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Joint statement by MRG and IMADR to CERD: Thematic Discussion on the Prevention of Genocide

28 February 2005

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 

This thematic discussion is a unique opportunity, not only to share ideas about CERD’s role in genocide prevention, but also, just as importantly, to look at how different UN bodies can coordinate their work in this area more effectively. The signatories to this statement also welcome the opportunity to discuss how NGOs can contribute to this extremely important endeavour.

Due to the specific role of the Committee in examining the situation with regard to racial discrimination in the territories of states parties, it is extremely well-placed to play a role in genocide prevention, and we would like to share with you some of our thinking on how this work could be developed.

Specific value-added of CERD

CERD’s specific role in examining state law, policy and practice, and to a certain extent the activities of non-state actors, with regard to racial discrimination, means that it is well-placed to identify certain early indicators of genocide. Among such indicators are:

– the use of identity cards to identify specific groups;

– a lack of a legislative framework and institutions to prevent racial discrimination and provide recourse to victims of discrimination;

– the exclusion (in law or in fact) of groups from positions of power, employment in state institutions, key professions such as teachers, etc.;

– violence against minority groups which have traditionally maintained a privileged position, for example as a business elite;

– isolated incidents or rumours which spark off violent mob activity against a minority group (such as in Gujarat in 2002 and Kosovo in 2004);

– demonisation of minority groups in the media;

– phenomena of segregation, for example separate schools, usually of inferior quality, for minority groups;

– policies of forced relocation or eviction from land or property without adequate compensation;

– policies aimed at the prevention of delivery of essential services or assistance including obstruction of aid delivery, access to food, water, sanitation or essential medical supplies;

– development and organization of militia groups and/or extreme right political groups which may be seen to be stepping up activities and actively (perhaps by coercion) recruiting new members;

Some of these indicators may be present in many states, not necessarily at any stage of genocide preparation, and therefore will need to be considered in conjunction with other information, for example shadow reports, information from the Special Adviser, and risk factors of genocide.

Some of the indicators may be present for one group and not others – for example the failure of judicial recourse. If this is systematic, that group may well be at specific risk.

While some of these factors would constitute standard information which CERD would seek to obtain in the course of its job of monitoring the convention, other factors may come up in other ways, for example in shadow reports. For this reason the role of NGOs is crucial, and we will come back to this.

As well as indicators, CERD may consider making use of genocide risk factors which are a tool for identifying states where no genocidal activity is taking place but which are at a high risk of genocide. Barbara Harff identifies six risk factors:

– political upheaval;

– prior history of genocide;

– ideological orientation of the ruling elite;

– regime type;

– ethnic character of ruling elite;

– trade openness;

– The Secretariat should provide the committee with an assessment of the above risk factors as part of its package of background information on countries to be examined, and NGOs should also provide their analysis of these risk factors in their shadow reports.


The information about urgent procedures and early warning measures on the website of CERD is limited; in particular it provides little specific information on how the committee arrives at a decision to trigger one of these procedures, how it is decided which of the paths of action to take (referral to Secretary-General, visit to the country concerned, etc.), and what contribution, if any, NGOs or academics can make. As CERD often decides to take up a specific country under the early warning and urgent procedures only at the beginning of the session, there is usually no time for NGOs to submit information. The question is then, how NGOs and other external experts can alert the Committee to a certain situation and urge it to take action.

The website should also provide clear information for NGOs on how to submit alternative information such as shadow reports.


It is clear that a system for following up on the urgent procedures and early warning measures, once they have been triggered, is extremely important with regard to genocide prevention. In particular, a state which is engaging in preparations for genocide is unlikely to respond to a request for further information from CERD, or may provide manifestly inadequate information. This in itself may need to be considered an indicator of imminent genocide. The working group established at the last session, coordinated by Ms January-Bardill, may play this role, and this is hopefully where NGOs may contribute information.

The committee may also consider establishing the possibility for the chair of CERD to issue a chair’s statement, as is the practice within the Commission on Human Rights (where it has proven useful in allowing an issue to be addressed when no consensus around a resolution could be achieved). This could serve to draw attention to a situation where a minority is at particular risk.

However, there is a clear need for a procedure that would be operative throughout the year and not just during CERD sessions, particularly with regard to monitoring the urgent and early warning procedures. Consideration should be given to a possible inter-sessional procedure. The above-mentioned working group could receive and consider information it receives between CERD sessions. An assessment would then be made of the action required. This could include: forwarding the information to the Special Adviser, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Secretary-General or other body; sending a request for information to the government in question; visiting the country in question; or issuing a public statement. Further examination may be conducted as soon as a session starts.

Contribution of NGOs and outside experts

States which are actively making preparations for genocide are unlikely to report to CERD, or may provide a very poor state party report. In such cases NGOs have a clear role to play in providing shadow reports which document abuses and patterns of discrimination which the state party fails to report.

The OHCHR’s training programme for NGOs on UN treaty monitoring bodies should contain a specific minority rights and genocide prevention component.

In this respect we would like to urge the committee to address a particular problem. To give an example, last week a state party announced with only one day’s notice that it would not send a delegation to CERD for the scheduled examination of its report, which was then postponed. An NGO had travelled at its own expense to Geneva to present a shadow report. This is a strong discouragement to NGOs from spending time and money coming to Geneva and thus valuable input will be lost.

Limitations of CERD as a genocide prevention mechanism

While the convention provides for a 2-year reporting cycle, it is well-known that most state parties do not fully comply with this. It is not unusual for a state to go 10 years without being examined, and most of the states that do so are not planning a genocide. However, CERD should consider such a chronic failure to report in the light of an assessment of the risk factors mentioned above, and information from other sources such as NGO shadow reports and information from the Special Adviser, in order to identify countries where there is a risk of genocide. In such cases such countries should be prioritised for examination in the absence of a state report, under CERD’s review procedure, and the Secretariat should make efforts to obtain relevant background information to enable the committee to make an assessment of the convention’s implementation in the state, including the risk of genocide.

The scope of the convention usually precludes CERD from carrying out an in-depth examination of the situation of linguistic and religious minorities, which can be victims of genocide. However, the committee may receive credible information about threats to such groups and where this is the case, such information should be forwarded to the Special Adviser, and/or to other bodies such as relevant Special Rapporteurs.

Relationship with the special adviser on the prevention of genocide

Because the Special Adviser is specifically mandated to bring situations to the attention of the Secretary-General and Security Council, CERD may consider forwarding information on certain situations to the Special Adviser which, in its opinion, need the urgent attention of these bodies.

The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide is likely to maintain lists of countries it considers to be at risk of genocide, and CERD may also do so or may consider doing so. In this case, the two bodies should consult regularly and share these lists with each other, and exchange information on the countries listed. Information provided by the Special Adviser may allow CERD to pose specific questions of the state party during examinations. The Special Adviser may find State party reports, alternative reports and concluding observations provided by CERD useful in determining the potential for genocide in a given state.

Thank you for your attention.

Minority Rights Group International & International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism