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    Round-up Press Release No: UNIS/HR/162
    Release Date: 28 August 2000
    Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination
    Concludes Fifty-seventh Session

    (Reissued as received.)
     
     

    GENEVA, 25 August (UN Information Service) -- The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning concluded its fifty-seventh session after examining reports on efforts by the Governments of Mauritius, Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Nepal, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Holy See, Norway, Uzbekistan and Ghana to implement the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

     The Committee, the first body created by the United Nations to review actions by States in fulfilling their obligations under a specific human-rights agreement, also held question-and-answer sessions with Government delegations from the above countries.  All 156 States parties to the Convention are required to submit periodic reports to the Committee which consists of 18 experts.

     In closed meetings during the session, the Committee experts dealt with communications received from individuals or groups of individuals who claimed that their rights under the Convention had been violated by a State party and who had exhausted all available domestic remedies.  So far, 30 States parties have recognized the competence of the Committee to consider such communications under article 14 of the Convention.

     Also over the course of its current session, the Committee held a two-day thematic discussion on the issue of discrimination against the Roma people, focusing on the need for equality and preservation of their identity.

    In its general recommendation, it called upon States parties to adopt and implement national strategies and programmes and to express determined political will and moral leadership, with a view to improving the situation of Roma and protecting them against discrimination by State bodies or persons and organizations.

     The Committee also recommended, among other things, that measures be taken to acknowledge "wrongs" done during the Second World War to Roma communities by deportation and extermination, and to consider ways of compensating them.

     Another topic which was discussed by the Committee this session was preparations for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and All Forms of Discrimination, which will be held in South Africa in 2001.

     The Committee had decided to hold its fifty-eighth session, from 8 to 26 January 2001, in New York, if the General Assembly agreed to.  The Committee cited concerns that smaller countries filing reports under the Convention often found it difficult to send delegations to Geneva.  It had also suggested to the General Assembly that the Committee hold its summer 2001 session in South Africa, where the World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination would be held during the same period. 

     At its fifty-eighth session, which will be held from 8 to 26 January 2000, tentatively in New York, the Committee is expected to examine the reports of Iceland, Argentina, Portugal, Bangladesh, Greece, Sudan, Ecuador, Algeria, Georgia, Germany, Viet Nam and Austria.  There was a possibility that the reports of Ukraine, Italy and Morocco might also be examined.

    Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Country Reports Finland

     The Committee noted as positive aspects the legislative measures adopted by the Government of Finland with the view to combat racial discrimination, including the new Constitution, the new Act on the Integration of Immigrants and Reception of Asylum Seekers and the Personal Act, among others; it welcomed the efforts made by Finland to establish an institutionalized system for the protection against racial discrimination and the promotion of rights of minorities, mainly Sami and Roma.

     Under its catalogue of concerns, the Committee reiterated its concern at the absence of a law prohibiting and punishing organizations which promoted and incited racial discrimination and of a provision in the Penal Code declaring any dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred punishable by law; it was also concerned about the fact that Roma continued to be subjected to discrimination; it reiterated its regret that the question of land ownership of the Sami had not been resolved; and voiced its concern at the increased number of racist acts.

     The Committee recommended, among other things, that anti-discriminatory legislation be adopted to better combat acts of racism; that Finland consider adopting provisions for increasing sentences for racially motivated crimes, in particular racial violence; that additional measures be taken at national and municipal levels to improve the situation of the Roma minority; and that all available measures be taken to guarantee the legal safeguards of asylum-seekers.

    Slovenia

     The Committee welcomed the efforts undertaken by the authorities of Slovenia since the independence of the country in 1991 to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights; and the appropriate measures taken by the State party to resolve the issue of citizenship of former citizens of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following the proclamation of the independence of Slovenia.

     The Committee was concerned, among other things, that minority groups, such as Croats, Serbs, Bosnians and Roma, did not enjoy the same level of protection from the State party as the Italian and Hungarian minorities; that the legislation presently in force did not seem to respond to all requirements of article 4 of the Convention, which were mandatory; and that the temporary protection offered by Slovenia to refugees might be insufficient to guarantee their basic rights.

