'Color' in the Non-Discrimination Provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Two Covenants
Forthcoming in the Washington University Global Studies Law Review
24 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2016
Date Written: June 10, 2016
The United Nations Charter declares in its opening article that one of the purposes of the United Nations is to promote respect for human rights “without distinction as to” any of four grounds: “race, sex, language, or religion.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), adopted three years later, expands the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination with the following: “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
What led the drafters of the UDHR to add “color” to the non-discrimination clause rather than adopt the approach in the UN Charter? What concepts of “race” and skin tone discrimination came up in their discussions? The first part of this paper describes the lively debates over “race” and “color” during the drafting of the Universal Declaration.
The non-discrimination clause of the UDHR appears verbatim in the non-discrimination clauses of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. However, the monitoring bodies of these two treaties have to date never addressed discrimination based specifically on color or skin tone. The latter part of this paper presents an overview of key provisions of these treaties that advocates can use in addressing color-based discrimination.
This paper, a slightly modified version of an article being published in the Washington University Global Studies Law Review, elaborates on remarks presented at the Washington University School of Law conference in April 2015, “Global Perspectives on Colorism.”
Keywords: race, color, colour, colorism, discrimination, covenant, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights, international, UN Charter, United Nations
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation