UN calls for more effective action against racism by the Scottish government

Category: Non-discrimination

6th September 2016

On the 26th August, CERD (the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) published their Concluding Observations. Included in it, for the first time was thirteen mentions of Scotland and Scottish policies as well as a number of specific recommendations for Scotland on issues such as criminal justice, National Human Rights Institutions, racist hate speech and hate crimes, stop and search as well as access to justice.

The United Kingdom has been a signatory to the International Convention of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) since 1966, submitting its first report to the Committee in 1970. Since then, every four to five years the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination asks the UK state to submit a report outlining the steps taken to implement the treaty into domestic legislation and policy making.

The Committee, made up of 18 independent experts, then examines these reports, and those submitted from civil society, and draws up a series of recommendations (concluding recommendations) on how the state party might better meet the aims of the treaty.

The UK's most recent examination took place in August 2016 at the UN Human Rights headquarters in Geneva.

CRER assisted the Runnymede Trust in compiling a joint UK-wide NGO Alternative Report, and they also submitted a separate Scottish alternative report directly to CERD.

CRER has been involved with CERD for the last few reporting rounds, and has been the only Scottish representative at the oral sessions in recent times. Unlike other UN Committees, CERD has often overlooked devolution and given limited attention to the four administrations within the UK that have the powers necessary to implement CERD's observations. A key aim for CRER when attending the 90th reporting session in Geneva was to lobby the Committee on the importance of devolution within the UK and outline areas in which powers have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

On the 26th August CERD published their concluding observations. Included in it, for the first time was thirteen mentions of Scotland and Scottish policies as well as a number of specific recommendations for Scotland on issues such as criminal justice, National Human Rights Institutions, racist hate speech and hate crimes, stop and search as well as access to justice. Below are some key areas of improvement that CERD have issued which address Scotland:

- The State party (should) ensure that the principles and the provisions of the Convention are directly and fully applicable under domestic law in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as the overseas territories and Crown dependencies.

- The State party (should) ensure that the governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the British Overseas Territories and the Crown dependencies systematically collect and publish disaggregated data on the enjoyment of rights by members of ethnic minorities in all fields of life, and to include such information in the next periodic report.

- The State party, including the governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the British Overseas Territories and the Crown dependencies (should):

  • Investigate all reported acts of racist hate crimes, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the offence, and provide effective remedies to victims;
  • Systematically collect disaggregated data on hate crimes, ensure that measures to combat racist hate crimes are developed with the meaningful participation of affected groups, and undertake a thorough impact assessment of the measures adopted to ensure their continued effectiveness;
  • Adopt concrete measures, in consultation with affected groups, to increase the reporting of racist hate crimes by ensuring that the reporting mechanism is transparent and accessible, and that victims have trust in the police and the justice system;
  • Adopt comprehensive measures to combat racist hate speech and xenophobic political discourse, including on the Internet (and) take effective measures to combat racist media coverage.

- The State party (should) ensure that individuals belonging to ethnic minorities in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as its overseas territories and Crown dependencies have fair and effective access to legal aid to seek justice. It recommends that the State party undertake a thorough assessment of the impact of the reforms to the legal aid system to ensure that individuals belonging to ethnic minorities are not disproportionately affected.

- The State party (should) ensure that the governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales:

  • Strengthen their efforts to eliminate all racist bullying and harassment in schools, including by requiring schools to collect qualitative and quantitative data on bullying on the grounds of race, and to use the data to develop concrete strategies;
  • Ensure that the school curricula contains a balanced account of the history of British Empire and colonialism, including slavery and other grave human rights violations;
  • The State party (should) ensure that the governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, regularly review the impact of stop and search powers on persons belonging to visible ethnic minority groups, and take effective measures to ensure that such powers are used in a lawful, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory manner on the basis of reasonable suspicion, with rigorous monitoring and review mechanisms.
  • The State party (should) ensure that the overrepresentation of persons belonging to black and ethnic minority groups at all stages of the criminal justice system in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is thoroughly investigated, and take concrete measures to effectively address racial prejudice and bias in the criminal justice system.

The Committee also welcomed the adoption of the Scottish National Action Plan (SNAP) for Human Rights and the Race Equality Framework for Scotland 2016-2030 that was launched in March this year.

With such a large body of work currently underway, and a clear directive from the United Nations, CRER and other organisations are looking forward to engaging with politicians, decision makers and wider civil society to ensure that the ambitions within the treaty are realised and racial discrimination is eliminated in Scotland.

Together also submitted evidence as part of the Runnymede report.

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