Dalit Rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council
4 comments | by Meena Varma
The International Dalit Solidarity Network working with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority... by Meena Varma
The International Dalit Solidarity Network working with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues to combat caste-based discrimination.
Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, UN SR on Minority Issues
On 15 March 2016 the SR on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, presented her annual report to the Human Rights Council, which focused on caste-based discrimination. She encouraged all caste-affected states to take progressive and instrumental steps to protect caste-affected communities. The report highlighted that individuals and groups ascribed to the lowest strata by their caste status share minority-like characteristics, such as marginalised position, stigma and the use of minority protection mechanisms by self-identifying as minority groups.
The SR indicated that 250 million people worldwide suffer from caste-based discrimination, with the highest numbers in South Asia but also present in Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. Dalits and similar communities from the lower-caste strata face various human rights violations: use of violence, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence to oppress them; obstacles in accessing justice systems; political marginalisation; restriction in accessing religious sites; hindered labour mobility; slavery, including trafficking and sexual slavery; forced and bonded labour; restricted access to adequate housing, water and sanitation; limited access to health services and education; and unequal access to humanitarian assistance in disaster and recovery situations.
This was the first milestone report at the United Nations level on caste-based discrimination and states had different reactions to it. At an interactive dialogue session with the SR the representative of India questioned the SR’s on Minority Issues mandate and stated that she was in breach of it to include caste-based discrimination. Nepal concentrated on its positive efforts to address caste-based discrimination and “untouchability” practices. Sri Lanka highlighted its invitation to the SR and stated that the report is ‘inaccurate’ and ‘misleading’. Mauritania outlined that slavery has been abolished and there is no marginalisation or caste-based discrimination of any group in the country. Bangladesh also emphasised its efforts to protect ethnic and religious minorities, but suggested that ‘not all disadvantaged groups are minorities, such as homeless’, therefore there has been some ‘confusion with the concept of minorities, diverting attention from where it should be’.
Many states spoke in support of the report expressing their concern at the extent of caste-based discrimination and recognised it as a major cause of poverty, inequality and social exclusion. In a strongly worded statement, Switzerland said that caste discrimination was unacceptable in 2016. Norway called on states to implement legislation effectively.
We were disappointed to note that the US took the opportunity to raise the question of Tibet with China and that the United Kingdom did not respond or raise any questions during the Interactive Dialogue regarding the issue of caste discrimination in the UK.
Minority Rights Group International, Human Rights Watch and International Dalit Solidarity Network issued a combined statement welcoming the report on a ‘long neglected issue of systematic discrimination’.
The SR replied to the comments emphasising that minorities definition is ‘a liquid and changing definition’ based on self-identification of the groups. She noted that she was disappointed that the Sustainable Development Goals failed to include minorities but was hopeful that more efforts and attention will be paid to caste-based discrimination following her report.