Mr Gerard OONK
India Committee of the Netherlands
Mariaplaats 4
NL-3511 Utrecht

Norregade 13
DK-1165 Kopenhagen

Brussels, 19-11-2001
SW D(2001) 3594

Dear Mr Oonk,
Dear Mrs Nöhrlind,

Thank you for your letter of 7 November in which you urge the Commission to raise the issue of caste-based discrimination at the forthcoming EU-India Summit. I also reply on behalf of Commissioner Patten, as the Commissioner in charge of overall relations with India.

The Commission is well aware of the world-wide problem of caste discrimination which is prevalent in South Asia, but also in Africa. Whilst it is true that no reference to caste discrimination is included in the final version of the Durban declaration and programme of action, I would like to underline that the EU did support the inclusion of a paragraph referring to discrimination on the basis of origin and descent during the course of negotiations. This reference was regrettably eventually dropped at the end of the conference in an effort to reach consensus on the final documents.

Despite the failings of the NGO Forum at Durban, it did allow NGOs combating caste discrimination to draw the world's attention to the plight of the Datits and Tribals.

The Commission will continue its efforts to include human rights in its political dialogue with third countries, including India. As you rightly point out, the June 2000 declaration of the EU/India Summit reiterated the importance of working towards the universal ratification and implementation of all major international human rights instruments. India is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which contains a reference to discrimination on the basis of descent.

The new draft 2nd Summit Communiqué reaffirms that democracy and pluralism are the best safeguards of human rights of individuals, and an essential basis for good governance. It reiterates both the EU's and India's commitment to promote and protect all human rights, including the right to development, and fundamental freedoms, bearing in mind their universal, indivisible and inter-dependent character as expressed at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.

It is also worth mentioning that the Indian side has accepted that democracy and human rights issues should be discussed as an element of Senior Officials and Ministerial Meetings. Human rights concerns in general will therefore be addressed at the Summit, although the specific issue of caste discrimination will not be addressed.

The Commission expects that through its co-operation with local Indian NGOs in the field of human rights, a substantial contribution can be made to the elimination of caste discrimination in India. This approach is consistent with the Commission Communication on Human Rights of May 2001, which has identified the fight against racism as a funding priority. In the programming document for 2002-2004 for the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, which is due to be adopted before the end of the year, the Commission underlines that "attention will also be paid to the issue of caste discrimination, which is a world-wide problem, affecting 260 million people and which is not specifically addressed in the Durban documents."

I hope that this will convince you that the EU takes the fight against discrimination on the basis of descent very seriously and gives it due attention in its various activities to promote the respects of human rights.

Yours sincerely,

Pascal LAMY

India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - November 23, 2001