Fight against racism and discrimination

A brief introduction to fighting racism and discrimination

One of the fundamental principles underlying human rights is that of equality between human beings. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaims that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. The corollary of the principle of equality is that of non-discrimination. Discrimination occurs when people in the same situation are treated differently for no objective reason.

Unfortunately, many factors still give rise to discrimination in the modern world, including people’s ethnic, national or social origins, their religion, language, gender. political leanings, sexual orientation, age, state of health and so forth. Forms of discriminations based on claims of ‘race’, i.e. racism, remain among the most widespread today. Now that globalisation has made our societies more multicultural, the risks of discrimination have also increased. Consequently, it is crucial to promote respect and tolerance if we are to guarantee everyone a harmonious life in diversity. Specific legal standards have been adopted in an effort to promote these values and combat racism.

International and regional instruments

The two UN pacts of 1996 continuing the development of human rights' protection and the UDHR dating from 1948 both contain provisions stipulating that the rights they list must be applied totally free of discrimination. However, other specific instruments have also been devised to combat the most widespread forms of discrimination.

1965 saw the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). This instrument, which Belgium ratified in 1999, was adopted in response to various racist policies, like those conducted by Nazi Germany or the apartheid regime in South Africa. It prohibits any racially distinction based on ‘race’, colour, ethnic or national origin and is designed to prevent and punish racist talk or racist acts. It also paves the way for the adoption of positive discriminatory measures. Since women also fall victim to numerous forms of discrimination, a Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 (see the page on Gender and Women’s Rights).

In the Council of Europe, Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), adopted in 2000, prohibits any form of discrimination by a public authority on any ground. There is also an Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime, which was adopted in 2003 concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), established in 1993, is an independent monitoring mechanism which examines the measures taken in Member States to combat racist phenomena and also the effectiveness of such measures. ECRI regularly visits the Member States (it paid Belgium a visit in 2008) to analyse the situation in situ and duly publishes reports and recommendations.

Action by Belgium and the European Union

Fighting racism and all forms of discriminations throughout the world is one of Belgium’s priorities. At the national level, the Belgian Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism has a remit to combat discrimination in all its various forms. Internationally, Belgium is one of the main sponsors of a biannual resolution on the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Belgium also plays a major role in the UN conferences against racism held in Durban in 2001 and Geneva in 2009. These conferences enabled the adoption of final documents reasserting the importance of combating racism at the international level. These same documents also set out the specific issues arising in this domain and proposed some possible lines of action to take. These documents formed the basis for the adoption of Belgium’s National Action Plan Against Racism in 2004.

Within the European Union, the fight against racism and discrimination is one of the top priorities for the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). This public institution publishes reports on the real-life situation within the EU and analyses the available measures for combating the phenomenon of discrimination. The issue is also central to the bilateral relations that Belgium and the European Union maintain with third countries.

For more information, see the following websites:

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination    

The UN’s World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

The Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance

The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency

Belgian Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism