An IDSN delegation of Dalit human rights defenders participated in the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights held on 27-29 November as well as the UN Forum on Minority Issues, held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva from 30 November – 1 December 2023. The delegation made an important impact giving statements and participating in panels, sessions and events.

The delegation represented IDSN members and affiliates in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan with participants Laxme Das, Advocacy Officer for Bangladesh Khulna-based organization DALIT, Bandana Bishwakarma, Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization (NNDSWO ) and Chander Kolhi, Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN).

The three delegates took part in key sessions on business and human rights that affect the rights of Dalits in global supply chains and met with important stakeholders on the sidelines of the sessions. IDSN also attended the fringe side-event on “The Responsibility of Business in Realizing the Right to Development of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent” organized by the Global Forum of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (GFOD). 

The Forum on Minority Issues was held under the theme “Minorities and Cohesive Societies: Equality, Social Inclusion, and Socio-economic Participation,” which provided a significant platform for addressing the challenges faced by Dalits.

Laxme Das, was featured in the first panel of the forum, invited as a key speaker for Item 1, which focused on “Challenges to inclusion and equality: barriers to the social and economic participation of persons belonging to minority groups.” Her statement shed light on the struggles of Dalit women and girls in Bangladesh, who face systemic and structural challenges, compounded by gender-based discrimination.

Ms. Das emphasized that Dalit women and girls in Bangladesh face multiple layers of discrimination due to their caste and gender. They are denied access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and exclusion.

She also addressed the issue of caste-based discrimination, where practices of untouchability persist, and Dalits, particularly women, are forced to endure humiliation even in everyday activities like having tea in local tea stalls.

Ms. Das gave key recommendations for action for the Government of Bangladesh to address the situation. Read her full statement here.

Chander Kohli, made a powerful two-minute oral intervention during Item 3, which focused on “Legal and Structural Approaches to More Inclusive Societies.” In his statement, Mr. Kohli highlighted the plight of Dalits in Pakistan, estimated to constitute 85% of the Hindu minority, also known as Scheduled Castes in Pakistan. He pointed out the severe human rights violations and the challenges faced by the Dalit community, including bonded labor, limited access to education, and political underrepresentation.

Mr. Kohli stressed that Human Rights violations are a major challenge that Hindu Minority/Dalits face in Pakistan. They live under extreme poverty and are not able to educate their children, which is a huge loss for that generation and (under)development for the country.

He also raised concerns about the regular cases of violence against Dalits, including killings and abductions of minor Dalit girls, often with little recourse to justice due to their limited knowledge of legal options and political underrepresentation.

Read his full statement here.

Bandana Bishwakarma also prepared a statement on the issues faced by Dalits in Nepal, but unfortunately did not get the chance to present this at the Forum. You can read the full statement here.

In addition to their participation in the forum, the IDSN delegation held meetings with country delegations discussing the prevalent discriminatory practices and human rights abuses faced by Dalits in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan.

The forum also featured two side-events highly relevant to the issue of caste discrimination. One was organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on “Comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation: A remedy to overcoming exclusion and giving a voice to minorities” and was chaired by IDSN’s Executive Director, Meena Varma. A second side-event “Building on regional recognition towards a resolution on the rights of communities discriminated on work and descent”, was organized by GFoD also bringing caste discrimination to the fore. GFoD also brought a delegation to the minority Forum with several speakers highlighting the need to address work and descent based discrimination. For details on this see the GFOD twitter feed.

IDSN delegation’s presence at the UN Forums brought Dalit voices to the fore in advocating for the rights and well-being of Dalits and other marginalized communities worldwide. These efforts on the international stage serve as a critical reminder of the urgent need to address discrimination and inequality faced by Dalits and other minority or marginalised groups and work towards a more inclusive and equitable global society.