Human Rights Racism

58 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2019 Last revised: 9 Jun 2020

See all articles by Anna Spain Bradley

Anna Spain Bradley

University of Colorado Boulder Law School

Date Written: July 21, 2019


International human rights law seeks to eliminate racial discrimination in the world through treaties that bind and norms that transform. Yet law’s impact on eradicating racism has not matched its intent. Racism, in all of its forms, remains a massive cause of discrimination, indignity, and lack of equality for millions of people in the world today. This Article investigates why. Applying a critical race theory analysis of the legal history and doctrinal development of race and racism in international law, Professor Spain Bradley identifies law’s historical preference for framing legal protections around the concept of racial discrimination. She further exposes that international law has neither explicitly defined nor prohibited racism. In response, Professor Spain Bradley advances a long-overdue claim: racism should be affirmatively and explicitly recognized as a human rights violation under international law. She argues that addressing racism in the world today requires understanding how human rights are violated by racial ideologies in addition to discriminatory acts. Insights from neuroscience about racial bias deepen these understandings. By naming “human rights racism” as the central challenge, this Article calls upon the international community to affirmatively recognize racism’s extensive harm and to take more seriously its eradication.

Keywords: racism, race, racial discrimination, human rights, treaty, ICERD, international law, neuroscience

Suggested Citation

Spain Bradley, Anna, Human Rights Racism (July 21, 2019). Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol. 32, 2019; U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-24. Available at SSRN:

Anna Spain Bradley (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Boulder Law School ( email )

Wolf Law Building
401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States


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