     Slovenia was recommended, among other things, to ensure that persons or groups of persons belonging to other minorities were not discriminated against; that all appropriate measures be taken to inform the general public about existing judicial remedies for victims of racism and xenophobia in order to encourage them to use such remedies; and that Slovenia strengthen its human rights sensitization and training programmes, especially with regard to law enforcement and military personnel.

    Mauritius

     The Committee noted the multi-ethnic composition of the country and the harmony in which its various ethnic groups lived, and said that the experience of Mauritius in dealing with its ethnic and racial problems was thus very instructive; and it welcomed the announcement of the upcoming adoption of the Equal Opportunities Act aimed at the implementation of article 5 of the Convention, and the introduction of a Public Security Act punishing any act or conduct inciting to racial hatred.

     However, the Committee was concerned that the existence of constitutional and legislative provisions prohibiting racial discrimination and incitement to racial hatred.  It said the absence of judicial decisions relating to such acts did not mean that there was no racial discrimination in the Mauritian society. 

     In its recommendations, the Committee expressed it desire to receive more information about the rioting that had broken out between Creole groups and groups of Indian origin following the death of a popular singer at a police station; and requested the State party to provide it with further information on the functioning of the Human Rights Commission and the Committee on Poverty.

    Slovakia

     The establishment of the post of the Deputy Prime Minister on Human Rights, National Minorities and Regional Development of Slovakia was welcomed by the Committee, as was the establishment of the Government's Plenipotentiary for Addressing Roma Minority Issues, and the approval of the 1999 strategy for the solution of the problems of the Roma national minority and the set of measures for its implementation.

     The Committee, however, expressed concern about de facto settlement patterns with regard to the Roma minorities and particularly about the fact that two municipalities had issued decrees banning Roma from their territory and the duration of proceedings to lift them; concern was also expressed at the persistence of acts of violence by groups, particularly skinheads, directed towards Roma and other ethnic minorities; and about allegations that the police and prosecutors had failed to investigate acts of racially-motivated violence promptly and effectively, and had been reluctant to identify racial motive behind attacks.

     Among its recommendations, the Committee urged Slovakia to review legislation regulating local residence permits, to investigate promptly and thoroughly incidents of discrimination in access to housing and to give speedy consideration to those issues; and that procedures be strengthened for timely and thorough investigations and effective prosecutions against racist organizations.

    Czech Republic

     The Committee found the establishment of the Czech Republic's new advisory bodies on matters relevant to combating racism and intolerance as a positive move.  It also welcomed the launching and implementation of the "tolerance project", a public awareness campaign intended to prevent racial discrimination and increase tolerance. 

     The Committee said it remained concerned, among other things, by the fact that the Roma population continued to be subjected to discrimination in the fields of housing, education and employment; and at the measures taken by some local authorities leading to segregation and at the practice of school segregation by which many Roma children were placed in special schools, offering them lesser opportunities for further study or employment.  It was also worried about the lack of effectiveness and confidence in the criminal judicial system to prevent and combat racial crimes.

     The Committee recommended, among other things, that effective measures be taken to eradicate promptly practices of racial segregation, including the placement of a disproportionate number of Roma children in special schools; that legislation be strengthened to prohibit racist organizations; and that the Government undertake legislative reform to safeguard the enjoyment, without any type of discrimination, by all segments of the population, of economic, social and cultural rights.

    Netherlands

     The Committee found as positive aspects the Netherlands' reference to minorities without making a distinction between nationals and non-nationals; and it welcomed the plan to apply the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities with regard to nationality.  It welcomed the appointment of a Minister for Urban Policy and Integration of Ethnic Minorities; and the efforts undertaken to address the problems of children with different language backgrounds in the Netherlands Antilles.

