COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONCLUDES SIXTY-NINTH SESSION


Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

18 August 2006

Round-up release


Issues Concluding Observations on Reports of Estonia, Yemen, South Africa, Oman, Mongolia, Denmark, Norway and Ukraine


The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its sixty-ninth session, issuing concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Estonia, Yemen, South Africa, Oman, Mongolia, Denmark, Norway and Ukraine on how they implement the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Committee discussed the report of the working group on reservations and adopted its annual report to the General Assembly before closing its session.

During the current session, the Committee examined the situation of Malawi, Seychelles, Saint Lucia and Namibia under its review procedure for States parties whose reports were seriously overdue. It also looked at complaints relating to Suriname, Nicaragua, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo under the Committee's early warning and urgent action procedure. In a decision on Suriname, the Committee drew the attention of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council to the alarming situation in relation to the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples in the country.

On 11 August, the Committee adopted a statement on the situation in Lebanon – in solidarity with the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General – reflecting its deep concern that the continuation of the conflict there might intensify racial discrimination and hatred in the region and the wider world.

Also during this session the Committee had a dialogue with the United Nations Expert on Minority Rights Gay McDougall, with a view to finding synergies with the work of the Committee; held discussions on treaty body reform; discussed the situation in the Non-Self-Governing Territories with regard to the Convention; discussed follow-up to individual communications; and considered follow-up to the Durban Programme of Action.
At the beginning of its meeting today, Catherine Phuong of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights presented the report of the Working Group on Reservations (HRI/MC/2006/5), which met for the first time on 8 and 9 June 2006 in Geneva with a view to defining and adopting a common approach on reservations for all treaty bodies. Among other observations, the Working Group held that general treaty law was applicable to the human rights instruments; that treaty bodies were competent to evaluate the validity of reservations; and that identification of criteria for determining the validity of a reservation in the light of the object and purpose of a treaty might be useful not only for States, but also for treaty bodies. The Working Group on reservations would meet again in December 2006 to work on a more detailed report.

The next session of the Committee will be held in Geneva from 19 February to 9 March 2007. During that session, the Committee will consider reports of Israel, Liechtenstein, the Czech Republic, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Canada, Antigua and Barbuda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It will also examine, under its review procedure, the situation in Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Congo, Papua New Guinea, and Togo.

Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Country Reports Estonia

Among positive aspects in the sixth and seventh periodic reports of Estonia, the Committee noted that the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional several decisions refusing the grant of residence permits on the sole basis of immigration quotas. The Committee commended the State party for its continuing efforts to encourage social integration of non-citizens, including the planned adoption of a State Integration Programme for the years 2008-2013. It welcomed efforts to combat trafficking in persons, including the adoption in January 2006 of the National Action Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings. The Committee further welcomed State party efforts to combat hate speech on the Internet.

The Committee noted that the current official definition of national minority excluded non-citizens, including stateless persons of long-term residence in Estonia, and was concerned that might lead to alienation of such groups. The Committee noted with regret that the procedure for the resolution of disputes related to racial discrimination in the private sphere remained a limited instrument, and noted the absence of a Paris Principles national human rights institution. The Committee also remained concerned about the absence of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.

The Committee recommended the State party encourage the media to play an active role in combating prejudices and negative stereotypes which led to racial discrimination and that it adopt all necessary measures to combat racism in the media. The Committee also recommended that a study be conducted to fully examine the reasons for the disproportionate representation of members of Russian-speaking minorities in the population of convicted prisoners, and requested the State party to include results of that study in its next periodic report. Given the considerable number of persons who remained stateless in Estonia, the Committee recommended that it make further efforts to enhance and facilitate access to the naturalization process, in particular, by considering providing high-quality free language courses to all applicants, and to strengthen awareness-raising efforts on the naturalization procedure and its benefits.

Yemen

Having considered the fifteenth and sixteenth periodic reports of Yemen, the Committee welcomed the establishment of the Ministry of Human Rights in 2003. It noted with satisfaction the adoption of a policy of continuing education and awareness-raising programmes for members of the judiciary, the Department of Public Prosecutions and law enforcement officials. It welcomed the efforts made by Yemen to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. The Committee commended the efforts of the State party to reduce poverty, in particular the adoption of the National Poverty Reduction Strategy for 2003-2005, the purpose of which was to improve the living conditions of marginalized groups and vulnerable people.

The Committee took note of the discrepancy between the assessment of the State party, according to which Yemeni society is ethnically homogenous, and credible information the Committee had received regarding descent-based and/or culturally distinguishable groups including the Al-Akhdam. It remained concerned at the absence of a definition of racial discrimination in domestic legislation and recommended that the State party incorporate in its domestic law a definition of racial discrimination that included all elements set forth in article 1 of the Convention. The Committee noted with concern that the status of the Convention in domestic law was unclear and that it apparently had never been directly invoked in domestic courts.

