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India's caste-based rapes echo at UN Rights Council: Authorities told to "act, end violence"

By Our Representative
Senior UN human rights officials at a United Nations Human Rights Council side-event at Geneva on June 17, 2014, have called for ”immediate efforts to end caste-based rape and violence against women” in India. The event, co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch, the top US-based rights group, ”followed urgent global calls for action from numerous human rights organizations, India’s UN representative, and policymakers from around the world in response to the gang-rape and hanging of two girls in India on May 27”, a statement issued by the International Dalit Salidarity Network, said.
At the side-event, speakers urged UN member countries to speak up about the escalating caste-based violence against women. Outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, “I urge governments to fully implement all the recommendations made by international human rights mechanisms, as well as those arising from national processes. Our outrage is not enough. We must take real and focused action to mend our societies’ dramatic failure to support the rights of people of discriminated castes, particularly women and girls.”
The UN Women policy director, Saraswathi Menon, said “Words and legislation is not enough we need concrete action. Legislation alone does not address structural discrimination. The UN has an important role to play and must step up to the plate to help stop caste-based violence against women.” Dalit women leaders from South Asia, representing castes that traditionally have been marginalized, and other speakers urged concrete support for the victims of caste-based violence in their fight against injustice and the need to strengthen the UN’s role.
Asha Kowtal, who is leading a delegation of Dalit women to the Human Rights Council, said, “Caste-based rape and violence against Dalit women and girls is escalating as we fight to claim justice. The amount of cases is growing and the brutality of the crimes becoming increasingly severe. Systems of justice meant to protect Dalit women at the national level are completely failing us. We are asking for immediate loud and clear global support in our struggle.”
Manjula Pradeep, India's leading Dalit rights activist and director, Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, insisted that caste-based violence and discrimination not only affects women in India but millions of other women across the world in Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yemen and other caste-affected countries. Pradeep stated: “The discussion on how to end this inhuman system needs to take place on both a national and a global level with UN engagement.”
“Women suffering from caste-based violence in one of the world’s most brutal systems of oppression are asking for global solidarity in their struggle,” said Rikke Nöhrlind, director at the International Solidarity Network (IDSN). “The world that so strongly supported the fight against apartheid must now tackle caste discrimination with the same commitment.”
Juliette De Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, cited institutional barriers to ensuring justice and support for survivors of sexual violence: “Dalit communities have long suffered serious abuses, but the state response has fallen short. The government should undertake systemic changes for proper enforcement of laws, and ensure that public officials, including the police, are held accountable when they fail in their duty.”
The June 17 event in the Palais des Nations in Geneva and was sponsored by, apart from Human Rights Watch, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), Minority Rights Group, Franciscan International, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development. It was organized in association with International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), and was co-sponsored by Norway and Denmark.
During the discussion, apart from India, delegates from Seychelles, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Slovenia, Canada, European Union and Sierra Leone spoke. In all, there were 61 participants, plus speakers. Representatives from UN agencies OHCHR, UNAIDS and UNNGLS also participated in the discussion.

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