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Volume 58, March 2009

Struggling against Racial Discrimination in Israel: UN Forum on Minority Rights and Concluding Observations of CERD

21 March 2009 is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day is observed annually to mark the anniversary of 21 March 1960, when police opened fire on students, killing 69, at a peaceful demonstration against the Apartheid Pass Laws in Sharpeville, South Africa. Proclaiming the day in 1966, the United Nations General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

To commemorate this day, Adalah would like to highlight the organization’s most recent interventions before UN bodies aimed at the elimination of racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) – The UN Forum on Minority Rights and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The UN Forum on Minority Rights: Minorities and the right to education

This month, the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay MacDougall presented a set of recommendations on the issue of minorities and the right to education to the 10th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The intention is that these recommendations will be adopted as a new General Comment by the CERD Committee, and thus, will become the authoritative interpretation of international human rights law on this matter.

These recommendations are the outcome of the inaugural session of the new Forum on Minority Issues, which was held in Geneva on 15 and 16 December 2008. Around 100 participants representing minority and indigenous groups from around the world attended the session. Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher was selected by the UN to participate in the session on behalf of Adalah as an expert in the field.

Adalah played an active role in the formulation of the recommendations by providing comments and critique to a draft version. As a result of Adalah's input, four new articles were added to the recommendations; additions suggested by Adalah to strengthen the provisions were also made to 14 other articles of the final document’s 63 articles. The recommendations set forth by the Forum reflect almost all of our concerns and comments.

Text suggested by Adalah focused on issues including compound discrimination against female members of minorities, as minority members and as women or girls; the need to redress historical injustice or discrimination committed against minorities; the positive duties of states to ensure that members of minorities fully exercise the right to education; the cultural rights and narratives of minorities; and minority control over school curricula. Adalah's suggestions included:

  1. “Members of minorities must have realistic and effective access to quality educational services, without discrimination, within the jurisdiction of the State. Accessibility has three overlapping dimensions: non-discrimination on prohibited grounds; physical accessibility; and economic accessibility.”
  2. “Affirmative action in education for members of minorities that have been subject to a policy of historical discrimination or injustices in realizing the right to education should extend to higher education, where the cumulative impact of discrimination at the lower levels of education often results in low levels of representation of members of minority groups in the later stages of education, whether as pupils or education professionals.”
  3. “Programmes of adult education or “second chance” schools should be encouraged and increased for members of minorities who have not completed primary education levels.”
  4. “The promotion of the cultural rights of minorities is necessary to further the fulfillment of their educational rights. These rights include access to written, audio and visual media materials in their own language in order to enrich the cultural lives of minorities. There must also be the free exchange of books and other educational materials and access to universities run by members of their national group in other States.”


To view Gay MacDougall's report and the final draft of the recommendations, see:

The CERD Committee: Concluding Observations on Israel – in Hebrew and Arabic

The CERD Committee carried out a country review of Israel in 2007 in which it assessed Israel’s compliance or otherwise with the CERD convention. In its Concluding Observations on Israel, the CERD Committee set forth six specific steps regarding Palestinians in the OPT and 17 recommendations addressing discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. These recommendations dealt with numerous issued raised by Adalah in its reports and advocacy by Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher and International Advocacy Director Rina Jabareen during the review session in Geneva in February 2007. The CERD Committee urged Israel, inter alia, to:

  1. Include the right to equality and a prohibition on racial discrimination explicitly in the Basic Laws: Human Dignity and Liberty.
  2. Ensure that the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund are “bound by the principle of non-discrimination in the exercise of their functions.”
  3. Revoke the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) – 2003.
  4. Amend its policy of affording highly advantageous benefits to those who perform military service, bearing in mind that most Arab citizens do not perform national service.
  5. Enquire into alternatives to the relocation of inhabitants of unrecognized Arab Bedouin villages in the Naqab to planned towns, in particular through the recognition of these villages.
  6. Ensure that laws and programs be equally devoted to the promotion of cultural institutions and the protection of holy sites of both Jewish and other religious communities.


CERD’s Concluding Observations on Israel are made available by the UN in English, French, Spanish and Russian: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/cerds70.htm. Adalah has translated these recommendations to Hebrew and to Arabic to make it more accessible to lawyers and human rights activists to use these recommendations in their litigation and advocacy campaigns to urge Israel to cease its practices of racial discrimination.

CERD’s Concluding (Arabic)

CERD’s Concluding (Hebrew)