While welcoming Yemen's open-door policy towards refugees coming from the Horn of Africa, the Committee was concerned about the absence of national legislation specifically defining the rights of refugees. Furthermore, it was also concerned with regard to the poor living conditions and the reported lack of access refugees had to education, employment, health care and protection from physical abuse and maltreatment. The Committee requested Yemen to adopt a legislative protection framework for refugees and to remove obstacles that prevented the enjoyment of refugees of economic social and cultural rights. The Committee was deeply concerned at the persistent reports of de facto discrimination against descent-based, culturally distinct communities, among others, the Al-Akhdam. It requested the State party to provide further information regarding the right of all persons within its territory, including members of marginalized or vulnerable groups to obtain and own property. The Committee requested Yemen to include in its next periodic report statistical information on prosecutions launched, and penalties imposed, in cases of offences which related to racial discrimination.

South Africa

Having considered the initial to third periodic reports of South Africa, the Committee wished to record the profound significance – in fact the emotional overtones – of commencing constructive dialogue with South Africa, in terms of the Convention whose genesis was strongly influenced by the cruel, inhuman and degrading effects of apartheid in that country. The Committee expressed its satisfaction over the peaceful transition from apartheid, as well as for the adoption of the Constitution of 1996 with its Bill of Rights, enshrining the values of “human dignity, equality and non-racism”. The Committee welcomed the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission with competence to promote respect for human rights, monitor and investigate their observance and seek effective redress for human rights violations, and noted its very active role in eliminating the residual effects of racial discrimination.

The Committee remained concerned by the de facto segregation that persisted in spite of measures to put an end to that situation, especially regarding ownership of property, access to finance, and social services such as health, education and housing. While acknowledging the provisions of the Constitution and in other legislation, the Committee was also concerned about the frequency of hate crimes and hate speech and the inefficiency of the measures to prevent such acts, as well as acts of violence against women, especially reports of rapes and domestic violence, considering that victims were most often from disadvantaged and poor ethnic groups. The Committee recommended that legislation and other effective measures be adopted to prevent, combat and punish human trafficking. It encouraged the State party to strengthen its policy of land restitution and post-settlement support to ensure to re-settled ethnic communities an improvement in the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights under the Convention.

The Committee was concerned with the situation of indigenous peoples, in particular hunter-gatherer, pastoralist and nomadic groups, and noted the absence of information on the specific measures adopted to ensure the enjoyment of all rights by those communities. The Committee recommended that the State party strengthen its health programmes, with particular attention to minorities, and encouraged it to take further measures to combat HIV/AIDS. The Committee also recommended that measures be taken to reform the justice system, and raise the sensitivity of its members on the provisions of the Convention and their application.

Oman

Following its review of the initial periodic report of Oman, the Committee welcomed the recent accession of Oman to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Committee noted with satisfaction that the Omani Labour Code affirmed the equality of all workers, without any discrimination based on nationality, gender, religion or any other distinction. The Committee welcomed information concerning the inclusion in school curricula of courses designed to combat racial discrimination and to promote human rights, understanding and tolerance among individuals and groups of different ethnic origins or religious beliefs.

The Committee took note of the discrepancy between the State party’s assertion that Omani society was ethnically homogeneous, and information that the population included various ethnic groups, including Balochi, Swahili-speaking Omanis born in Zanzibar and other regions of East Africa, Liwatiyah and Jibalis, as well as a large number of migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent, the Philippines, and other Asian countries, and recommended that disaggregated statistical data on the ethnic composition of the population be provided. The Committee noted that the Basic Law of the State did not include "race", "descent" and "national or ethnic origin" among prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The Committee recommended that Oman adopt comprehensive legislation to prevent, prohibit and punish racial discrimination. It took note with concern that in its report the State party maintained that it had no need to take any measure to ban the formation of organizations that promoted and incited racial discrimination, on the ground that such organizations did not exist on its territory. The Committee was also concerned that the Basic Law of the State provided that only citizens were equal before the law and entitled to exercise public rights without discrimination. The Committee drew attention to its General Recommendation No. 30 on non-citizens, and recommended that Oman revise its legislation in order to guarantee equality between citizens and non-citizens in the enjoyment of the rights set forth in the Convention. The Committee regretted that the report contained no information on the number and nature of cases relating to racial discrimination brought before the Omani courts, on their outcome and on compensation awarded to victims. The Committee recommended that the State party consider the establishment of a national human rights institution, in accordance with the Paris Principles.

Mongolia

Among positive aspects in the sixteenth to eighteenth periodic reports of Mongolia, the Committee noted with satisfaction the establishment of the National Commission for Human Rights of Mongolia, in accordance with the Paris Principles. The Committee commended the Law on Advertisement, which contained a provision prohibiting advertisements in the media unfavourably comparing religions, professions, sexes, ages, social status, languages and ethnic groups, or promoting racial discrimination and discord. The Committee noted with satisfaction that a new amended Criminal Code had been passed in 2002, which provided for three types of offences against racial discrimination and acts of genocide, as well as the adoption, in 2005, of the Tuva Language Study Programme aimed at supporting the Tsaatan minority in their efforts to preserve their cultural heritage.

The Committee remained concerned that no clear definition of racial discrimination existed in the legislation of the State party. While acknowledging the State party’s security concerns, the Committee remained concerned that the Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens prescribed numerical thresholds for entry and residence of non-citizens according to nationality. The Committee also remained concerned about the low levels of representation of minority groups in the police force. The Committee noted the absence of provisions in domestic law that prohibited organizations that promoted and incited racial discrimination.

While noting that the State party had been cooperating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Committee was concerned that Mongolia had yet to enact legislation on asylum matters and to introduce an asylum-determination procedure. It also regretted the lack of information provided on refugees and asylum seekers residing in Mongolia. The Committee recommended that the State party facilitate the participation of ethnic minorities in the elaboration of cultural and educational policies that would enable them to learn or to have instruction in their mother tongue, as well as in the official language. Noting the statement that there had been no reports of racial discrimination in Mongolia, the Committee reminded the State party that the mere absence of complaints and legal action by victims of racial discrimination might be mainly an indication of the absence of relevant specific legislation, or of a lack of awareness of the availability of legal remedies, or of insufficient will on the part of the authorities to prosecute. The Committee requested the State party to ensure that appropriate provisions were available, and to inform the public about all legal remedies in the field of racial discrimination.

Denmark

Following its review of the sixteenth and seventeenth periodic reports of Denmark, the Committee welcomed the adoption in 2003 of a National Action Plan to promote equal treatment and diversity. It also welcomes the adoption of the Act on Equal Ethnic Treatment, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of racial and ethnic origin as regards access to social protection, access to and supply of goods and services, and including also a prohibition of harassment on the grounds of race and ethnic origin. It further welcomed the awareness campaigns carried out in the State party, in particular the campaign “Show Racism the Red Card”, which involved the participation of professional football players in the fight against racial discrimination.

The Committee, while taking note of the State party’s efforts to combat hate crimes, was concerned about the increase in the number of racially motivated offences and in the number of complaints of hate speech. The Committee was also concerned about hate speech by some politicians in Denmark. While taking note of the statistical data provided on complaints and prosecutions launched under Section 266 b of the Criminal Code, the Committee noted the refusal by the Public prosecutor to initiate court proceedings in some cases, including the case of the publication of some cartoons associating Islam with terrorism. The Committee noted with concern that decisions by the Refugee Board on asylum requests were final and could not be appealed. It was also concerned about information according to which asylum seekers did not have the right to engage in social, professional, educational and cultural activities outside refugee centres except to a limited extent, and could be transferred many times from one centre to another.
The Committee recommended that Denmark assess the extent to which the disproportionate level of unemployment among persons coming or originating from countries outside the European Union, North America, and the Nordic countries was the result of discrimination they faced, and that it take measures to combat that phenomenon. While welcoming Denmark’s willingness to prevent “ghetto-isation”, the Committee wished to receive more detailed information on the issue, in particular on measures adopted by the State party to strike an adequate balance between the prevention of “ghetto-isation” and the right to freedom of residence and cultural rights of persons belonging to ethnic or national minorities.

Norway

Following its review of the seventeenth and eighteenth periodic reports of Norway, the Committee welcomed the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution in accordance with the Paris Principles in April 2006. It noted with satisfaction the adoption of the Act on Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud and the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. It welcomed the adoption of the Finnmark Act in 2005, which set out procedures to enhance the Saami people’s right to participate in the decision-making processes regarding management of land and natural resources in the areas they occupied. The Committee acknowledged the entry into force in 2006 of amendments to the Penal Code, which aimed to strengthen protection against expressions of racial hatred, and the new article 100 of the Norwegian Constitution. It welcomed the establishment of the Romani People’s Fund in 2004, to compensate Romani victims for the negative effects of previous assimilation policies.

