University of Minnesota

Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
U.N. Doc. A/48/18, paras. 382-425 (1993).



Forty-third session


Concluding observations of the Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The twelfth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including the dependent territories (CERD/C/226/Add.4), was considered by the Committee at its 996th to 998th meetings, held on 9 and 10 August 1993 (CERD/C/SR.996-998).

The report was introduced by the representative of the State party, who reminded members of the importance which his Government attached to dialogue with the Committee. He said that the situation with regard to racial discrimination in the United Kingdom offered no cause whatsoever for complacency, given the fact that it was easier to change laws than attitudes. The Race Relations Act of 1976 remained the main legislative means for implementing the Convention in the United Kingdom. The Commission for Racial Equality (whose new Chairman was a member of an ethnic minority group) had made 31 recommendations for changing the law, enhancing the powers of the Commission and taking new action to discourage discrimination. Those recommendations were currently under consideration within the Government, which would respond to some of them by the end of the year. The number of complaints concerning discrimination lodged with the industrial tribunals had increased somewhat, which seemed to indicate that the system set up under the 1976 Act was now widely known and increasingly well used.

According to data derived from the 1991 census, the first to contain questions about ethnic origin, the number of inhabitants who were members of ethnic minorities was approximately 3 million out of a total population of about 55 million, some 5.5 per cent. Great disparities existed between the various communities.

He described two specific measures designed to make the criminal justice system more sensitive to the needs of the ethnic minorities. First, the Criminal Justice Act of 1991 placed an obligation on the Home Secretary to publish annual data designed to facilitate the task of those engaged in the administration of criminal justice, so as to avoid any discrimination; and secondly, an Ethnic Minorities Advisory Committee had been set up in 1991 to provide training on minority issues to all who sat in a judicial capacity. The number of racist attacks was very disquieting; the number of such attacks reported to the police had increased from approximately 4,400 in 1988 to 7,800 in 1992, and estimates based on the British Crime Survey put the real figure for racially motivated crimes at between 130,000 and 140,000 a year. A Racial Attacks Group had been set up and, in 1989 and 1992, had published two reports, which had played an important part in promoting an inter-agency approach and strengthening cooperation between agencies in addressing that difficult issue. There was also a danger of violence between the various minority ethnic communities, aggravated, for example, by reactions to the attack on the Ayodhya mosque in India in 1992. The concentration of ethnic minorities in deprived inner-city areas was a source of concern; the authorities were endeavouring to regenerate those areas, inter alia in the context of the City Challenge initiative launched in 1991, one of whose objectives was to provide training and initiate community projects for the benefit of minorities. There were at present 31 partnership action programmes, on which £37.5 million would be spent over a five-year period. In all, the funds allocated by the Government for those programmes would exceed £1 billion. Inner-city regeneration was the objective of many programmes; thus the Urban Programme budget currently totalled £156 million.

On the dependent territories, the representative of the State party said that, with the exception of Hong Kong, on which two reports had been submitted, the eleventh and twelfth periodic reports had been consolidated into a single document, because of an acute shortage of resources and technical expertise in those territories. In connection with the report on the Cayman Islands, in which mention was made of the possibility of amending the Constitution of the territory through the incorporation of a bill of rights, he explained that that reform would be undertaken shortly and that the bill would contain a provision relating to action to combat discrimination. In connection with Hong Kong, where the Hong King Bill of Rights Ordinance had been enacted in 1991, he stated that the text of the Bill of Rights had been incorporated in that Ordinance.

The members of the Committee expressed their satisfaction at the copious information submitted by the Government of the United Kingdom in its report, and in the core document submitted in June 1992 (HRI/CORE/1/Add.5), and also welcomed the frank and detailed presentation by the representative of the State party. They noted with satisfaction the Government's serious attitude towards its obligations concerning the submission of reports, and its determination to pursue a fruitful dialogue with the Committee and to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. They nevertheless noted that the report did not fully conform to the guidelines set out by the Committee. They wished to receive more data on various social indicators which could be very useful in showing the extent to which certain minority groups failed to integrate into the community. They wished to know what measures had been taken, apart from the 1991 census, to obtain more precise information on the size, characteristics and distribution of ethnic minority groups, and in what way the ethnic minorities had been consulted on the wording of the question relating to ethnic origin in the 1991 census. They also wished to know whether legislative measures had been taken since 1990 to supplement the Race Relations Act and what further action had been taken by the Government on the recommendations made by the Commission for Racial Equality with a view to improving legislation.

