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Holding the government to account for racism in the UK Runnymede recent call for evidence now closed

The Runnymede Trust called on civil society organisations, institutions and activists to contribute to the Call for Evidence for its shadow report on the UN Convention on Eliminating Racial Discrimination. Alba Kapoor, Runnymede’s Policy Officer, explains why.

When Sir William Macpherson, chair of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, died aged 94. His groundbreaking report, published in 1999, boldly spotlighted institutional racism in our criminal justice system and across the public sector. Despite the significance of the ‘Macpherson report’, last summer, Black Lives Matter protesters were forced to take to the streets to confront the same racism across our public services, over 20 years on.

Two decades before the Macpherson report was released, the UK government ratified the UN Convention on Eliminating Racial Discrimination (CERD). In doing so, it committed to the protection of civil, political and economic rights for all, regardless of ethnicity and the elimination of racial hatred in society. Under its obligations under the Convention, the government must continue to promote human rights for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups in education, housing, the criminal justice system, political participation and healthcare.

Every five years, a UN Committee reviews how well the government puts these rights into practice. Around this time, civil society organisations set out a shadow report outlining both the state of racial inequalities in the UK, and the steps that must be taken to follow the Convention. The 2016 shadow report concluded that the government had breached key Articles in the Convention, highlighting the damaging impact of the Prevent duty and stop and search on BME communities. It called for immediate action to be taken to adopt a race equality strategy to tackle long-standing inequalities in society.

The shadow report, and others like it, have gone a long way to hold the government to account for its human rights obligations. Changes to a Bill requiring the government to liberalise abortion law in 2018 followed recommendations in a report by the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination to Women (CEDAW). The UN’s CEDAW report did vital work to frame access to abortion as a human rights issue, bolstering key arguments in Parliament that were central to abortion law reform in Northern Ireland.

Since our 2016 shadow report, BME groups have been rocked by the Windrush scandal, a dramatic rise in hate crime in the aftermath of Brexit and the Covid-19 crisis, which disproportionately impacted them. The Joint Committee on Human Rights recently found that 75% of Black people in the UK do not believe that their human rights are equally protected compared to their white counterparts, concluding that more must urgently be done to promote the rights of BME communities.

That is why the Runnymede Trust is called on organisations, institutions and activists to contribute to the Call for Evidence to shape this year’s submission assessing the government’s implementation of CERD. Submitting to the Call for Evidence is a key way to influence the report and place recommendations for action that the government must take to protect the rights of ethnic minority groups on an international stage. There is a renewed urgency to the Convention’s call to “adopt all necessary measures for… eliminating racial discrimination”, and it is vital that organisations and activists hold the government to account for failures to do so. https://www.runnymedetrust.org/projects-and-publications/europe/cerd.html

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