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UN review: UK Government fails to acknowledge the need for outlawing caste discrimination
25/08/11

During a review by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on 23 and 24 August, the UK delegation said that there was "no consensus" on the need for prohibiting caste discrimination in the UK. Furthermore, the Government had “not made a decision” on the findings of a government-commissioned report, which concludes that caste discrimination exists in the UK. "Why are you so afraid?" a CERD Committee member asked during the dialogue.

The UK Government’s failure to acknowledge the need for outlawing caste discrimination was a big disappointment to the Dalit community groups, which have fought for years to introduce caste in UK anti-discrimination law.

“The Government’s hesitation to amend the law ignores the sufferings and abuse of people in the UK who experience caste discrimination and goes against the will of the UK Parliament, which has declared caste discrimination unacceptable,“ says DSN-UK Coordinator Meena Varma. “We are still awaiting a reasonable and proportionate response from the Government to the evidence that caste-based discrimination does in fact exist in the UK.”

In an alternative report submitted to CERD in July, DSN-UK and IDSN called on the Government to take immediate action to adopt the proposed amendment to outlaw caste discrimination in the Equality Bill 2010, and requested the Government to take specific measures to eliminate this form of discrimination in accordance with CERD General Recommendation 29.

When the UK was last examined in 2003, the CERD Committee recommended in their Concluding Observations that a prohibition against caste discrimination be included in domestic legislation. In response, the UK Government said that there was no evidence that such discrimination existed in the UK. After significant pressure by anti-caste groups, the Government agreed in 2010 to amend the Equality Act to include caste as an aspect of race in the Equality Act, if such evidence was found.

In 2010 the Government therefore commissioned an independent research institute (NIESR) to assess the nature, extent and severity of caste discrimination in the UK. The report, which was published in December 2010, clearly confirmed the existence of caste-based discrimination in the UK and concluded that “non-legislative approaches are less likely to be effective in the private sector and do not assist those where the authorities themselves are discriminating.”

When the CERD review began on 23 August, the Government had yet to decide on the findings of the report, and therefore also to make a final decision on whether to adopt the amendment in the law. Representatives from IDSN and the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA) lobbied the Committee to raise questions on the issue, which was addressed by four members during the dialogue. One member, Mr. Peter, asked why the Minister was so afraid to amend the law and deal with this issue, now that well-documented research had found that caste discrimination exists, incl. bullying in schools.

In response to the questions, the Government said that the commissioned report had been “examined carefully”, both by those that were for and against introducing such provision, and that the Government had “not made a decision on it“. The Government has now had eight months to come to a conclusion on the basis of the findings.

In follow up to the review, the CERD Committee will include their key recommendations in a set of Concluding Observations, which will be available within a months time.

At the same time as the UK review took place, a UK couple sued their British employers for alleged caste discrimination in a historic court case. The case illustrates why it is necessary for the Government to act, without further hesitation, to include caste in the current anti-discrimination law.

More information:

> Alternative report on caste-based discrimination in the UK by DSN-UK and IDSN

> CERD website, incl. links to state report and other NGO reports on the issue (ACDA and The Odysseus Trust)

> More information about caste discrimination in the UK