The Committee reiterated its concern regarding the lack of statistical data in the report of the State party on the ethnic composition of its population, and recommended that it provide information on the use of mother tongues as indicative of ethnic differences, together with information derived from targeted social surveys performed on a voluntary basis. While noting that the State party had explained its difficulty in addressing the notion of “race” in the Convention, the Committee was concerned that the Anti-Discrimination Act did not specifically cover discrimination on the ground of race and recommended that Norway ensured that discrimination on that ground was adequately covered in existing legislation.

The Committee was concerned that the Finnmark Act did not address the special situation of the East Saami people, and recommended that special concrete measures to ensure their adequate development and protection be adopted. It was also concerned that, under the Immigration Act, a non-citizen could be remanded in custody on suspicion of having provided a false identity. It was also concerned that there was no maximum time limit for the period of that custody and by reports according to which some non-citizens had been remanded for more than one year. The Committee urged Norway to take measures to strengthen participation of children with immigrant backgrounds in upper secondary education and recommended that it ensure that public educational institutions were open to non-citizens and children of undocumented migrants residing in the territory of the State party.

Ukraine

Among positive aspects in the seventeenth and eighteenth periodic reports of Ukraine, the Committee welcomed the Bill before Parliament which recognized the right of members of national minorities to use their traditional names and native languages; the programme, adopted in May 2006, for the integration of formerly deported persons, in particular Crimean Tatars; and the establishment in 2006 of a Council for State Policies for the advancement of the rights and freedoms of all persons, including those belonging to national minorities. The Committee noted with appreciation that Ukraine had withdrawn any deadlines for the submission of asylum applications from its Refugee Law. It also welcomed information that a considerable number of minority children received instruction in, or on, their language and culture, including some 5,000 Roma children and some 3,500 Crimean Tatar children.

The Committee was concerned that the Office of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights was reportedly relatively unknown and under-funded, lacked expertise in some areas, and that only 0.5 percent of the complaints received by the Commissioner concerned alleged violations of minority rights. It also noted with concern that the draft Anti-Discrimination Bill covered direct but not indirect discrimination.

The Committee recommended that the State party consider explicitly including organizations that promoted and incited racial discrimination among the list of prohibited associations under the Citizens’ Association Act. It urged Ukraine to take immediate steps, by removing administrative obstacles, to issue all Roma with personal and other relevant identification documents in order to enhance their access to the courts, employment, housing, health care, social security and education. The Committee was concerned about allegations of police abuse of Roma, including arbitrary arrests and searches and pre-trial abuse based on racially motivated presumptions of guilt, and of persons belonging to other minorities, asylum seekers and non-citizens of different ethnic origin. The Committee recommended that the State party consider amending its Refugee Law to clearly define standardized refugee determination criteria and to include the concept of temporary protection on humanitarian grounds, as well as safeguards on the withholding of personal data from country of origin authorities.

Other Decisions Adopted During the Current Session

Decisions Under the Review Procedure

During its present session, the Committee also examined the situation in six countries whose reports were seriously overdue. On Malawi, the Committee agreed that the State party would request technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner, and that the Committee would await the submission of its periodic report. Concerning the Seychelles, which had not presented a report since August 1988, and that in the absence of a State party delegation, it was decided to send preliminary confidential observations. In the case of Saint Lucia, whose initial to eighth periodic reports were overdue, the Committee decided to send a letter of reminder to the State party concerning its overdue reports. On Namibia, whose last periodic report was submitted in 1996, following a presentation by a representative of the State party, the Committee decided to request Namibia to submit its overdue periodic reports by 30 June 2007.

Complaints Under the Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure

The Committee reviewed complaints relating to Suriname, Nicaragua, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo under the Committee's early warning and urgent action procedure.

On Suriname, the Committee issued a formal decision in which it expressed its deep concern about information alleging that Suriname had authorized additional resource exploitation and infrastructure projects that posed substantial threat of irreparable harm to indigenous and tribal peoples, without seeking prior agreement of the affected communities, and strongly recommended that Suriname ensure legal acknowledgement of the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to their communal land and associated natural resources. The Committee also drew the attention of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council to the situation.

Concerning Nicaragua, in a case involving the indigenous land rights, it was decided to send a letter requesting the State party to include information on the situation in its periodic report due in September 2006.

Regarding the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and charges of discrimination against the Hmung people, it was decided that, as the case was already being considered under the follow-up procedure, no specific action would be taken under the urgent action procedure.

In Peru, on a complaint by indigenous Andean communities that their rights to surface and groundwater had been infringed, the Committee decided to send a letter to the Government requesting further information.

Concerning complaints regarding land rights from indigenous groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was decided to move the date for consideration of that country’s report forward to March 2007, and to send a letter to the Government requesting further information to be considered in conjunction with its report.





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