The CERD was established in 1970 pursuant to Article 8 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. CERD is an autonomous monitoring body composed of 18 independent human rights experts whose primary role is to monitor the implementation of the Convention by its State parties (countries who have signed onto the Convention). These expert members, who must be persons of high moral standing and acknowledged impartiality, are elected for a four year term by state parties in accordance with article 8 of the Convention. However, elections for half of the eighteen members are held every two years in order to ensure stability and continuity during change in the composition of the Committee. The elected members are expected to serve in their personal capacity, and not as representatives of their nominating governments
The CERD usually convenes twice a year for sessions lasting about three weeks. These arenormally held in February and August at the Geneva office of the United Nations.
CERD’s responsibilities under the Convention include:
- To consider the periodic reports submitted by countries on legislative, judicial, policy and other measures adopted by them to give effect to the provisions of the Convention, and to examine each report and issue concluding observations
- To receive and consider complaints, otherwise called communications, from individuals or groups of individuals claiming to be victims of a violation by a country of any of the rights set forth in the Convention
- To receive and consider certain inter-state complaints, that is, communications made by a State party that another State party is in violation or not giving effect to the provisions of the Convention
- To report annually to the General Assembly of the United Nations on its activities and make general recommendations based on the examination of the reports and information received from the States Parties.
In order to prevent, as well as to respond more effectively to violations of the Convention, CERD has adopted certain preventive measures. Theseinclude the Early-warning measures - aimed at preventing existing situations from escalating into conflicts, and the Urgent procedures - meant for responding to problems requiring immediate attention thereby limiting the scale of serious violations of the Convention.
According to CERD, the issue of discrimination against indigenous peoples falls under the scope of its consideration and all appropriate measures must be taken to combat and eliminate such discrimination. The body’s most prominent framework for indigenous right protection is outlined in its General Recommendation No. 23 which calls upon State parties to, amongst other things:
- Recognize and respect indigenous distinct culture, history, language and way of life as an enrichment of the State's cultural identity and to promote its preservation
- Ensure that members of indigenous peoples are free and equal in dignity and rights and free from any discrimination, in particular that based on indigenous origin or identity
- Provide indigenous peoples with conditions allowing for a sustainable economic and social development compatible with their cultural characteristics
- Ensure that members of indigenous peoples have equal rights in respect of effective participation in public life and that no decisions directly relating to their rights and interests are taken without their informed consent
- Ensure that indigenous communities can exercise their rights to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs and to preserve and to practice their languages.
In addition to the periodic reports submitted by the States parties, CERD under article 14 of the Convention allows individuals or groups of individual who are victims of violation of the Convention to file complaints before the Committee. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may also, in response to a State party’s periodic report, file a supplementary or counter report otherwise called “Shadow Report”. These provide alternative source of information and guide to the Committee is assessing the State party’s compliance with the Convention.
CERD also holds regular thematic discussions on issues related to racial discrimination and the Convention. At these it allows States parties, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations to express their views on the thematic subject. The Committee may in addition receive written information from NGOs on the subject under discussion. The Committee publishes its interpretation of the content of human rights provisions, known as general recommendations (or general comments), on the thematic issues.