UN Rights Official calls on world to end caste discrimination like it did apartheid.

October 9, 2009 — Governments in countries with caste systems should respond to the call from a top UN official to end this form of discrimination, Human Rights Watch, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) said today. The organisations urged governments in South Asia and other regions to cooperate with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who has issued a strong call to end caste discrimination.

In an opinion article, Ms. Pillay stated that “the time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste” and called on the international community to come together “as it did when it helped put an end to apartheid.” She argued that “other seemingly insurmountable walls, such as slavery and apartheid, have been dismantled in the past” and concluded that “we can and must tear down the barriers of caste too.”

“Governments in India and other caste-affected countries should support the new UN framework to eliminate caste discrimination,” said Rikke Nöhrlind, coordinator, International Dalit Solidarity Network. “It is time for these nations to cooperate with the UN to address a human rights issue that affects 260 million people.”

The High Commissioner’s strong stance has been welcomed by Dalit rights groups, particularly in South Asia. As many as 200 million victims of caste discrimination live in India. Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka also have sizeable Dalit populations, and communities in Africa, Yemen and Japan are similarly affected.

“Dalits and similarly discriminated-against communities across the globe have been oppressed for thousands of years,” said Paul Divakar, general secretary of the NCDHR in India.  “India’s ban on caste-based discrimination will not be effective unless the government makes it a priority to enforce it. Violence and other human rights abuses against Dalits are still committed with impunity.  The government should work with the international community to address this problem.”

A key step for caste-affected countries, the groups said, is to adopt the UN principles and guidelines on caste discrimination – the first comprehensive UN framework to prevent and address this serious human rights problem. In her article, Pillay called on “all states to rally around and endorse these norms”. The adoption of the guidelines could lead to the establishment of a UN monitoring mechanism on caste discrimination.

Nepal recently expressed its support for the guidelines, describing them as a “good reference” and “useful tools”, and the EU also expressed support.

“Nepal’s response is an example for other governments,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Political will to end this scourge is needed at all levels of government to alter traditional attitudes and turn well-meaning laws into reality.”

This press release was published jointly by Human Rights Watch, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and IDSN on 9 October 2009.

Click here to download a printable pdf-file of the press release (including background notes)

Click here to read the opinion piece by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Read the press clippings following the press release