In a historic event in Kathmandu, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launched a comprehensive guidance tool addressing caste-based discrimination. The tool is meant to support UN country teams, agencies and other stakeholders in combatting caste-based discrimination and has been welcomed by UN stakeholders as well as human rights activists across the world.

The tool is the first of its kind to directly address caste and forms part of an Action Plan to support the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Guidance note of the UN Secretary-General: On racial discrimination and protection of minorities. A wide range of stakeholderswere consulted by the OHCHR when creating the tool, including IDSN, the Asia Dalit Rights Forum (ADRF), Dalit rights organisations, international human rights organisations and OHCHR staff and leaders. It is hoped that the tool will bring much needed attention to, and action on, one of the most severe forms of discrimination in the world.

The tool also clearly marks a departure from the silencing of the issue of caste-based discrimination within the UN, that has been witnessed in the past, and shows clear leadership and commitment from the OHCHR to tackle one of the world’s most serious human rights issues, affecting over 260 million people.

“The UN guidance tool on caste-based discrimination will be tremendously useful to those both within the UN system and beyond, working to combat this heinous form of discrimination,” said Meena Varma, Chair of the IDSN board and Acting Executive Director of IDSN, “The tool will also create much needed awareness within the UN of the need to address this form of discrimination with direct action at both the country and international level. We applaud the OHCHR for taking this step and look forward to seeing the tool in action over the coming years.”

Several civil society leaders, UN agencies, country teams and networks were represented at the launch, which took place on 27 March 2017. The launch was attended by Rita Izsak, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues,  Katia Chirizzi, Acting Deputy Head of Regional Office for South Asia, OHCHR, Renaud Meyer, UNDP Country Director, Nepal, Rikke Nohrlind, former Executive Director of IDSN. Members from IDSN and ADRF were also present including, Padam Sundas, Renu Sijapati, Afsana Amin, Bhakta Biswakarma, Siva Pragasam, Paul Divakar and several other civil society leaders and Human Rights activists from South Asia and other parts of the globe.

This Guidance Tool helps lay the foundation for more concerted and system-wide action by the UN on the issue of discrimination based on descent, including caste-based and analogous forms of discrimination. The main target group for this guidance tool is UN Country Teams and Resident Coordinators but the tool is also useful for other stakeholders that are working to address and combat descent-based discrimination.

The Guidance tool on descent-based discrimination: Key challenges and strategic approaches to combat caste-based and analogous forms of discrimination is meant to enable the UN system, in particular, to:

  • Understand the conceptual issues and fundamental principles related to addressing discrimination based on descent as well as the intersection between discrimination based on descent and gender
  • Apply a human rights-based approach and a gender perspective when formulating programmes and strategies to combat descent-based discrimination
  • Obtain guidance on key challenges, priorities and strategic approaches to combat discrimination based on descent
  • Increase opportunities for meaningful participation and representation of descent-based communities in development processes
  • Share lessons learned in relation to the development, reform and implementation of legislation, policies and programmes to address this form of discrimination
  • Integrate a non-discrimination approach in UN Development Assistance Frameworks and Common Country Assessment processes

Human rights activists see this Guidance tool as another constructive step in the journey of the UN to address this particular type of human rights issue, which it is hoped will evolve to bring out a UN Convention to eliminate Discrimination based on Work and Descent including Caste.