UN: Act NOW & hold member states accountable for elimination of caste-based discrimination
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A Call to the United Nations to Build Forward Better on Descent and Caste-Based Discrimination
Descent and Caste-based discrimination and analogous forms of discrimination affect approximately 260 million people globally. They consist of a violation of international human rights law, inherently contradicting the universal principles of non-discrimination, dignity and equality.
Servitude for the lower castes, 'social distancing' for the upper, India's response to the pandemic is resurrecting the worst excesses of its casteist past. The pandemic has exposed the underlying social ills of untouchability and casteist attitude with the surging cases of caste and gender-based atrocities during the lockdown making the lives of the affected Dalit communities miserable and unimaginable.
The systemic and entrenched nature of caste-based human rights violations have been well established by the UN Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures Mandate Holders, the former UN Sub-Committee on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and in Universal Periodic Review. Human rights bodies have consistently raised their concerns on caste-related human rights violations and continuously urged governments to strengthen the protection of affected people through legislative, policy, institutional, budgetary and other measures, thus forming a consistent State practice.
Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had made the elimination of caste-based discrimination a strategic priority in its anti-discrimination work.
However, fundamental challenges remain in all caste-affected countries. Entrenched caste biases, lack of access to justice and effective implementation of relevant policies remain the core issue.
We, the people of caste affected countries, human rights defenders, civil society organisations (CSOs) and social movements, urge the UN Human Rights Council member States to:
- Adopt the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent (A/HRC/11/CRP.3), by means of a resolution at the Human Rights Council;
- Institutionalize regular reporting and effective dialogue on the elimination of discrimination based on caste and analogous forms of inherited status, according the Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent, through the Human Rights Council’s agenda Item 9;
- Organize a panel discussion, during a HRC regular session in 2021, dedicated to caste and descent-based discrimination, raising global awareness on this matter and at providing practical guidance on eradicating this type of discrimination.
We urge the UN member States to call on states affected by caste discrimination to:
- Implement in good faith the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues in her report presented to the Human Rights Council at its 31st session (2016);
- Embrace the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent, so as to ensure their implementation through national action plans to combat caste based discrimination; develop and implement national action plans with sufficient funding and clear objectives and measures for poverty reduction strategies, employment, health, education and access to basic services including water and sanitation; pay specific attention to the issues of caste-affected women, and conduct public awareness campaigns in coordination with affected groups;
- Reinforce the need to implement the concluding observations and recommendations on caste discrimination by UN Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures Mandate Holders, and in Universal Periodic Reviews in the framework of national action plans;
- Develop specific indicators to monitor achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals in respect of caste affected people, and the principle to leave no one behind, stated in the Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015 [ (A/70/L.1)] 70/1. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals;
- Consider caste-based discrimination as a serious impediment to ensuring equality in COVID 19 pandemic relief and rehabilitation, and develop appropriate disaster management laws, policies, institutions and programming in cooperation with humanitarian stakeholders and affected communities and United Nations Organizations.
We call on the UN Special Procedures Mandates and Treaty-Bodies to:
- Strengthen the regular monitoring, reporting and dialogue with States, civil society, academia and other stakeholders of individual cases and patterns of caste and descent-based discrimination within the follow-up mechanisms of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (2001) and the Durban Review Conference Outcome Document (2009), in conjunction with the Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent;
- Pay special attention, through an intersectional perspective, of the extremely adverse situation of women, children, girls, migrant workers, intersex, and other vulnerable sectors that are also victims of decent and caste-based discrimination;
- Conduct country level studies on the situation of communities discriminated on the basis of caste and analogous systems of inherited status in under-researched regions; and initiate a thematic, regional level study in South Asia on violence against Dalit women and research on the nexus of caste discrimination and forced and bonded labor.
We finally recommend the wider United Nations family to:
- Consider ‘untouchability’ and caste-based atrocities in the context of crimes against humanity based on the 1998 Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute) and applicable international law;
- Consider the establishment of a United Nations special mandate on discrimination based on caste and descent;
- Declare April 14th (Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's birthday) as the International Day of Dalit Solidarity.
 See IDSN Compilation of UN references to caste discrimination, https://idsn.org/un-2/compilation-of-un-references-to-caste-discrimination/
 UN Doc A/HRC,31-56, Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, (https://www.right-docs.org/doc/a-hrc-31-56/
 UN treaty bodies: India, (https://idsn.org/un-2/treaty-bodies/t-india/
 Crimes against humanity, (https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/crimes-against-humanity.shtml
 About Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._R._Ambedkar
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