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March 20, 2006

Caste-affected states do not reply to UN survey

The UNís top investigators into caste discrimination have revealed their disappointment in the lack of response to their inquiry on the part of the most heavily affected countries. Whilst a number of states relatively untouched by the problem have responded to their request for information, along with numerous NGOs representing the low-caste communities, other states have chosen to ignore both the problem and the UNís study on the matter.

Prof. Yozo Yokota and Prof. Chung Chinsung, the Special Rapporteurs on discrimination based on work and descent for the UN Sub-commission on human rights, shared the results of a questionnaire they had posed to governments, civil society and multilateral bodies at a Geneva Consultation with concerned groups. Nine states, from Latin America and Africa, have submitted information to the Rapporteurs. However, the African and Asian states with significant populations of caste-affected people Ė such as Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Somalia, Japan, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Mauritania, Yemen and Bangladesh Ė failed to even respond to the questionnaire, to the disappointment of the two experts. Also of concern was the poor response from UN bodies.

The Consultation, organised by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), created a dialogue between the Special Rapporteurs, representatives of Dalits from India, Pakistan and Nepal, as well as similar communities from Japan, Kenya and Yemen, experts from the UNís human rights mechanisms, the ILO and the World Bank, and solidarity groups from around the world.

The Special Rapporteurs spoke of their commitment to the process, and that they would be extending the timeframe of the enquiry process, in order to gain a deeper insight into the problem. Members of the affected communities spoke of the serious, widespread and systematic nature of the human rights violations associated with this form of discrimination.

Shocking new information was revealed by Dr. Huda Seif about the plight of Yemenís outcaste Al Akhdam minority, who live in extreme poverty, lack access to identity documents or other political or civil rights and suffer terrible violence with impunity. Representatives of Indiaís enormous Dalit community noted the striking similarity with this Yemeni community, despite the presence of strong legislation against the practices in India Ė legislation which exists on paper but not in reality on the ground. Examples were also given of the discrimination in the post-tsunami relief and rehabilitation efforts in India, the high proportion of Dalits in bonded and forced labour in Pakistan, the vulnerability of Dalits caught in the civil conflict in Nepal, and the double discrimination faced by Dalit women.

The Special Rapporteurs and other participants all shared their commitment to this important UN process to produce Principles and Guidelines in order to finally address the caste-based discrimination faced every day by some 260 million people around the world.

The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) is a network of national solidarity networks, national advocacy groups from affected countries and international organisations* concerned about caste discrimination and similar forms of discrimination based on work and descent. IDSN brings together organisations, institutions and individuals and links grassroots priorities with international mechanisms and institutions to make an effective contribution to the elimination of caste discrimination.

* Human Rights Watch, the Lutheran World Federation, the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Anti-Slavery International, the Minority Rights Group, Asian Human Rights Commission, the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs and the World Council of Churches.

India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - March 20, 2006