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Participants at UN experts meet in Geneva insist on need for lasting mechanism to monitor caste discrimination

By Our Representative
A high-level interaction in Geneva, United Nations (UN) experts and civil rights activists stressed on the need to move towards a “more structured mechanism against caste-based discrimination” in countries like India and its South Asian neighbours. During the interaction, in which UN special rapporteurs, civil society groups and independent experts participated, there was sharp focus on the need to usher in a formal UN mechanism to end caste-based discrimination in a year’s  time. This mechanism, it was suggested, could monitor caste discrimination and suggest ways to overcome it. Before the mechanism is worked out, experts could move around different countries to see how effectively are laws to end caste-based discrimination being implemented.
Held between September 29 and October 3, the participants at the interaction said all countries must endorse the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent. Participants discussed caste-based discrimination as a cross-cutting issue and stressed on the need to outline areas of joint intervention. They said, one should ensure that affected countries effectively monitor and investigate caste-based discrimination, and states start acting on it with the help of “non-state actors”.
Ahead of the meeting, the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), one of the important participants, wanted particular focus on three major issues:
  • regular joint review process on status of caste discrimination; 
  • develop a road map for action to improve implementation of recommendations; and
  • engage OHCHR/UN consultations on caste-based discrimination 
Following the meeting, the IDSN said there were “proposals for significant initiatives” at the meeting while exchanging views, including on “a more structured mechanism against caste-based discrimination for the next annual meeting in 2015, placing caste-based discrimination and slavery on the agenda of next year's annual meeting or having a consultation on caste-based discrimination, and working on caste-based discrimination across mandates as a concerted effort.”
Taking part in the meeting, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues Rita Izsak said, “We have been discussing how to jointly move towards a more structured mechanism against caste-based discrimination for the next annual meeting (2015) and to see how we can move together in more concerted and coordinated effort for these 260 million people … we will work for this and assure that we are committed.”
UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Urmila Bhoola said she was “indebted” to IDSN for “raising the issue of caste-based discrimination in the form of caste-based slavery and manual labour and manual scavenging and the persistence of forced and bonded labour particularly among Dalit people.” She expressed her interest in “conducting missions and writing a report on caste-based discrimination.”
Frances Raday, Chair of the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Discrimination against Women focused on what she called “horrors of sexual violence on basis of caste-based discrimination.”
An earlier meeting under UN auspices on the issue on May 17, 2013 said the IDSN statement, reached the conclusion that “caste-based discrimination remains widespread and deeply rooted, its victims face structural discrimination, marginalization and systematic exclusion, and the level of impunity is very high”, asking world governments to “strengthen protection of hundreds of millions of people who suffer from caste discrimination, and to endorse the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent.”
Apart from the IDSN, those who participated in the meeting were activists representing the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), India; the Dalit NGO Federation (DNF) Nepal; Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement; Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network, and dalit solidarity networks of UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Finland.
Several senior activists from India and other South Asian countries, including Manjula Pradeep, executive director, Navsarjan Trust of Gujarat, participated.
International groups which took part included Human Rights Watch, Lutheran World Federation, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism. Anti-Slavery International, Minority Rights Group International, Asian Human Rights Commission, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, World Council of Churches, Asian Centre for Human Rights, and International Centre for Ethnic Studies, based in Sri Lanka.

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