In December 1960, following incidents of antisemitism in several parts of the world, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning "all manifestations and practices of racial, religious and national hatred" as violations of the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights and calling on the governments of all states to "take all necessary measures to prevent all manifestations of racial, religious and national hatred". The Economic and Social Council followed this up by drafting a resolution on "manifestations of racial prejudice and national and religious intolerance", calling on governments to educate the public against intolerance and rescind discriminatory laws. Lack of time prevented this from being considered by the General Assembly in 1961, but it was passed the next year.
During the early debate on this resolution, African nations led by the Central African Republic, Chad, Dahomey, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, and Upper Volta pushed for more concrete action on the issue, in the form of an international convention against racial discrimination. Some nations preferred a declaration rather than a binding convention, while others wanted to deal with racial and religious intolerance in a single instrument. The eventual compromise, forced by the Arab nations' political opposition to treating religious intolerance at the same time as racial intolerance plus other nations' opinion that religious intolerance was less urgent, was for two resolutions, one calling for a declaration and draft convention aimed at eliminating racial discrimination, the other doing the same for religious intolerance.
Article 4, criminalizing incitement to racial discrimination, was also controversial in the drafting stage. In the first debate of the article, there were two drafts, one presented by the United States and one by the Soviet Union and Poland. The United States, supported by the United Kingdom, proposed that only incitement "resulting in or likely to result in violence" should be prohibited, whereas the Soviet Union wanted to "prohibit and disband racist, fascist and any other organization practicing or inciting racial discrimination". The Nordic countries proposed a compromise in which a clause of "due regard" to the rights Universal Declaration of Human Rights was added to be taken into account when crimininalizing hate speech.
The draft Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1963. The same day the General Assembly called for the Economic and Social Council and the Commission on Human Rights to make the drafting of a Convention on the subject an absolute priority. The draft was completed by mid-1964, but delays in the General Assembly meant that it could not be adopted that year. It was finally adopted on 21 December 1965.