As to the situation in Northern Ireland, the information provided in the report was considered too general. The members of the Committee expressed their concern at the fact that the Race Relations Act was not implemented in Northern Ireland and that the Commission for Racial Equality did not have competence there. Information was sought on the ethnic composition of the minorities in Northern Ireland, and further details were requested on travellers and their situation in relation to other ethnic minority groups and on persons of Chinese origin, who had reportedly been victims of acts of racism. Considering that, with regard to Northern Ireland, the Government of the United Kingdom was not fulfilling its obligation to enact legislation prohibiting racial discrimination, the members of the Committee asked whether there was not at least the intention to apply the Race Relations Act of 1976 to that part of the Kingdom. They wished to know what the Government's reaction had been to the publication in 1992 of the document entitled "Racism in Northern Ireland". They requested details on government assistance to the ethnic minority communities in Northern Ireland. They asked what remedies were available to victims of racial discrimination in Northern Ireland, and what measures had been taken to enable all inhabitants, without distinction, to enjoy their fundamental rights. Referring to allegations that Irish people living in the United Kingdom had been victims of acts of racial discrimination, they inquired about measures taken by the Government to combat that phenomenon.

In connection with article 2 of the Convention, the members of the Committee wished to know how the various programmes and initiatives to combat racial discrimination would be implemented in practice. Further details were requested on the progress of the crime prevention projects currently under way. Noting that there had been only a small increase in the number of police officers belonging to ethnic minorities, it was asked what measures were envisaged to increase that number. On the question of racist attacks, the number of which was disturbing, more intensive consideration must be given to that phenomenon and more effective measures must be adopted in order to remedy it. In that connection, the members of the Committee wished to know whether the police were genuinely and appropriately implementing the measures and recommendations formulated by the Racial Attacks Group, and whether effective disciplinary measures were being taken against police officers who committed criminal acts. They asked whether police forces received special training in order to be able to prevent racial incidents and whether the general public received appropriate education aimed at changing attitudes and instilling the principles of equality and tolerance. Were special criminal penalties provided for in cases of racial assault, and were not more severe measures deemed to be necessary against those responsible for racist attacks? In view of the international dimension of the problem, it was asked what measures the United Kingdom intended to take in conjunction with other European States in order to combat the increase in racist attacks. Members of the Committee also sought clarification about the situation of overseas domestic servants and measures taken to improve their lot, in view of the fact that a significant proportion of those servants were reportedly subjected to various forms of abuse.

In connection with article 3 of the Convention, it was observed that the report of the State party provided no information on implementation of that article and was not in conformity with the Committee's guidelines on that question. Members of the Committee requested information about the status of relations with the regime in South Africa and about measures taken concerning any acts or practices of racial segregation that might have occurred in the territory of the State party.

The members of the Committee drew attention to the binding character of article 4 of the Convention and expressed regret that it had not been addressed in the United Kingdom report. They requested further details on the scope of the legislation enacted in order to implement article 4 (a). They considered that the United Kingdom's statement of interpretation concerning article 4 was liable to jeopardize implementation of article 4 (b) of the Convention. They wished to know whether the Government intended to withdraw that statement of interpretation and to take disciplinary measures against perpetrators of violations of the provisions of article 4 (b), and to modify its policy of tolerance with regard to the British National Party and other pro-Fascist or anti-Semitic political parties or institutions, on which the Committee would also welcome further information.

On article 5 of the Convention, members asked whether the United Kingdom envisaged enacting legislation to remedy the particular effects of immigration and nationality regulations on certain nationals who were members of ethnic minorities. In that connection, members of the Committee asked whether it was envisaged to update the Commonwealth Immigration Act, so that all foreigners wishing to settle in the United Kingdom could be treated on an equal footing. They also sought clarification on the issue of polygamous marriage and on the possible restrictions on the right to free choice of spouse resulting from existing immigration rules. They requested more information on the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990 and the very selective process it established by enabling the authorities to register as British citizens 50,000 "key people". Concerning the question of asylum, clarification was sought on criteria for granting asylum and on reports that some asylum-seekers had been forcibly returned to countries where their safety was at risk. In regard to employment, additional information was requested on recruitment in the private sector. Whereas the 1968 Act had bound the Royal Household not to discriminate racially as an employer, the 1976 Act had for some reason exempted it. Members of the Committee also asked what measures the Government was taking, in addition to social assistance, to remedy the very high rate of unemployment among minority groups. With regard to education, members wished to know in how many schools teaching was provided in the pupil's mother tongue. They also asked whether the right of schools to opt out of control by Local Education Authorities would not increase the risks inherent in a racially segregated system. They inquired how much time was set aside in schools for collective worship of an essentially Christian nature in non-denominational schools and how infant mortality rates compared between ethnic groups. Members also wished to know if there were any political parties in the United Kingdom established on ethnic grounds, how many Members of Parliament were members of ethnic minority groups, and what impact ethnic communities had on parliamentary elections.

With reference to article 6 of the Convention, members of the Committee asked whether the Commission for Racial Equality played a part in preparing or reviewing the reports submitted to the Committee. They also wished to have further information on the functioning of the industrial tribunals. More information was requested on cases of racial discrimination brought before United Kingdom courts or before the European Court of Human Rights. Clarification was sought on the implications of the statement of interpretation made by the State party on article 6 concerning reparation and satisfaction. Members of the Committee also asked whether the Government intended to make a declaration under article 14 of the Convention.

As to article 7 of the Convention, members of the Committee wished to know which of the measures in connection with the implementation of that article had proved effective and what the role of the Department of Education was in the overall policy to reduce racial attacks. It was asked whether the provisions of the Convention were taught sufficiently, whether the reports submitted to the Committee were published by the Government and whether the Committee's conclusions were divulged.

Referring to article 11 of the Convention, members asked whether the United Kingdom was not considering the possibility of bringing to the attention of the Committee, in accordance with the provisions of that article, any cases of racial discrimination in other States parties.

Members of the Committee asked whether the United Kingdom was considering withdrawing, or at least reducing to a minimum, its reservations and statements of interpretation with regard to the Convention, concerning articles 4 and 6 in particular. They wished to know why the reservations relating to Rhodesia and Fiji had not yet been withdrawn.

Concerning the dependent territories, members of the Committee asked why the Convention had not been incorporated into the domestic legislation of these territories and expressed the view that much remained to be done in order for the State party to fulfil its legal obligations towards those territories under the Convention, including the enactment of legislation to give effect to the provisions of article 4 of the Convention. They inquired whether the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man were territories under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom and, if so, whether the Convention was applicable in those territories. They wished to know whether problems of racial discrimination had arisen in regard to foreign domestic staff employed in Hong Kong. Noting that in Hong Kong proceedings in the higher courts were conducted in English only, they asked whether the authorities intended to take measures to introduce the use of Chinese as well in these courts. In connection with the territory of Bermuda, members of the Committee inquired whether the recommendations by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales concerning the disproportionate criminalization of black youth because of the way in which the police enforced certain rules were being accepted. With regard to the island of Saint Helena, clarification was requested on the "Belongers" living on the island and on the opportunity, in practice, for all races to attend State and private schools.

Replying to questions and comments by members of the Committee, the representative of the State party emphasized that there were far fewer flagrant cases of racial discrimination in the United Kingdom now than 15 years ago; that increasing use was being made of the industrial tribunals set up under the 1976 Act, and that the situation of the ethnic communities in the United Kingdom had improved in regard to housing, education and, indeed, employment over the years.

According to the 1991 census, 94.5 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom belonged to the white ethnic group. There were approximately 520,000 inhabitants of Indian origin, 490,000 of Pakistan-Bangladesh origin, and 490,000 of Afro-Caribbean origin. The tendency among the ethnic minorities was to live in the large cities, more particularly in the south-east of England. Moreover, there were substantial regional disparities in terms of the distribution of the various ethnic groups. Organizations representing minorities had been consulted on the wording of the question on ethnic groups for the purposes of the 1991 census and, according to statisticians, the replies had been satisfactory. The census questionnaire in Northern Ireland had not contained any question about ethnic groups for it had emerged, in the course of prior consultations, that such information was not required. On the other hand, the questionnaire had included a question about religion.

As to the question of legislation on racial discrimination, the representative of the State party said that the Commission for Racial Equality had, in September 1991, submitted recommendations to the Home Office, with a view more particularly to making the legislation on racial discrimination stronger, making incitement to religious hatred an offence, prohibiting any discrimination based on religion and enhancing the efficiency of the judicial system. The Government had specified the areas that called for further examination and, for that purpose, had set up a working group within the Commission for Racial Equality.

As to the questions on the situation of the ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland, the Government accepted the principle of protection for persons in Northern Ireland who suffered from discrimination on the grounds of race. The Government recognized the importance of the question of the travelling people, and the consultative document published by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland indicated that proposals had been made to consider such persons as belonging to an ethnic group and to take them into account in any bill on racial discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Replying to questions about racist attacks, the representative explained that the Government acknowledged the need for more accurate figures. The issue of racist offences was complex and called for more research and more sophisticated methods of inquiry. The House of Commons Subcommittee was now studying the problem. The task of the Racial Attacks Group was to make recommendations and follow up their implementation; it had, in its 1991 report, made recommendations to the police and to local authorities. All police officers received training in community and race relations during their practical training and were then given more advanced courses at Police Staff College. In 1989, the Home Office had set up a department to train teachers in community and race relations. Sections 8 and 9 of the Police Standards of Conduct concerned discriminatory conduct by police officers. The maximum penalty under those two sections was dismissal. In addition, police inspectors made sure that the police applied the Home Office guidelines on equal opportunities for minorities in police service recruitment and career prospects, as well as the recommendations of the Racial Attacks Group.

As to the possibility of a new legal framework in regard to racist violence and incitement to racial hatred, the representative of the State party explained that the Commission for Racial Equality had proposed that legislation should be introduced to make racial attacks an offence. The proposal, on which there were some reservations, would be considered by the authorities with a great deal of attention. With reference to the question of international cooperation in the field of racial discrimination, he pointed out that the Council of Europe had adopted a declaration condemning racism and xenophobia, and the United Kingdom had played an active part in the preparation of the declaration.

With regard to article 3 of the Convention, the representative drew attention to the United Kingdom's frequently reiterated position, namely, rejection of apartheid in all its forms. He also said that section 18 of the 1976 Race Relations Act could be invoked only when the local education authorities committed an act of discrimination in connection with their duties.

With reference to article 4 of the Convention, the representative of the State party drew attention to the United Kingdom's position that existing legislation and particularly the 1986 Public Order Act prohibited and punished activities such as incitement to racial hatred and similar activities in a manner that was consistent with the requirements of article 4, without prejudice to the principles of freedom of expression and association.

Concerning the suggestion that the United Kingdom might invoke article 11 in the case of violations by other States parties of rights protected by the Convention, the representative said that his country would continue to bear in mind the rights conferred on it under article 11; the Government of the United Kingdom did not consider making a declaration under article 14 of the Convention, since any petitioners had other means of recourse.

As to the reservations entered by the United Kingdom when it had signed and ratified the Convention, more particularly on the subject of Fiji and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), there was no need to withdraw them officially, since they had become null and void. Once those territories had become independent, the United Kingdom had ceased to have any rights or obligations towards them under the Convention or any other international human rights instrument.

As to dependent territories, some questions called for further examination and he would reply to them as soon as possible.

Concluding observations

At its 1009th meeting, held on 18 August 1993, the Committee adopted the following concluding observations.

(a) Introduction

The Committee welcomed the detailed information contained in the report and its annexes, as well as the additional information presented orally. The Committee noted with satisfaction the seriousness with which the United Kingdom undertook its reporting obligations. The Committee expressed its thanks to the representatives of the State party for their efforts to reply to many of the questions raised, thus allowing the Committee to have a clearer picture of the overall situation in the State party as to its compliance with the obligations under the Convention. The Committee regretted, however, that the report had not been drawn up in full conformity with the Committee's guidelines for the presentation of State party reports and, in particular, that it did not contain any information on the implementation of articles 3 and 4 of the Convention.

(b) Positive aspects

The Committee welcomed the attempts of the United Kingdom Government to improve the standard of protection of its ethnic minorities and to remedy problems which still impeded implementation of the Convention. It noted the steps that had been taken to strengthen and supplement the 1976 Race Relations Act and to increase the effectiveness of the Commission for Racial Equality, as well as the various initiatives designed to promote good race relations and foster safety in urban areas, to increase the recruitment of members of ethnic minorities into the police service and to improve the economic and social conditions of minority groups through various measures in the field of employment and training, housing, social services, health and education. The Committee hoped that those plans would materialize in the near future and expected information thereupon in the next periodic report.

(c) Factors and difficulties impeding the application of the Convention

The Committee noted an increase of manifestations of racism and racially motivated attacks directed against members of ethnic minorities in the territory of the State party.

(d) Principal subjects of concern

The Committee shared the concern of the State party about the rising number of racial attacks. However, it was of the opinion that not enough had been done to inquire into the causes of such attacks and the manifestations of racist ideas.

The Committee regretted the lack of information concerning the implementation of the Convention in Northern Ireland. The Committee was further concerned about the absence of legislation prohibiting discrimination on racial grounds in Northern Ireland and the ensuing lack of adequate protection available to ethnic minorities including, in particular, travellers and persons of Chinese origin.

The Committee further noted with regret that the State party continued to fail to provide information on the implementation of article 3 of the Convention.

The Committee expressed concern that the State party was not implementing its obligations under article 4 of the Convention, which called for the adoption of specific penal legislation. By not prohibiting the British National Party and other groups and organizations of a racist nature, and by allowing them to pursue their activities, the State party was failing to implement article 4, which called for a condemnation of all organizations attempting to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination. Additionally, the Committee considered that in the light of the increase in the manifestation of racist ideas and of racially motivated attacks, the restrictive interpretation of article 4 violated the purpose and objective of the Convention and was incompatible with General Recommendation XV of the Committee.

The Committee noted with concern that in spite of various measures taken by the authorities the rate of unemployment affecting ethnic minorities remained very high and that the primary purpose rule regarding marriage under the immigration regulations might entail discrimination in effect on grounds of ethnic origin.

With regard to the dependent territories, the Committee was concerned that the Convention had not been incorporated in the domestic legislation of those territories and could not be invoked in the courts. In the case of Hong King, in particular, the Committee expressed its concern at the discriminatory provisions of the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act of 1990 in accordance with which the authorities might register as British citizens only 50,000 "key people".

(e) Suggestions and recommendations

The Committee recommended that, in accordance with the proposals made by the Commission for Racial Equality, the State party should take adequate legislative and other measures, to implement better the provisions of the Convention. The State party should, in particular, consider amending the 1976 Race Relations Act. The Committee also recommended that the State party

either adopt legislation relating to protection against racial discrimination in Northern Ireland or extend the scope of the Race Relations Act to Northern Ireland.

The Committee further recommended that the State party's next periodic report should contain information on the implementation of articles 3 and 4 of the Convention.

In addition, the Committee suggested that further effective legislative and other practical measures should be taken with a view to preventing incidents of incitement to racial hatred and racially motivated attacks; that, in particular, the causes of such attacks should be more accurately analysed; that current efforts to encourage the recruitment into the police of members of ethnic minorities be reinforced; and that the activities of organizations of a racist nature be prohibited and the dissemination of ideas based on racial hatred declared punishable by law.

The Committee encouraged the State party to review its interpretative statements and reservations, in particular, those with regard to articles 4 and 6 of the Convention, with a view to withdrawing them.

Concerning the dependent territories, the Committee recommended that the Convention should be incorporated into the domestic legislation of those territories.

The Committee was of the view that the situation in the United Kingdom should be kept under close scrutiny and expected the thirteenth periodic report to focus on the implementation of the recommendations made in paragraphs 419 to 422.

Finally, the Committee recommended that the State party should consider making the declaration under article 14, paragraph 1, of the Convention.



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