CAJ welcomes the release of the Concluding Observations on the UK by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). This follows an oral hearing in Geneva earlier this month to which CAJ submitted written evidence.
The Committee measures State Parties compliance with the treaty-based commitments that they have agreed to be bound by under the UN International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
Among the findings of the UN Committee are:
- Single Equality Bill (para 7-8): the Committee reiterates concern about lack of single equality legislation in Northern Ireland “where comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation has yet to be adopted”. The Committee recommends that the state party:
“Ensure that the authorities of Northern Ireland act without further delay to adopt comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial discrimination in accordance with the provisions of the Convention.”
- Bill of Rights (9-10): Committee raises concern about the plan to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights will lead to decreased human rights protections; it also raises concern that no progress has been made on the NI Bill of Rights mandated by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Committee urges that any changes instead strengthen human rights protections and that the process for the NI Bill of Rights is expedited.
- Data collection/ racial discrimination (13-14) The Committee expresses concern about the collection of desegregated data by ethnicity by the devolved administrations and particularly singles out Northern Ireland for criticism, urging the administrations to “systematically collect and publish disaggregated data on the enjoyment of rights by members of ethnic minorities in all fields of life”
- BREXIT referendum and incitement to racial hatred (16-17): The Committee raises concern at the sharp increase in racist hate crimes in England, Wales and NI in the weeks prior to and following the EU referendum in June. It states:
“In particular, the Committee is deeply concerned that the referendum campaign was marked by divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric, and that many politicians and prominent political figures not only failed to condemn it, but also created and entrenched prejudices, thereby emboldening individuals to carry out acts of intimidation and hate towards ethnic or ethno-religious minority communities and people who are visibly different.”
The Committee urges that the state party, including the NI Executive, to, among other matters, investigate racist hate crimes and provide effective remedies to victims; systemically collect desegregated data on hate crimes; ensure measures to combat racist hate crimes are developed with the meaningful participation of affected groups; and that the UK withdraws its reservation to Article 4 of the ICERD – this refers to a UK reservation that it may not fully implement provisions under ICERD to combat incitement to racial hatred.
- Counter-terrorism measures (18-19) the Committee is concerned that: measures such as the ‘Counter-Extremism Strategy’ and the ‘prevent duty’ have created an atmosphere of suspicion towards Muslim communities; at the ambiguity of terms such as ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ can lead to a wide scope of interpretation and religious/ethnic profiling; and at the retention of information on individuals, particularly children, without consent; and urges a review.
- Gypsies, Travellers and Roma (24-25) reiterates concerns that the situation has not substantially improved and that communities continue “to face exclusion and discrimination in the fields of health, education, housing and employment, and are subject to negative stereotypes and stigmatization in the media”
- Stop and Search: (26-27) recommends that the NI Executive (among others) regularly review the impact of stop and search powers on persons belonging to visible ethnic minority groups and “and take effective measures to ensure that such powers are used in a lawful, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory manner on the basis of reasonable suspicion, with rigorous monitoring and review mechanisms.”
- Education (34-25) among other matters the committee “expresses concern at the lack of balanced teaching in the State party’s schools about the history of the British Empire and colonialism, particularly with regard to slavery” and urges that the state party – including the NI Executive “Ensure that the school curricula across its jurisdiction contain a balanced account of the history of the British Empire and colonialism, including slavery and other grave human rights violations.”
- Racism and Sectarianism in Northern Ireland (36-37); the Committee whilst welcoming the advent of the T:BUC (Together: Building a United Community) strategy reiterates its previous concern that measures to tackle racism and sectarianism in NI are being undertaken outside the framework of ICERD and the UN Durban Programme of Action (from the UN World Conference Against Racism) and urges the state party to ensure the standards, duties and actions of these instruments are applied to racism, including sectarianism, in NI.