Mark Devenport has a very interesting entry on his blog on the BBC. The United Nation’s Committee for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination has been taking evidence in Geneva from various UK pressure groups, including a number of Northern Ireland-based lobbyists.
The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission are in disagreement over whether or not to regard sectarianism as a form of racism.
In May, the NI Human Rights Commission made a written submission to the UN committee in which it argued that “sectarianism in Northern Ireland should be treated as a ‘subset’ or particular manifestation of racism”.
The commission argued that viewing sectarianism as “Protestant-Catholic religious prejudice, political factionalism, or even ‘tribalism’ ” placed it outside the context of well-established international human rights law, specifically the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which came into force back in 1969.
The commission said sectarianism could be looked at as a particular form of racism, on a par with anti-semitism or Islamophobia.
The director of the Council for Ethnic Minorities Patrick Yu (himself a former member of the Human Rights Commission) disagreed. The Geneva committee’s report of his submission stated:
Race relations were subsumed under a general “good relations” agenda, but the latter then focused almost exclusively on relations between the majority (Protestant unions) and minority (Catholic nationalist) communities. The Racial Equality Strategy was endorsed by all political parties but remained frozen.
Form the BBC: Mr Yu said that applying race relations law to sectarianism could draw the courts into disputes concerning parades and the Irish language.
“Separate provision exists in law, and police practices, to cover issues of sectarianism, and that is welcome, but using race relations legislation would in our view distract from the very real needs and concerns of the minority ethnic community in NI”