SIDE EVENT ON DRAFT UN PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES – A COMPREHENSIVE FRAMEWORK TO ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATION BASED ON WORK AND DESCENT
The side event was the first occasion on which the Sub-Commission study on discrimination based on work and descent was presented after the publication of the study’s final report (A/HRC/11/CRP.3) in May 2009 pursuant to decision A/HRC/10/117. The purpose of the meeting was to inform members and observers of the Human Rights Council about the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent and bring new perspectives on how best to promote it in a national context and with existing human rights mechanisms.
Sponsors and organisers: The event was endorsed by the Government of Nepal, sponsored by The International Movement against all forms of Discrimination and Racism and co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch, Anti-Slavery International, Minority Rights Group International, The Lutheran World Federation, The World Council of Churches and Pax Romana/ICMICA. The event was held in association with the International Dalit Solidarity Network.
Missions attending the event: Nepal, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France, United Kingdom
Read the IDSN press release ‘Broad backing for new UN guidelines to eliminate caste discrimination’ on this event (issued 17 September).
Read the media reports following the HRC12 side event.
Opening statement by Marcia V.J. Kran, OHCHR
The opening statement was presented by Ms. Marcia V.J. Kran, Director of the Research and Right to Development Division on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In her address Ms. Kran said that “events like this one today play an important role in raising awareness about the gravity of descent-based discrimination and serve to galvanize the political will required to take the necessary measures to achieve urgently needed change.” She commended the Government of Nepal for providing valuable insights into good practises and national challenges related to the issue of caste-based discrimination, and she encouraged other States to follow this example. Affected governments were encouraged to adopt, implement and enforce national legislation to outlaw all forms of descent-based discrimination is an important first step, complemented by targeted policies and programmes to address descent-based discrimination. She underlined that the judiciary has to strive to enforce human rights, and that national institutions, as well as specialized institutions focussed on caste, can also play an important role in improving law and policy in this area and ensuring redress to victims.
In her concluding remarks she said that “combating all forms of discrimination will remain a priority concern of the work of the Office as outlined in OHCHR’s Strategic Management Plan”, and that “OHCHR at its headquarters and through its field presences will continue to gather information and support the development of practical strategies to address the phenomenon of discrimination based on descent”. Finally, she said that “the OHCHR stands ready to cooperate and offer technical support to strengthen national systems to address caste-based discrimination.”
Presentation by Prof. Chin-Sung Chung and Prof. Yozo Yokota
Prof. Chin-Sung Chung and Prof. Yozo Yokota gave a presentation to the UN Sub-Commission study on discrimination based on work and descent, and the content of the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent.
Prof. Chung explained how they as former Special Rapporteurs had been mandated by the Commission on Human Rights to undertake “a comprehensive study on discrimination based on work and descent” in resolution 2005/109. Two preliminary reports had been prepared on the global scope of this entrenched form of discrimination, several consultations and country visits had been conducted to collect information, and a questionnaire was circulated by the OHCHR to get information from states on the issue. The final report was submitted in 2007 and was published by the Human Rights Council in May 2009.
Prof. Yokota introduced the content of the draft principles and guidelines, and explained their significance as they constitute the first comprehensive UN framework to prevent and address discrimination based on work and descent. He went through the provisions of the framework which is based on existing human rights principles and obligations, and proposes general and special measures to be taken by multiple stakeholders, including governments and its institutions, multilateral agencies and private actors.
He recommended that the provisions of framework, that are reflected in the draft Principles and Guidelines, should be mainstreamed into the work of existing human rights bodies, including the Special Procedures and Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council as well as the monitoring activities of the UN human rights treaty bodies. He also recommended that a follow-up monitoring mechanism such as a Special Rapporteur on Discrimination Based on Work and Descent be established to effectively promote and oversee the compliance with the adopted Principles and Guidelines on a systematic basis.
Statement by Nepalese State Minister Mr. Gautum
The Honourable State Minister for Ministry of General Administration, Government of Nepal, Mr. Jeet Bahadur Darjee Gautum, explained about the Government of Nepal’s efforts to eliminate caste-based discrimination which has had “crippling effects on the overall healthy development of the entire society”. He said that the vertical stratification between upper and lower castes has helped legitimize untouchability and the notion of “pure and unpure”. In turn this has had an exclusionary impact on Dalits, given them minimal access to state structures, and prevented them from mainstreaming into society.
The State Minister highlighted several positive aspects of the draft principles and guidelines as a comprehensive framework to eliminate caste-based discrimination. First, he underlined that they were in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that they were based on the underlying assumption that no citizen should be excluded from using services and privileges provided by the state. Second, they extended not only to governments, but also to individuals, groups, federations, institutions, bodies and communities. Third, they applied a victim oriented approach with particular attention to vulnerable groups such as women, aged, and disabled persons. Fourth, they emphasized the collective efforts of the international community, regional and international mechanisms, the UN and its organs, international civil society and the private sector to contribute to the elimination of this form of discrimination.
