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Rikke Nöhrlind
International Dalit Solidarity Network
København, Denmark

26 September 2006

Dear Ms Nöhrlind,

Thank you for your letter of 28 August 2006, in which you wanted to draw my attention to caste-based discrimination in India at the eve of the 7th EU-India Summit.

I wish to reassure you that the EU is committed to fighting all forms of discrimination worldwide. EU Member States strongly supported the decision, by the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, to undertake a comprehensive study on caste-based discrimination and to develop draft principles and guidelines on this issue. EU Member States also supported the proposal of the Special Rapporteurs on discrimination based on work and descent to send a questionnaire to obtain more information on measures taken to address discrimination based on work and descent. We look forward to the final report of the Special Rapporteurs, which should be submitted to the Human Rights Council in 2007. We will follow the preparation of the regional conference in Asia closely, and be ready to give our political, and if possible financial support, where we can.

EU Troika partners, and the European Commission in particular, are closely following developments relating to the situation of Dalits in India. The Commission maintains regular contacts with local and international organisations working on this issue.

We welcome the visit in India, in February 2006, of one of the UN Special Rapporteurs on descent-based discrimination. We share your view that engagement from India as well as from other countries where caste discrimination exist is crucial to the work of the UN Special Mechanisms.

Human rights are raised in the annual EU-India Summits, but the scope for in-depth exchange of views is limited in this particular setting. Issues such as caste-based discrimination, freedom of religion as well as other human rights concerns are therefore addressed within the framework of regular EU Troika-India consultations on human rights. The Government of India has, in this context, pointed to initiatives such as the recent introduction, in the Indian Parliament, of the Communal Violence Suppression Bill, which gives special powers to the central government to deal with communal violence in Indian states, and to its reservation policy in education. The EU is also foUowing with particular attention the deliberations of the Indian Supreme Court on the discrimination of Christian Dalits. But I agree that it is a pity that India's joint report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination did not address caste-based discrimination. This is a matter on which we can focus in our regular human rights consultations with India.

The next consultations are set to take place in December 2006. We look forward to staying in contact with your organisation in preparing for this meeting.

I should add that the EU has identified caste-based discrimination and minority status in India as a focus for projects under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Projects aiming to promote the rights of Dalits have been eligible within that framework.

Our overall development cooperation strategy with India for the years 2007-2014 will address caste-based discrimination through an enhanced support to the social sectors, in particular basic health and elementary education. The Commission firmly believes that that by assisting India to reach its Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal elementary education, with a special focus on the 'hard to reach' such as children from Dalit and tribal backgrounds, Dalits will ultimately have better chances to fulfil positions in Indian society at all levels.

A newly-established EU-India Dialogue and Cooperation on Employment and Social Affairs, which will be launched at the 7th EU-India Summit on 13 October 2006, will also provide a very relevant forum to address issues relating to caste-based discrimination and corporate social responsibility.

The Commission Delegation in Delhi, together with other EU Embassies, will continue to carefully follow developments in this area. I would suggest that you maintain close contacts with them.

Yours sincerely,

Benita Ferrero-Waldner,
European Commisioner,

Landelijke India Werkgroep - 14 november 2006