     The Committee expressed concern at the fact that the unemployment rate of minority groups remained four times higher than among the native Dutch population; about insufficient protection against discrimination in the labour market; at the de facto segregation in a number of localities; and about the fact that social tensions and problems in the education system were related to immigration in the Netherlands Antilles. 

     The Committee recommended, among other things, that the State party undertake further measures to reduce de facto segregation and to promote a multi cultural educational system; that problems of immigration be addressed on a regional level in the Netherlands Antilles so as to avoid racial discrimination; that the Government of Aruba ensure that the status of domestic servants and immigration law was not exploited by employers; and it encouraged the State party to post the concluding observations on the Internet.

    Nepal

     The Committee welcomed the initiatives undertaken by Nepal, such as the decision of 17 July 2000 on the emancipation of bonded labourers, and the adoption of the 1997 compensation for torture act, which demonstrated Nepal's commitment to furthering the human rights of its people. 

     Cited among factors and difficulties impeding the implementation of the Convention were the existence of certain traditional customs and societal attitudes which were obstacles to efforts to combat discrimination.  The Committee further noted that extreme poverty affected a significant part of Nepal's population.

     The Committee, however, expressed concern at the existence of caste-based discrimination, and the denial which that system imposed to some segment of the population on the enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Convention; and about the situation of a large number of refugees from neighbouring countries in Nepal.

     And the Committee recommended, among other things, that Nepal supply information on the implementation of practical and substantive measures to eradicate the practice of the caste system; and that it ensure adequate support for local authorities, including development of professional capacity, for implementation of the Convention.  The Committee also recommended that Nepal continue to prioritize and target social services for persons belonging to the most vulnerable groups.

    United Kingdom

     The Committee welcomed the recent legislative measures which introduced higher maximum penalties for racially motivated crimes; and the 1998 Northern Ireland Act establishing a new independent Human Rights Commission for Northern Ireland, among other things.  It also welcomed the Action Plan developed by the Government, as follow-up to the findings of the independent Stephen Lawrence judiciary inquiry; and it welcomed the use of ethnic monitoring to ascertain the number of persons of particular ethnic and national origin in various kinds of employment and the setting of targets to increase the employment of persons of minority origins in fields where they were under-represented.

     Among the Committee's concerns was the position maintained by the United Kingdom with regard to the non-inclusion of the full substance of the Convention within the domestic legal order.  It expressed deep concerns that racist attacks and harassment were continuing and ethnic minorities were feeling increasingly vulnerable; about the findings of "institutional racism", within the police force and other public institutions, which had resulted in serious shortcomings with regard to investigations into racist incidents; that asylum seekers might not have adequate access to expert legal services; about high level of unemployment among ethnic minority groups; about racist harassment and bullying in schools; and that ethnic minorities continued to be disproportionately excluded from schools.

     The Committee suggested that United Kingdom develop an interdepartmental strategy in combating racial discrimination; that it take steps to address the backlash among police officers concerning the reported negative response from certain parts of the police force to recent criticism brought forward by the Lawrence Inquiry Report; that the United Kingdom take leadership in sending out positive messages about asylum seekers and in protecting them from racial harassment; that a strategy be implemented ensuring that asylum seekers had access to essential services and to ensure that their basic rights were protected; and that it continue efforts to encourage Overseas Territories to proceed to the adoption of specific legislation against racial discrimination.

    Sweden

     The Committee welcomed the recent legislative initiatives undertaken by Sweden including the Act on National Minorities in Sweden; the Act on Immigrant Integration Policy; and the Ethnic Discrimination Ombudsman Act, among others; it also welcomed the implementation of programmes, such as "EXIT", to counteract the activities of racist organizations; and the reinforcement of training for prison and probation officials in countering prejudice, racism and xenophobia among staff.

     The Committee was concerned, among other things, that a recent upsurge in racism and xenophobia had been seen, which had given rise to increased neo-Nazi violence, especially among youth; about the increasing popularity of "white power" music which promoted hatred against ethnic minorities; about the difficulties which the Roma continued to experience in exercising their rights; over the issue of land rights of the Sami people, in particular hunting and fishing rights which were threatened by the privatization of traditional Sami lands; about increasing residential de facto segregation; and about increasing incidence of racial discrimination in restaurants, other public places and with regard to access to services.

     Among its recommendations, the Committee encouraged Sweden to continue its efforts to arrest the upsurge in racism and xenophobia; prevent and punish racist neo-Nazi violence; and persecute any persons whose actions incited to racial hatred.  It recommended that Sweden consider the extension of the right to use the Sami language in legal and administrative proceedings; that the Government introduce legislation recognizing traditional Sami land rights and reflecting the centrality of reindeer husbandry to the way of life of Sweden's indigenous people; and that International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent States be ratified.

    Uzbekistan

     The Committee welcomed the ratification of the six major human rights international instruments by Uzbekistan; its ratification of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 111 concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation (1958); and the measures taken in the field of teaching, education, culture and information on human rights.

     It noted with concern that some isolated cases of inter-ethnic conflict had been reported; the lack of domestic legislation for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers; and reported incidents of discrimination against refugees, especially with respect to their access to State social services.

     The Committee recommended, among other things,  Uzbekistan pay particular attention to effective prevention and monitoring of possible areas of ethnic conflict; that legislation on asylum be enacted in accordance with the 1951 Convention on Refugees; that Uzbekistan undertake legislative reform to safeguard the enjoyment without any discrimination, by all segments of the population, of economic, social and cultural rights listed in article 5 of the Convention; and that educational programmes be extended in order to raise awareness of the population at large of all aspects related to racial discrimination.

    Holy See

     The Committee, among its positive aspects, noted with satisfaction that the laws and teachings of the Catholic Church promoted tolerance, friendly coexistence and multi-racial integration and that Pope John Paul II had in a number of speeches openly condemned all forms of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia manifested through racial tensions and conflicts around the world; the positive initiatives undertaken by the Holy See to promote and bring an end to the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and the Great Lakes region; the role of the Catholic Church in promoting education, particularly in the developing countries; and the opening up of Catholic schools to children from different religious creeds as well as the promotion of tolerance, peace and integration through education.

     The Committee recommended, among other things, that the Holy See implement, as appropriate, the Convention, and invited the State party to provide it with information on the relation of article 4 to Canon Law and penal law in the State of the Vatican City.  Noting the clarification outlined in the report concerning the involvement of ecclesiastics against the percepts of evangelical laws in the genocide in Rwanda, the Committee said the State party should cooperate fully with the national and international judicial authorities in connection with the Rwanda genocide.

    Ghana

     Ghana's policy to prevent the exploitation of ethnic differences was considered a positive aspect by the Committee which commended the State party for the degree to which its population of more than fifty ethnic groups had avoided serious, prolonged conflict; it welcomed the 1993 establishment of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice to protect human rights, and particularly against racial discrimination, and to investigate violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms; noted the establishment of the National Commission for Civil Education and welcomed its activities in the field of human rights education and training; and it commended the Government of Ghana for adopting measures that outlawed the practice of slavery known as "Trokosi", which affected females in the Ewe ethnic group.

     The Committee was concerned that there were continuing tensions between the ethnic groups in the northern region of Ghana; the lack of detailed information provided about the work of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice and the Commission's handling of cases regarding racial discrimination; and the lack of information in the report concerning the demographic composition of the country.

     And it recommended, among other things, that the Government conduct a detailed review of relevant legislation to ensure that it implemented fully the provisions of the Convention and that it include information in its next report; that immediate and effective steps be taken to address the root causes of the ethnic tensions in the northern regions of Ghana; and that the State party supply gender desegregated statistical data regarding socio-economic status, participation in public life and other relevant information concerning the different ethnic groups.

