United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to expedite the elimination of apartheid, segregation, and other forms of racial domination.

Summary of Event

After World War II, for the first time in history, the fundamental rights of individuals became an international concern. Before that time, the rights of individuals had been a matter exclusively of domestic jurisdiction of a state. With the exception of certain categories of persons such as diplomats, aliens, and refugees, international law and international organizations dealt directly only with nation-states. The massive inhuman treatment and torture of people at the hands of Nazis and Fascists both before and during World War II made the protection of rights derived from the inherent dignity and equality of a human person a matter of universal concern. Thus, the human rights of individuals were to find a place in the agenda of the newly established United Nations. United Nations;racial discrimination Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1963) Racial and ethnic discrimination;United Nations Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations [kw]United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination (Nov. 20, 1963) [kw]Racial Discrimination, United Nations Condemns (Nov. 20, 1963) [kw]Discrimination, United Nations Condemns Racial (Nov. 20, 1963) United Nations;racial discrimination Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1963) Racial and ethnic discrimination;United Nations Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations [g]North America;Nov. 20, 1963: United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination[07720] [g]United States;Nov. 20, 1963: United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination[07720] [c]United Nations;Nov. 20, 1963: United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination[07720] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Nov. 20, 1963: United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination[07720] [c]Human rights;Nov. 20, 1963: United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination[07720] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 20, 1963: United Nations Condemns Racial Discrimination[07720] Stevenson, Adlai E. Seynes, Philippe de Thant, U [p]Thant, U;racial discrimination

The United Nations took a major initiative by adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) on December 10, 1948. The declaration served as the basic document providing guidelines and goals about the rights of individuals before the community of nations. The Universal Declaration was adopted in the General Assembly with forty-eight nations voting in its favor, none against, and eight abstaining. Although it lacked legal binding force over member states, it served as a model to be emulated, inspired the inclusion of guaranteed protections for individuals in many constitutions all over the world, and provided a yardstick against which the conduct of nations could be judged.

The Universal Declaration formally stipulated human rights of an individual related to liberty and spiritual integrity, political freedoms, and social, economic, and cultural independence. It became the basis for the adoption of a number of important U.N.-sponsored declarations and covenants in subsequent years. The spirit of this declaration was violated in varying measures by most members of the United Nations; however, despite frequent practices to the contrary, no government has ever publicly admitted the disregard of the declaration’s provisions.

The United Nations’ declarations are formalized statements of general principles. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1963 was an offshoot of the 1948 Universal Declaration. It received its main impetus from dual sources: the entry of a host of African and Asian states into the United Nations championing the cause of self-determination of nations, and the policy of apartheid, which extolled racial discrimination and racial superiority, practiced in South Africa. The racial problems in the United States, particularly the practice of segregation in the South, also provided impetus to the declaration.

The groundwork for the declaration on racial discrimination of 1963 was prepared as early as 1947, when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights Commission on Human Rights, U.N. established a subcommission to study and report on discrimination against and protection of minorities. A number of organs and procedures for the supervision of human rights were established by the United Nations in the following years. In 1963, the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the Commission on Human Rights, the Economic and Social Council, and the General Assembly of the United Nations considered the question of the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. After considerable debate and several amendments, on November 20, 1963, the General Assembly unanimously adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The purpose of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was to expedite the elimination of racial discrimination, which, despite international efforts, had continued to manifest itself in many parts of the world in the form of “apartheid, segregation and separation, as well as by the promotion and dissemination of doctrines of racial superiority and expansionism in certain areas.” Under the provisions of the declaration, the practice of discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, color, or ethnic origin was declared to be a denial of the principles of the charter of the United Nations, a violation of human rights, and an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and peoples within nations.

States, institutions, groups, and individuals were all barred from practicing racial discrimination and the use of police powers and violence to oppress individuals on racial and related grounds. Moreover, prescription was made to adopt positive measures at the state level for the adequate protection of individuals belonging to certain racial groups in order to ensure their full enjoyment of human rights. The declaration on racial discrimination suggested speedy governmental action in reversing public policies of racial segregation and the policies of apartheid. It advocated effective steps to be taken by governments to promote teaching, education, and information, with the intent of eliminating racial discrimination and prejudice and promoting understanding, tolerance, and cooperation.

The General Assembly requested all states to undertake all necessary measures to implement fully, faithfully, and without delay the principles contained in the declaration. It also requested governments and nongovernmental organizations to publicize the text of the declaration as widely as possible. The U.N. secretary-general and specialized U.N. agencies were given the responsibility of circulating the declaration in as many languages as possible.

The most important immediate outcome of the declaration on racial discrimination was the adoption of a resolution by the U.N. General Assembly to give absolute priority to the preparation of a Draft Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to be considered by the General Assembly in 1964. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was later adopted by the General Assembly in 1965, quickly garnering widespread international support. A committee on the elimination of racial discrimination was also established to review the information placed before it by the convention’s signatory states and to report directly to the General Assembly once a year. This body now is overseen by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was to have a strong impact on the future U.N. instruments related to human rights, which included the two International Covenants adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1966, the 1968 convention on the nonapplicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981), the Declaration on the Rights of All People to Peace (1984), and the Declaration on the Human Rights of Individuals Who Are Not Nationals of the Country in Which They Live (1985). Moreover, the General Assembly declared the period of 1973-1983 to be the “Decade Against Racial Discrimination.” The declaration on elimination of racial discrimination also gave a boost to the activities of nongovernmental watchdog agencies such as Amnesty International in bringing to light the violation of human rights of racial and ethnic minorities within states.

