CERD – not much use in fighting racism

On May 18 the Maynooth University Department of Applied Social Studies is hosting a conference celebrating 50 years to the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Despite the initial good intentions, CERD has brought about no reduction in racism and racial discrimination. With the global north continuing to wage wars against the global south, whole societies, from Somalia to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Sudan, from Syria to Ukraine, from Palestine to Congo, have been destroyed, producing millions of refugees. Meanwhile, in the global north CERD has done nothing to stop lethal police brutality against black and minority populations, the detention of asylum seekers and the ongoing discrimination against indigenous people.

And what about Ireland? Already in 2004, in response to criticism by CERD regarding its treatment of Travellers and asylum seekers, the Irish government insisted it had no intention of discontinuing its system of dispersal and direct provision which, it said, ‘forms a key part of government policy in relation to the asylum process’. Direct Provision, run by for-profit private companies, incarcerates asylum seekers, many living with hanging deportation orders, not allowed to work, access third level education, or cook their own food, living in limbo, hidden from public view. Despite the obvious infringements of the rights and the everyday racism experiences of asylum seekers’, Travellers’ and other racialised people, the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell responded to CERD by claiming that Ireland ‘has no serious racism problem’ and that it was ‘leading the antiracism struggle in Europe’.

In the same year the NGO Alliance Shadow Report on CERD listed several failings of the Irish justice system in relation to race and immigration. These included: no collection of data on racist crimes, the lack of access to judicial review processes (as guaranteed by Article 5), the differentiation between citizens and non-citizens (constitutionally consolidated in Ireland by the 2004 Citizenship Referendum), and the conflation of police and immigration functions. Furthermore, despite the strong recommendation by CERD that the Irish government provides strong legislative protection against racism, Ireland has done nothing to review the 1998 Prohibition of Incitement to Racial Hatred Act or consider how the criminal justice system fails to protect people from racism. Instead of providing judicial protection against racism, the current government, urged by the UNHCR to follow other EU states, has published the International Protection Bill, which aims to ‘speed up the asylum process’ by providing for a single procedure where asylum seekers have their requests for refugee status and other forms of protection dealt with at the same time – a procedure that would accelerate the rate of deportations.

The Maynooth CERD conference continues the self congratulatory tone, occluding not only the reality of racist attacks but also the everyday experiences of racism in Ireland and across the globe by black people, Travellers and Roma people and indigenous populations, recently evidenced in police brutality against African Americans and in the horrible drowning of refugees desperately trying to reach the safety of Europe.

I support Anti Racism Network Ireland (Arn) and working towards racial and migrant justice. I want no part in the self congratulatory Maynooth CERD conference. One of the participants is the Minister of State in the Department of JusticeAoghan Ó Riordáin, who, despite acknowledging the ‘inhumanity’ of the direct provision regime, has appointed a working group on direct provision charged with merely reforming the system. Asylum seekers and their supporters on the other hand want the system abolished, residence to all asylum seekers and an end to deportations. Minister Ó Riordáin’s participation is particularly poignant in demonstrating the futility of celebrating this international convention that has done nothing to eliminate racism in Ireland and across the globe.