Project publication

Special issue "Dealing with race in international organizations (1945-2019)"

Journal Critique internationale, n°86

Available on CAIRN:


Introduction: "With or without race? Dilemmas of international organizations"
by Juliette Galonnier, Patrick Simon and Julie Ringelheim

Is UNESCO at the Origin of Anti-Racism? Historical Ethnography of Programs on Race (1946-1952)
by Elisabeth Cunin

UNESCO is considered as one of the main actors of international antiracism politics, which emerged after the Second World War. However, the “racial question” is not a UNESCO priority at the turn of the 1940-50s and this institution was never able to define and implement a clear and explicit policy on the subject. A historical ethnography of the UNESCO archives in Paris, especially at the time of the creation and the first meetings of the Department of social sciences, reveals that the debates on racial questions took place in an often forced and improvised way. Far from the linear narrative of the origins of antiracism, I will insist on the indeterminacy of the elaboration of UNESCO programs on race between 1946 and 1952.

From the “Indian Race” to Practical Essentialism: The Convergence of the Inter-American Indian Institute with the International Labor Organization (1940-1957)
by Juan Martín-Sánchez and Laura Giraudo, translated from Spanish by Julia Chardavoine

This article examines the competitive collaboration between the Inter-American Indian Institute and the International Labor Organization (ILO) as an integral component and example of the construction of the indigenista field in the years 1940-1957. The difference in the organizational and political power respectively wielded by these two organizations played a decisive role in the configuration of the field and the conceptual and operational definition of “Indians”. The article reveals the difficulty and ambivalence experienced by the two organizations as they moved away from a racialist perspective and allows one to see how, in the absence of theoretical agreement, the accumulation of pragmatic considerations ultimately made it possible to define “Indians” and indigeneity. The victory of the ILO in its friendly struggle against the Institute for leadership of the movement gave the inter-American indigenista field an influence that it would have had difficulty obtaining solely on the basis of regional institutions. The “practical essentialization” of the concept of “Indian” that then took place converted the “Indian of the Americas” into a paradigmatic case, that of “Indigenous Peoples” at the international scale.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Request for Demographic Data (1970-2018)
by Juliette Galonnier and Patrick Simon

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was established in the framework of the international Convention of the same name, which was adopted in 1965 and has since been ratified by 182 states. Its working methods have evolved over the course of its fifty years of existence. Its ambition to document de facto rather than solely de jure discrimination led the Committee to request that states equip themselves with statistical and categorization systems allowing for the inequalities between the various population groups – including ethnic and racial groups – to be measured. Our analysis of CERD’s archives from 1970 to 2018 and interviews conducted with several of their present-day experts show how the request for demographic data revealing, among other things, ethnic and racial origins became established despite internal debates among experts and widespread reluctance on the part of states. Underscoring this approach, that we called a pragmatic turn in the fight against discrimination, contributes to the literature on the role played by statistics in global governance as well as that on the way international organizations deal with racial issues.

Adjudicating “Race” and “Ethnicity”: International Courts and the Dilemmas of the Racial Lexicon
by Julie Ringelheim

How do three international courts – the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the European Court of Human Rights – interpret the concepts of race and ethnicity when it is necessary to do so in order to rule on cases brought before them? While international judges are increasingly uncomfortable with the older, rigid and essentializing visions of these notions, the search for new modes of elucidating them has taken place via a process of trial and error that has been a source of hesitation and ambiguity. The three courts characterize the issue that arises for them as an opposition between objective and subjective approaches to race and ethnicity. Upon examination, this distinction is revealed to be partly misleading as it masks the plurality of competing issues and conflates what are in reality contradictory positions. One further observes certain differences in the approach taken by the European Court, on the one hand, and the two international tribunals, on the other hand, that may partly be explained by the distinct structural constraints that impinge upon them.

Genetic Diversity and Human Groups: The Work of UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee and the UNESCO Declarations on Human Genetics (1993-2005)
by Sonia Desmoulin-Canselier

The UNESCO General Conference has adopted three Declarations referring to human genetic data. They were prepared by sessions and reports from the International Bioethics Committee, established in 1993. For a long time the only world body devoted to the examination of bioethical issues, it was aware of the problem posed, both at the level of individuals and populations, by racist interpretations of genetic data and knowledge. By examining the proceedings and reports of the Committee, mainly for the period 1993-2005, and comparing them with the three Declarations adopted in 1997, 2003 and 2005, it is possible to take stock of the vocabulary and values of the international bioethical regulatory body and norms as they relate to human groups and genetic diversity. The aim here is to clarify how the categorization of human groups is problematic in the light of the rise of the genetic paradigm and the place accorded to entities that occupy an intermediary position between the individual and the species.