Two Stories About Skin Color and International Human Rights Advocacy


Color is an important but underdeveloped designation in international law. Color is identified as a protected category in several human rights documents, but despite its status as a protected category, there is no definition of color in these human rights documents. It is generally recognized, however, that color references skin color. In the absence of an established definition, race is often used as a proxy for color. Yet, there is growing skepticism within the human rights community about the legitimacy of using racial categories to distinguish human beings. While race and color are often used interchangeably, it is important to treat color as a distinct category. Race and color do not always match. This distinction is also significant in light of growing concerns about the legitimacy of racial categories and the continuing impact of skin color on human behavior. As evidence of the importance of this distinction, this Article offers two stories about skin color and international human rights advocacy. The first story is well known while the second story is not. Both stories are unique because each story marks a distinct life. And, yet, these stories mirror the experiences of countless people around the world. Both stories address international law and the role of international human rights mechanisms in protecting individuals from discrimination and persecution based on skin color. And, both stories highlight the benefits of international human rights advocacy.


race, colorism, human rights, discrimination, international



William J. Aceves (California Western School of Law)



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