect all persons on its territory without discrimination in accordance with the Convention’ during conflict.6

II. Legal Framework🔗

Note to reader
On the authoritativeness and the question of bindingness of the Committee’s work, consult the “International Human Rights Law” chapter, “Introduction” section, and the “Introduction” chapter, “Methodology” section.

III. Obligations🔗


III.1 States must criminalise CRSV🔗

III.2 States’ obligations under the ICERD must be fulfilled both within and outside their territory🔗

III.3 States must address CRSV committed by non-State actors🔗

III.4 Decentralisation of power does not negate or reduce States’ obligations under the ICERD🔗

III.5 States should allow individuals who face racial discrimination to participate in the eradication of CRSV🔗

III.6 Special protection against CRSV is owed to individuals facing multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination🔗

III.7 Special protection against CRSV is owed to migrants🔗

III.8 States must educate their population on CRSV🔗

III.9 States should collaborate with other actors to eliminate CRSV🔗

III.10 States should establish national human rights mechanisms to help them eliminate CRSV🔗

III.11 States should ratify other instruments of international law to eliminate CRSV🔗

III.12 States should report on the measures adopted to eliminate CRSV to the Committee🔗

Justice and Accountability🔗

III.13 States must investigate and prosecute CRSV🔗

III.14 States must provide victims/survivors of CRSV with access to justice🔗

Humanitarian Response🔗

III.15 States must provide victims/survivors of CRSV with appropriate care🔗


III.16 States must provide victims/survivors of CRSV with redress🔗


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