The issue of caste discrimination is increasingly addressed by the UN Special Procedures, which is a human rights monitoring mechanism under the Human Rights Council that examines the human rights situation of particular issues and country situations.
The following compilation, which is regularly updated by IDSN, provides an overview of how caste-based discrimination has been addressed in annual reports, mission reports and communications prepared by relevant UN Special Rapporteurs:
Historic report by the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues
In March 2016, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues Ms. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye presented her report on caste-based discrimination to the Human Rights Council. The report is the first comprehensive report examining caste-based discrimination as a global phenomenon. In her report, the Rapporteur covers specific areas of impact of discrimination in caste-based and analogous systems in relation to core human rights along with initiatives and good practices to address caste-based discrimination.
During the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, held on 15 March, a majority of states voiced their support for the report and its focus on caste. It is further noted that a number of states stressed the importance of considering and integrating measures against caste discrimination into the SDG 2030 framework for implementation echoing the promise to “leave no-one behind”.
On 16 March, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights hosted a side event on minorities and caste-based discrimination, featuring the Special Rapporteur as well as a number of experts from different countries and regions, including Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
IDSN report on the HRC31 side-event on “minorities and caste-based discrimination”
Statement By UN Special Procedures mandate holders (2013)
In May 2013, seven Special Procedures mandate holders issued a significant media statement on caste discrimination and ‘untouchability’. They noted that “caste-based discrimination remains widespread and deeply rooted, its victims face structural discrimination, marginalization and systematic exclusion, and the level of impunity is very high.”
The experts urged world governments to strengthen protection of the hundreds of millions of people who suffer from this type of discrimination, and to endorse the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent.
IDSN appeal to UN Special Procedures
In 2014, IDSN issued an appeal to UN Special Procedures Mandate-Holders to take action to eliminate caste-based discrimination. In the appeal, the Special Procedures are specifically urged to;
- Urge states to endorse the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent;
- Issue a joint statement on the topic identifying caste-based discrimination as a cross-cutting issue of concern and outlining areas of joint intervention;
- Visit caste-affected countries and include the issue of caste-based discrimination in monitoring and investigations;
- Refer to the draft UN Principles and Guidelines and to situations of caste-based discrimination whenever relevant, and urge state as well as non-state actors to address this issue;
- Ensure that caste-based discrimination and affected communities are specifically mentioned, along with other forms of discrimination and discriminated groups, when gathering information, e.g. in the context of questionnaires to governments and civil society actors;
- Consider under relevant agenda item of mandate holders’ annual meeting in 2015 to have a discussion on the topic and a joint session with treaty bodies on follow up on observations, concluding observations and recommendations related to caste-based discrimination in the work of special procedures, treaty bodies and the UPR process, and include suggestions on:
- creating a regular joint review process on status and follow such observations, conclusions and recommendations on caste discrimination and
- developing a road map for action to improve implementation of such recommendations;
- engage in OHCHR/UN consultations on caste-based discrimination
Please find an IDSN news piece on the SP Annual Meeting Exchange of Views with Civil Society, where the appeal was formally presented to Special Procedures Mandate-Holders
In 2012, IDSN issued an appeal to UN Member States, Special Procedures, and UN Agencies to take action to eliminate caste discrimination. In the appeal, the Special Procedures are specifically urged to:
- Systematically address human rights violations intersecting with caste discrimination in studies, country visits, communications, and dialogues with governments, UN agencies, and civil society;
- Take joint action, giving international attention and recognition to the nature and scope of caste discrimination as a chronic and cross-cutting human rights concern;
- Publicly endorse, use, and mainstream the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the elimination of discrimination based on work and descent as a guiding framework to eliminate caste discrimination;
- Promote the sharing of good practices to eliminate caste discrimination by governments and their institutions, UN agencies, the private sector, civil society, and other relevant actors.
Submitting a complaint to the UN Special Procedures
If a human rights violation has occurred, is ongoing, or has a high risk of occurring, a complaint can be submitted to most Special Procedures about the alleged violation. With this information the mandate holders are able to intervene directly with Governments on specific allegations of violations of human rights that come within their mandates in the form of letters of allegation or urgent appeals. The submission of cases to UN Special Procedures may also lead to a thematic study on a particular subject, such as caste discrimination, Dalit women, torture, manual scavenging, etc.
The UN Special Procedures can make requests for country visits to countries of particular concern. Mandate holders carry out country visits to investigate the situation of human rights at the national level. After their visits, special procedures’ mandate-holders issue a mission report containing their findings and recommendations. Unfortunately some countries choose not to acknowledge the requests. Countries may also extend invitations voluntarily.
Relevant thematic UN mandates
- Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism
- Special Rapporteur on violence against women
- Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery
- Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues
- Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
- Special Rapporteur on the right to food
- Special Rapporteur on the right to education
- Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
- Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation
- Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
- Special Rapporteur on the question of human rights and extreme poverty
- Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
- UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice
In an Interim Report (A/64/271) to the UN General Assembly in 2009, the Special Rapporteur made the following references to descent-based discrimination as a thematic issue addressed through his participation at a Durban Review Conference side event on “Communities Empowered to Resist Discrimination and Exclusion” organised by IMADR and LWF in Geneva on 21 April 2009. At this event, Mr. Muigai made an address on descent-based discrimination in the context of the Durban Review Conference.
Latest documentation links on Caste and UN Special Procedures
Latest Caste and UN Special Procedures
- Recommendations for the 44 th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (30 June – 17 July 2020)
- Petition · UN: Act NOW & hold member states accountable for elimination of caste-based discrimination · Change.org
- Caste-hate speech highlighted at the 2020 UN Minority Forum – International Dalit Solidarity Network
- Oral statement on “Human rights to water and sanitation for Dalits in India” at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council (IMADR – IDSN)
- UN human rights experts urge Mali to end descent-based slavery once and for all (OHCHR)