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Combating Racial Discrimination

Racial and ethnic discrimination occur on a daily basis, hindering progress for millions of people around the world. From denying individuals the basic principles of equality and non-discrimination to fuelling ethnic hatred that may lead to genocide, racism and intolerance destroy lives and communities. The struggle against racism is a matter of priority for the international community and is at the heart of the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The United Nations has been concerned with this issue since its foundation and the prohibition of racial discrimination is enshrined in all core international human rights instruments. It places obligations on States and tasks them with eradicating discrimination in the public and private spheres. The principle of equality also requires States to adopt special measures to eliminate conditions which cause or help to perpetuate racial discrimination.

In 2001, the World Conference against Racism produced the most authoritative and comprehensive programme for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. In April 2009, the Durban Review Conference examined global progress made in overcoming racism and concluded that much remained to be achieved. Undoubtedly, the greatest accomplishment of the conference was the renewed international commitment to the anti-racism agenda.

Activities of the UN human rights office

  • Supports the activities of Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The Committee oversees implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

  • Supports the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The Special Rapporteur, who is an independent expert, publishes annual reports on racism, transmits urgent appeals and communications to States concerning cases of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and undertakes fact-finding country visits.

  • Assists the Independent Expert on Minority Issues. Acknowledging that minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious discrimination and racism, the Independent Expert works with other UN bodies and mechanisms such as the Minority Forum to address human rights violations suffered by minorities. 

  • Supports the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, which elaborates short, medium and long term proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against People of African descent.

  • Through the Anti-Discrimination Unit, furthers the struggle against racism and intolerance. The unit builds national capacity to eliminate racism through advisory services, conducts research and analysis on racism, services intergovernmental and expert mechanisms addressing the situation of victim groups, and engages with the wider community forging partnerships, raising awareness and mobilizing support for anti-discrimination measures, such as legislation, policies and programmes.