International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination


The United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on December 21, 1965.

The Convention – which entered into force on January 4, 1969 – has three signatories, and 182 countries have ratified or acceded to it, including India. (Signatories are qualified to ratify, accept or approve a treaty. Ratification is an 'international act' whereby a State indicates its consent to be bound to a treaty.)

Invoking the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention’s Preamble notes that “… all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set out therein, without distinction of any kind, in particular as to race, colour or national origin.”

The 25 Articles of the 4,739-word Covenant are arranged in three parts. Articles 1-7 (Part I) cover recommendations to State Parties on eliminating all forms of racial discrimination. Articles 8-16 (Part II) propose establishing a Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination composed of nationals of the State Parties to the Convention. They prescribe the manner in which State Parties shall report the measures they have adopted to observe the rights recognised by the Convention. Articles 17-25 (Part III) discuss the process by which the Convention is to be ratified and amended. (In UN documents, a ‘State Party’ to a treaty is a country that has ratified or acceded to that particular treaty, and is therefore legally bound by the provisions in the instrument).

The following are excerpts from Part I’s seven Articles, which remain especially relevant to the present times:

Article 1: ‘Racial discrimination’ refers to “…any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” The Convention shall not apply to distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences – made by State Parties – between citizens and non-citizens. Nothing in this Convention may be interpreted as affecting the legal provisions of States Parties which concern nationality, citizenship or naturalisation, unless such provisions discriminate against any particular nationality. Racial discrimination shall not include special measures undertaken to secure “adequate” advancement for certain racial or ethnic groups, or individuals requiring such protection – provided that such measures do not lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups, and that the measures shall not be continued after its objectives have been met.

Article 2: States Parties shall condemn racial discrimination. They shall engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups or institutions, and ensure that all public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation. State Parties shall not sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by any persons or organisations. Each State Party shall take effective measures to review its policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which may create or perpetuate racial discrimination. They shall prohibit and bring to an end – by all appropriate means – racial discrimination by any persons, group or organisation. State Parties shall undertake to encourage “integrationist multiracial organisations and movements” and other means of eliminating barriers between races, and discourage anything which might strengthen racial division. Each State Party shall – when the circumstances so warrant – take special and concrete measures to ensure the “adequate” development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to them, in order to guarantee to them the “…full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Article 3: States Parties condemn racial segregation and apartheid, and shall undertake to prevent, prohibit and eradicate all practices of this nature in territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 4: States Parties shall condemn all propaganda and organisations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form. State Parties shall adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination. Each State Party shall declare as a punishable offence all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, and acts of violence or incitement to such acts, against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin, and the provision of any assistance to racist activities. They shall declare illegal, and prohibit organisations and propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and recognise participation in such organisations or activities as an offence punishable by law. No State Party shall permit public authorities or institutions to promote or incite racial discrimination.

Article 5: States Parties shall guarantee – to all persons, without any distinction – the right to equal treatment before tribunals and all other organs administering justice; the right to ‘security of person’ and protection against violence or bodily harm; political rights, such as the right to participate in elections, take part in public affairs and have equal access to public services; civil rights, including the right to marriage and choice of spouse, freedom of movement and peaceful assembly, inheritance and property ownership, and freedom of opinion and expression; economic and social rights, such as the right to work, join and form trade unions, housing, public health and education; and the right to access any place or service intended for use by the general public.

Article 6: States Parties shall ensure – to everyone within their jurisdiction – effective protection and remedies through competent national tribunals and other State institutions, against any acts of racial discrimination which violate the human rights and fundamental freedoms contrary to this Convention, and the right to seek “just and adequate” reparations for any damage suffered as a result of such discrimination.

Article 7: States Parties shall undertake to adopt immediate and effective measures – particularly in the fields of teaching, education, culture and information – in order to combat prejudices which lead to racial discrimination; to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations and racial or ethnical groups; and to propagate the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and this Convention.

Focus and Factoids by Rini D’Souza.


United Nations


United Nations


21 Dec, 1965