The 9th session of the Forum on Minority Issues (the Forum) was held last week, on 24 and 25 November 2016, focusing on the situation of minorities in humanitarian crises. The Forum provides a unique opportunity for state representatives, experts, civil society and minority communities, and specialised bodies to engage in a constructive dialogue and seek ways to strengthen the protection and promotion of minority rights in prevention, crisis situations and the aftermath.

International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) attended the forum and brought two representatives from its member organisations to make their oral statements – Bhakta Bishwakarma, representing Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization (NNDSWO) and Deepak Nikarthil, from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and Asia Dalit Rights Forum (ADRF).

At the meeting, the UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, summarised her findings and outlining that minorities worldwide have been disproportionately affected by and in the aftermath of natural and manmade crises, including disasters and conflicts. The SR noted some examples where minorities in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, USA, Yemen, South Asia and other countries were disproportionately affected by crisis situations. The Special Rapporteur observed that ‘an analysis of emergency responses to natural disasters in South Asia, including in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, has demonstrated that Dalits, for example, have suffered from acute discrimination throughout all the phases of disaster response, from rescue to rehabilitation’.

The SR’s statement reiterates the conclusions of the IDSN report published in 2013 “Equality in Aid: addressing caste discrimination in humanitarian response”:

‘The experiences of Dalits during the relief and rehabilitation that follow disasters have demonstrated the degree to which caste discrimination by default can entrench and enhance inequity. While caste discrimination – despite laws and policies – continues to exist in day-to-day life in many countries, caste-based discrimination during disaster relief and recovery is also highly predictable. Yet humanitarian minimum standards do not currently require or guide providers of humanitarian assistance in caste-affected countries to understand and respond to caste discrimination’.

In advance of the Forum’s session draft recommendations were prepared, aiming to protect and promote minorities’ rights at all stages of a humanitarian crisis.  The participants of the Forum were invited to comment and add to draft recommendations.  Four oral statements at the Forum asserted that those affected by caste-based discrimination were disproportionately affected by humanitarian crises.

Bhakta Bishwakarma, representing IDSN and NNDSWO outlined that the devastating earthquake in Nepal claimed 8,856 lives and over 22,309 were injured. However, whilst the earthquake hit all people equally it ‘impacted diverse caste and ethnic groups differently. “Discrimination in Disaster” observed during relief and rescue time, about 60% Dalit people felt discrimination during relief and rescue operation time which is a denial of human rights and dignity of people’.

A representative from IRA Mauritania stated that Muhamasheen in Yemen and ethnic minorities in Mauritania face discrimination on the basis of their caste and similar systems. Whilst relatively little is known about caste-based discrimination in Mauritania, in January 2016, Minority Rights Group International published a report “Even war discriminates: Yemen’s minorities, exiled at home” on caste-based discrimination of Muhamasheen in Yemen, and a disproportionate impact of an armed conflict on the community.

Pirbhu Lal Satyani, member of National Lobbying Delegation on minorities and a coordinator at Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network stated that ‘hundreds of thousands of Dalits were affected by the floods in Pakistan in 2010, and many of them were denied access to relief camps’, had to ‘live and sleep in the open air’, and lacked access to basic goods such as food, water and blankets.

Deepak Nikarthil from the NCDHR, also representing ADRF and IDSN stated that ‘South Asia region is one of the most disaster prone regions in the world’ with over 215 million Dalits living there and ‘structurally discriminated and excluded in all aspects including the response, aid and rehabilitation process following humanitarian crisis’.

Stakeholders made a number of recommendations. A few to mention- to recognise discrimination against specific groups, collect disaggregated data to indicate how minorities are affected by crisis situations, reach out to vulnerable communities in disasters, and involve minority groups in disaster preparedness and response plans. The final recommendations of the Forum on Minority Issues will be presented by the SR to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2017.

More information:

  • 9th session of the Forum on Minority Issues including draft recommendations, agenda and background documentation
  • Equality in Aid: addressing caste discrimination in humanitarian response
  • The Special Rapporteur’s report
  • Bakhta Bishwakarma statement
  • Deepak Nikarthil statement