The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye

The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, has chosen caste discrimination as the theme of her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council. The report has been welcomed by IDSN and Human Rights Watch.

Caste-affected countries must take urgent and comprehensive action to combat caste discrimination, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues says in a new, strongly worded report on one of the world’s most serious human rights issues that affects more than 250 million people.

In her report on ‘Minorities and discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status’, Ms Rita Izsák-Ndiaye includes a number of recommendations to caste-affected states. She urges them to adopt legislation against caste discrimination; implement existing legal frameworks; conduct awareness-raising campaigns; and urgently develop comprehensive national action plans and budgets to combat caste discrimination.

The Special Rapporteur also notes that “women and girls are particularly vulnerable to caste discrimination, as they suffer from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination owing to both their gender and unprivileged caste status.” Therefore, caste-affected states should take “robust action to eradicate such violations.” They should also promote the UN guidelines to eliminate caste discrimination – as should the UN Human Rights Council.

According to the report, caste discrimination is so embedded in interpersonal and communal relationships that overcoming it will “require not only legal and political responses, but also community-based approaches aimed at changing the mindsets of individuals and the collective conscience of local communities.”

The report offers a thorough and systematic analysis of discrimination based on caste and analogous systems, describing it as a global phenomenon and a serious human rights violation infringing upon the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality. It stresses that caste-affected groups suffer extreme exclusion and dehumanization and are often deprived of their most basic rights. Moreover, caste discrimination is a major cause of poverty, and it perpetuates poverty in affected communities.

The report includes definitions and characteristics of caste discrimination, a global overview of caste-affected groups and a review of the international legal framework recognising caste discrimination as a human rights violation. It identifies areas of particular concern in relation to caste-based systems such as the right to life; access to justice; political participation; freedom of religion; the right to work; contemporary forms of slavery; the right to housing, water and sanitation, health and education; and humanitarian assistance.

On a positive note, the Special Rapporteur also investigates initiatives and good practices to address caste discrimination – in the UN system, in national legislation and government institutions, and in civil society.

The report has been welcomed by IDSN and Human Rights Watch. The two organisations have issued a joint written statement on caste discrimination to the 31st session of the Human Rights Council.

Ms Izsák-Ndiaye will present her report to the Human Rights Council on 15 March. The following day, she will speak at a side event on minorities and caste discrimination. This event is organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Special Rapporteur herself.

More information:

Click here to download the report

Ending discrimination based on caste and descent (Joint statement by IDSN and Human Rights Watch)

IDSN recommendations for HRC31

References to caste discrimination in HRC31 reports and statements (IDSN)