Regarding the Government of Nepal’s use of the framework, the State Minister said that “the draft principles and guidelines can serve as good reference in devising the ways and means to address the issue of caste-based discrimination” in the constitution-making process in Nepal. He also mentioned that they may be “useful tools to work out amendment and reforms of anti-discriminatory laws and revitalize their implementation”. Furthermore, they could provide a reference when drafting and implementing the constitutional provisions for victims’ compensation from ‘untouchability’ offences. In conclusion, he said that “the international community and the UN could complement these efforts by sharing the best practices, enabling the national actors and helping through resources and capacity building. In this context the draft guidelines can serve as useful tool to borrow the idea from for national efforts.”
Link to statement
Key issues and country analyses from civil society
Civil society perspectives from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Japan gave their perspectives on how the draft principles and guidelines could make a difference in eliminating some of the challenges facing caste-affected communities in their respective countries. Each speaker spoke with reference to specific provisions in the framework.
On the issue of tackling impunity and non-implementation of laws in India, Mr. Prasad Sirivella from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights spoke about the lack of effective enforcement of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 (UN P&G General Measures para. 10-16, 18).
Ms. Kala Kumari Swarnakar from the Feminist Dalit Organisation gave her perspectives on the right to equal political participation in the constitution-making process in Nepal, and the need for affirmative action to empower Dalit women (UN P&G Special Measures para. 32-34, 36).
In relation to Pakistan, Mr. Sono Khangarani from the Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network talked about the need for intensifying efforts to eradicate forced labour and creating equal employment opportunities (UN P&G Special Measures para. 34-38).
Mr. Bothanki Solomon from the Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement explained about his community’s challenges in getting equal access to housing, water and sanitation, and eradicating malnutrition and health problems in Bangladesh (UN P&G Special Measures para. 42-46).
Representing the Buraku Liberation League in Japan, Mr. Kenichi Wada shared his views on combating stigmas and segregation in housing and employment (UN P&G Special Measures para. 21-22).
Mr. Tudor Silva, Professor at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, introduced the key findings of his extensive research on caste discrimination in the country, and underlined for the need for more surveys, research and collection of disaggregated data (UN P&G Special Measures para. 20, 49-52).
In the following debate Sweden presented a statement on behalf of the European Union recognizing the event as an opportunity to further discuss the issue of caste based discrimination and other forms of discrimination based on work and descent which “is an important priority for the European Union.” Sweden said that the EU recognizes, and appreciates, that “many steps have been taken to combat caste based discrimination, both in legislative, executive and judiciary levels, and we would encourage to continue a sharing of best practices and experiences.”
Further, Sweden said that the EU “reiterates our support to the work of the Human Rights Council, and our interest in the draft UN principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination based on work and descent, that we hope can be a useful tool in the ongoing work to prevent discrimination in this regard. We will study the recommendations that were made here today by Professor Yokota.”
Recommendations on the promotion of the draft principles and guidelines
In their concluding remarks, Prof. Chin-Sung Chung and Prof. Yozo Yokota suggested a number of ways in which the draft principles and guidelines can be promoted and implemented in the future. It was recommended that a double strategy is applied, i.e. that a formal follow-up process is initiated in the Human Rights Council, while also being promoted in their existing form by governments, UN bodies and agencies, international organizations, research institutions, the media, the corporate sector, and civil society.
The former Special Rapporteurs called upon the Human Rights Council to consolidate and follow-up to the work of the Sub-Commission study, in particular the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent, and recommended that the Human Rights Council:
- Take note of the publication of the final report on discrimination based on work and descent, including the draft UN principles and guidelines (A/HRC/11/CRP.3) published by the Human Rights Council pursuant to decision A/HRC/10/117;
- Recognise the importance of this framework as the first comprehensive framework to propose general and specific measures to promote and protect the rights of persons affected by discrimination based on work and descent;
- Recommend that Member States and their institutions, UN agencies, special agencies and programmes give due consideration to the draft UN principles and guidelines in the formulation and implementation of their policies and measures for persons affected by discrimination based on work and descent;
- Also recommend that other relevant actors in society, including research institutions, media, the corporate sector, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations give due consideration to the principles and guidelines for the realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons affected by discrimination based on work and descent;
- Commend that the provisions of framework should be mainstreamed into the work of existing human rights bodies, including the Special Procedures and Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council as well as the monitoring activities of the UN human rights treaty bodies;
- Adopt the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent;
- Establish a follow-up monitoring mechanism such as a Special Rapporteur on Discrimination Based on Work and Descent to effectively promote and oversee the compliance with the adopted Principles and Guidelines on a systematic basis.