UN panel adopts measure on preventing discrimination in criminal justice systems

18 August 2005

The United Nations expert panel monitoring governments’ efforts to ensure racial equality and non-discrimination has approved a recommendation outlining ways to prevent racial discrimination in national criminal justice systems and encouraging States to wipe out bigotry in their law enforcement ranks.

Acting just before it wraps up the second of its two annual sessions tomorrow, the Geneva-based Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by its 80 signatories and 170 State parties, approved the “general recommendation” yesterday.

The 18-member body of independent experts is mandated to comment on thematic issues under the Convention, and in this case, they outlined steps to be taken by States parties in order to better gauge the existence and extent of racial discrimination in administration and functioning of criminal justice systems.

The Committee recommends searching for indicators attesting to such discrimination, as well as strategies to be developed to prevent discrimination in criminal justice systems and the steps to be taken to prevent racial discrimination with regard to victims of racism and to accused persons who are subject to judicial proceedings.

Bearing in mind figures which show that persons held while awaiting trial include an excessively high number of non-nationals and persons belonging to vulnerable groups, the experts recommended that States parties should ensure, among other things, that the mere fact of belonging to a racial or ethnic group or a vulnerable group was not a sufficient reason to place a person in pre-trial detention.

With regards to the trial and court judgement, States parties should ensure that persons enjoy all the guarantees of a fair trial and equality before the law, specifically, including, the right to the presumption of innocence; the right to the assistance of counsel and the right to an interpreter; the right to an independent and impartial tribunal; and guarantee of fair punishment.