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Why Human Rights?

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WILD Programs

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Women's Leadership
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programs.gif (5061 bytes) Women & Girls of Color                  National Rights Program WB00852_.GIF (2380 bytes)
     United Nations Race Convention and Women’s Human Rights
Women of color and girls in the United States face many obstacles to living a life free of discrimination and with dignity because of their gender and racial background. Although U.S. law and policy does contain efforts to counter such obstacles, it falls far short of comprehensively addressing them. The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which the United States ratified in November 1994 thus making it part of U.S. law, contains several provisions that may provide more expansive rights for women of color than those available under U.S. federal and state law.

CERD requires that all ratifiers "undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination." (Article 2) CERD defines racial discrimination as any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference on the basis of race, color, ethnicity and national 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."

Advocacy using CERD could:

  • Hold the United States accountable for human rights
  • Influence policy on people of color
  • Organize groups of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds
  • Examine abuses against people of color as violations of their human rights
  • Access increased protections
  • Utilize international system and communicate with like-minded organizations in other countries

Protected Rights

In addition to civil and political rights, CERD protects economic, social and cultural rights. This is significant because the U.S. Constitution only addresses civil and political rights; economic and social rights, such as right to adequate working conditions, health and to education are protected under federal legislation, if at all. The rights protected by CERD are:

  • Right to equal treatment before courts
  • Right to be free of violence
  • Right to participate in elections, both as voters and candidates, and to participate in government
  • Right to freedom of movement and residence
  • Right to marriage and choice of spouse
  • Right to work, to free choice of employment, just and favorable conditions of work, protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal work, and just and favorable pay
  • Right to join and form unions
  • Right to housing
  • Right to healthcare
  • Right to social security and social services
  • Right to education and training
  • Right to equal participation in cultural activities

CERD will be useful in a number of ways:

Affirmative Action

Language in CERD encourages affirmative action measures to secure adequate advancement of certain racial groups or individuals by stating that such measures should not be construed as discrimination (Article 1(4)) and requires them "when circumstances so warrant." (Article 2(2))

Effect Not Just Intent

In contrast to U.S. law, CERD states that discrimination can be found without any intent to discriminate. (Article 1(1))

Public Education

The Convention calls on state parties to use education culture and information to eliminate prejudices that lead to racial discrimination and to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations and racial and ethnic groups. (Article 7)

Limitation on Use

Although all ratified treaties become United States law, the U.S. government has attempted to limit their use in U.S. courts. The U.S. government routinely attaches a "non-self-executing" declaration to ratified treaties, which means that the government must pass legislation before the rights within the treaty can be invoked in court. The United Nations and international human rights groups have issued statements condemning this declaration. This effort by the U.S. government to restrict access to our human rights should not prevent advocates from using human rights treaties in their advocacy methods or in court, but they should be aware of this limitation and be prepared to contest its legitimacy.


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   For more information please contact:

WILD for Human Rights
340 Pine Street, Suite 302
San Francisco, CA 94104
Tel:  415-837-0795
Fax:  415-837-1144
[email protected]

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