The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has made caste discrimination one of the thematic priorities in its struggle against discrimination and impunity in 2010-2011.

UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay made strong statements on caste discrimination in 2009. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Viro

In January 2010 the OHCHR launched its third Strategic Management Plan(SMP), which establishes the goals and strategic priorities of the United Nations human rights programme, including OHCHR’s mandated tasks, over a two-year period. One of the overall priorities in the strategy is to “counter discrimination, in particular racial discrimination, discrimination on the grounds of sex and against others who are marginalized.”

Caste discrimination is mentioned a number of times in the section on “Field Activities” in the Asia/Pacific region, including Nepal (pp. 100-109). The OHCHR notes that caste-based discrimination is one of multiple forms of discrimination. A thematic priority is to “counter discrimination, with a particular focus on women and caste.” In the Nepal section, emphasis is placed on combating impunity and discrimination, including caste-based discrimination which is “endemic”.

The OHCHR has also recently issued a report on the human rights situation and field activities in Nepal on the occasion of the 13th session of the Human Rights Council. The report (A/HRC/13/73) contains a number of observations on the efforts by the Government and the OHCHR to promote and protect the rights of marginalised groups, including Dalits.

According to the report some of the key challenges faced by marginalised communities include long-standing discrimination and social exclusion, lack of access to justice, problems with right to health and right to food, and violence against women. There are also observations on the effectiveness of national institutions, including the National Dalit Commission.

In the course of 2009 the UN High Commissioner made several strong remarks about caste discrimination. In March she made two strong statements during her first official visit to Nepal and India, in which she encouraged the governments to take effective steps towards the elimination of caste discrimination and show global leadership in this struggle.

At a UN parallel event in September a senior official representing the UN High Commissioner said that “the OHCHR stands ready to cooperate and offer technical support to strengthen national systems to address caste-based discrimination.” Finally, the High Commissioner issued a ground-breaking opinion piece in October in which she stated that “the time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste.”

More information:

What is caste discrimination?

Caste discrimination and the United Nations