    General Recommendation on Racial Discrimination against Roma

     Following its two-day debate on the issue of discrimination against Roma people, in which representatives of the Roma people, United Nations experts and other personalities took part, the Committee adopted a general recommendation urging States parties to adopt measures to protect Roma communities against racial violence and to improve their living conditions.

     It called upon States parties to adopt and implement national strategies and programmes and to express determined political will and moral leadership, with a view to improving the situation of Roma and protecting them against discrimination by State bodies or persons and organizations.

     The Committee also recommended, among other things, that measures be taken to acknowledge "wrongs" done during the Second World War to Roma communities by deportation and extermination, and to consider ways of compensating them.

     Further, the Committee urged that States parties review and enact or amend legislation in order to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination against Roma, as against other persons or groups, in accordance with the Convention; that national strategies and programmes be implemented and that determined political will and moral leadership be expressed with a view to improving the situation of Roma and their protection against discrimination by State bodies, as well as by any person or organization; and that the wishes of Roma as to the designation they wanted to be given and the group to which they wanted to belong be respected.

     In concluding the two-day debate, Committee Chairperson Michael E. Sherifis said that it was the first time that the Committee had held a debate on a thematic issue since its inception 30 years ago.  United Nations minority experts and representatives of non-governmental organizations and regional groups also participated in the discussion.

    Submission of Reports

     Under article 9 of the Convention, States undertake to report to the Committee on legal, judicial and other measures they have adopted to ensure effective protection against racial discrimination within their jurisdiction.  States parties to the Convention agree to condemn and seek to eliminate racial discrimination in their territories; to review their policies in order to amend or nullify any regulations which create or perpetuate such discrimination, based on racial superiority or hatred; and to prohibit organizations and activities which promote or incite racial discrimination.  They also agree to provide remedies for victims of racial discrimination and to adopt measures to combat prejudice and promote understanding among different national, racial and ethnic groups.

     In addition, States parties undertake to guarantee the right of everyone to equality before the law without distinction to race, colour, or national and ethnic origin.

     In the past, the Committee has called upon the Secretary-General to bring to the attention of States parties, at their annual meeting, the unfortunate consequences of delays in the submission of reports and to encourage them to consider ways and means by which all parties might be brought to fulfil their reporting obligations.  The Committee has also instituted a procedure to review the implementation of the Convention in those States parties responsible for the longest delays in submitting periodic reports.  In a letter addressed to the Governments of those States, the Committee said that delays in the submission of reports hampered its efforts to monitor the implementation of the Convention.

    Communications under Article 14

     Under article 14 of the Convention, the Committee considers communications from individuals or groups of individuals claiming to be victims of a violation by States parties of any of the rights set forth in the Convention, provided the States concerned have recognized the competence of the Committee in this regard.  The following 30 States parties have already done so:  Algeria, Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Senegal, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and Uruguay.

    States Parties to Convention

     At present, the following 156 States are parties to the Convention:  Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, C"te d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgystan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania.

     Also, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tajikistan, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Zambia and Zimbabwe.

    Committee Membership and Officers

     The members of the Committee, elected in their individual capacity, are:  Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr (Egypt); Michael Parker Banton (United Kingdom); Marc Bossuyt (Belgium); Brun-Otto Bryde (Germany); Ion Diaconu (Romania); Francois Lons‚ny Fall (Guinea); R‚gis de Gouttes (France);  Carlos Lechuga Hevia (Cuba); Yuri A. Rechetov (Russian Federation); Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai (India); Agha Shahi (Pakistan); Michael E. Sherifis (Cyprus); Deci Zou (China); Luis Valencia Rodriguez (Ecuador);  Mario Jorge Yutzis (Argentina); Peter Nobel (Sweden); Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill (South Africa); and Gay McDougall (the United States).

     Mr. Sherifis is the Chairperson.  The Vice Chairpersons are Mr. Rechetov, Mr. Valencia Rodriguez, and Mr. Fall.  Mr. Banton is the Rapporteur of the Committee.  

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