On a limited scale, despite the approval of only a very few states, the committee on the elimination of racial discrimination deals with communications directly from individuals within these states. It comments upon particular situations involving racial discrimination and prepares proposals and recommendations regarding such acts. Although its jurisdiction is advisory in nature and without any legal force, the committee plays an important role in focusing world attention on racial issues and mobilizing worldwide public opinion.

Significance

The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1963 considerably increased worldwide public awareness of the human rights of individuals regardless of their race, color, or ethnicity. The declaration generated moral, rather than legal, pressure in the society of states, and thus, despite their record of violations, all governments pay lip service to the doctrine and deny its disregard.

The declaration on racial discrimination suffered from an inherent limitation. As a result of the sudden emergence of a multitude of Asian and African states as the new majority at the United Nations in the 1960’s, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was expanded by adding the right of self-determination of nations to its list, a right which had been conspicuously absent from the original list. The rights of racial groups or individuals began to be perceived in terms of the self-determination of nations and an ideological framework opposed to Western colonialism and Western imperialism. The rights of people within these postcolonial societies and elsewhere.in the international state system continued to be regarded as a matter of state jurisdiction and sovereignty.

Furthermore, Cold War bloc politics and the superpower rivalry complicated the situation. The Soviet Union, as the leader of the communist countries and a friend of the nonaligned developing nations, and the United States, as the leader of the Western bloc and an ally of the Western-aligned or anticommunist developing nations, introduced the system of bloc voting at the United Nations, a system that seriously undermined the cause of human rights. Political expediency caused the United States to vote with its allies on the side of such countries as South Africa to maintain the solidarity of the Western bloc. The United States’ criticism and negative vote during the deliberations on the draft proposal of the 1963 declaration on racial discrimination related mainly to technical grounds and the use of certain phrases in the proposal. The declaration in its final form was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly.

The Soviet Union and other communist countries, as well as most of the developing countries, continued to violate the human rights of racial and ethnic minority groups within their respective states to varying degrees. Their rhetoric indicated a discrepancy of perceptions caused by their focus on colonialism and imperialism as the exclusive manifestations of racism.

The issue of racial discrimination at the United Nations remained heavily focused on South Africa, which represented a unique, formally created political-legal system of racial discrimination. Israel, too, became a main target. As a result, racialist practices in the Western world, particularly in the form of institutional racism, escaped receiving similar criticism or denouncement. For example, in 1963, the year in which the declaration was made, the Civil Rights movement in the United States began to protest the practice of segregation in the South and violation of human rights of black Americans. Practices in the United States did not become a controversial issue at the United Nations.

The powers of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights have gradually expanded. The role of nongovernmental watchdog organizations, which closely collaborate with the U.N. agencies, has been impressive. These include Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, the International League of Human Rights, the International Federation of Human Rights, and the World Council of Churches. In promoting their efforts and others, the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination played an important role within the structural limitations of its parent organization. United Nations;racial discrimination Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, U.N. (1963) Racial and ethnic discrimination;United Nations Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baehr, Peter R., and Leon Gordenker. The United Nations: Reality and Ideal. New York: Praeger, 1984. Reviews and provides a critical summary of the history of the United Nations. Attempts to evaluate the functioning of the United Nations to ascertain if the organization has developed according to expectations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Banton, Michael. Combating Racial Discrimination: The UN and Its Member States. London: Minority Rights Group International, 2000. Report on the state of U.N. measures against racial discrimination and recommendations on how to proceed. Bibliographic references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Donnelly, Jack, and Rhoda E. Howard, eds. International Handbook of Human Rights. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. This reference work provides an excellent summary and review of the progress made in the area of human rights in the post-World War II years. A critical analysis is made of the academic, political, and cultural complexities surrounding the problem of adherence to human rights standards.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mower, Glenn A., Jr. The United States, the United Nations, and Human Rights. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. This book is a survey of American foreign policy and the issue of human rights at the United Nations, and how at times the United States has appeared to be working at cross purposes as a result of the pressures of domestic politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riggs, Robert E., and Jack C. Plano. The United Nations: International Organization and World Politics. Chicago: Dorsey Press, 1988. Written from the perspective of international politics, this book traces the evolution of the United Nations and its structure, form, and activity. Describes the structure and processes of human rights rule making.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United Nations. Yearbook of the United Nations, 1963. New York: Columbia University Press in cooperation with the United Nations, 1965. A good source for detailed technical information about United Nations proceedings and texts of documents.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United Nations. General Assembly. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Forty-Third to Fifty-Seventh Sessions, 1993-2000. Edited by Leif Holmström. New York: M. Nijhoff, 2002. Report of the U.N. committee responsible for promoting the elimination of racial discrimination of the situation at the end of the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United Nations. Office of Public Information. The United Nations and Human Rights. New York: United Nations, 1973. A documentary work about the activities of the United Nations in the area of human rights development and promotion since its inception. Also a systematic compilation of declarations, covenants, and other related documents.

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