When the Human Rights Council meet for the 11th time between 2-18 June, IDSN recommends that the issue of caste discrimination be addressed, in particular the human rights situation of Dalit women. Members of the Council are also urged to acknowledge the positive role played by the High Commissioner on Human Rights during her recent visits to two caste-affected countries, Nepal and India.

Violence against Dalit women

The issue of Dalit women deserves the attention of the Human Rights Council in relevant thematic debates and country reviews. In her report to the 11th session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Yakin Ertürk, addresses a number of cases of violence against Dalit women. The serious forms of discrimination, sexual exploitation, and violence that Dalit women are often subjected to may also serve as an illustrative example of the impediments to equality before the law in the annual full-day debate on women’s rights on 4 June in the Council.

Violence against Dalit women presents clear evidence of widespread exploitation and discrimination against these women, who are subordinated in terms of power relations to men in a patriarchal and caste-dominant society. Examples of such demeaning social customs include the devadasi and jogini system of forced prostitution, and the practice of manual scavenging.

A written statement calling for international recognition of this issue has been sent to the Human Rights Council by Cordaid and Minority Rights Group International with the support of IDSN and Justice and Peace Netherlands.

The Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh, which took place in February 2009, also included conclusions and recommendations to ensure that women’s rights are protected and implemented. These recommendations, which will be considered at the 11th Council session, would greatly benefit the human rights of marginalised groups, in particular Dalit women, in Bangladesh. The Government is therefore urged to respond positively to them and, if possible, explain how they could be implemented to help realize the human rights of Dalit women.

High Commissioner’s visit to Nepal and India

During the High Commissioner’s visit to Nepal and India in March 2009, Ms. Navi Pillay urged the respective governments to effectively address the issue of caste-based discrimination, both as a national and an international human rights problem. This is the strongest support ever shown by the principal human rights official of the UN to the global fight against caste-based discrimination, which was reaffirmed during the Durban Review Conference where she said in a press conference on 21 April that “she personally felt that “related intolerance” [in the DDPA] would cover discrimination on the basis of caste, class and social status.”

In response to the High Commissioner’s presentation of her report at the session, Council members may welcome the High Commissioner’s commitment to addressing this human rights issue, and encourage her to continue to promote this field of concern under her mandate.

Together with Norwegian NGOs, IDSN has also requested that Norway, which was recently elected as a new Council member, make caste discrimination one of its main priorities.

Download the joint statement on behalf of IMADR, LWF and Pax Romana in response to the High Commissioner’s update to the Council

Read IDSN’s recommendations for the 11th Council session

Read more about IDSN’s work to raise caste discrimination in the Human Rights Council