The UN Independent Expert on minority issues spoke at a UN event on 28 February of the lack of implementation of laws that are supposed to protect Dalits from discrimination and caste-related crimes.
For 24 years, India has had special legislation to protect victims of caste discrimination. Nepal introduced such a law in 2011, but although the laws look good on paper, their effect on the ground has been limited.
This was one of the messages coming out of an NGO-organised side event at the 22nd UN Human Rights Council. Dalit human rights campaigners from South Asia discussed the situation in their respective countries, and were joined by UN representatives, including the Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, who delivered a video statement to the gathering.
“Caste-based discrimination is still a reality faced by many communities across the globe, from Africa through Europe to Asia. And although in most countries, there are strong laws prohibiting such discrimination, an implementation gap often exists,” she noted.
The issue of non-implementation is particularly serious in India where campaigners are calling on the government to amend the existing law and secure better implementation. In Nepal, legislation is still relatively new, but Dalit campaigners have already registered problems.
“There is a huge gap between the law and its implementation,” Bhakta Bishwakarma, President of the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organisation said. A representative of Nepal’s Mission to the UN admitted that “the implementation side needs to be geared up,” but also reiterated his government’s commitment to ensuring this.
Despite the problems, Nepal’s new legislation can be used as an inspiration for other countries, such as Bangladesh where Dalit campaigners are currently lobbying the government to enact a new law that will ban caste discrimination.
In her video statement, Ms Izsák also welcomed the inclusion of disadvantaged caste groups in the consultation on the post-2015 global development agenda. She expressed hope that greater attention would be dedicated in this agenda to the specifically vulnerable situation of minorities and made a commitment to working towards that goal.
In a comment from the floor, Jyothi Sanghera, the former head of the UN’s human rights office in Nepal, stressed that “in this day and age, it is absolutely unacceptable that millions of people are being considered subhuman”. The moderator, Peter Prove of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, rounded off proceedings with the following remark, which lies at the very heart of the struggle against caste discrimination:
“Caste-based discrimination is founded upon the presumption that stands in contradiction to the most basic human rights principle: that all persons are created as equals.” He stressed that international work against caste discrimination does have an impact and urged the international community to address the issue in a more systematic manner in the years ahead.
The event was sponsored by the NGOs IMADR, Minority Rights Group International, Human Rights Watch, WCC and Franciscans International in association with IDSN.