Discrimination based on work and descent is the UN terminology for caste discrimination. The term has been used by several UN human rights bodies, including by treaty bodies and Special Rapporteurs, reaffirming that this form of discrimination is prohibited under international human rights law.


Discrimination based on work and descent is defined in paragraph 1 of the draft UN principles and guidelines

[…] any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on inherited status such as caste, including present or ancestral occupation, family, community or social origin, name, birth place, place of residence, dialect and accent that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life.  This type of discrimination is typically associated with the notion of purity and pollution and practices of untouchability, and is deeply rooted in societies and cultures where this discrimination is practiced.

More information about the draft UN Principles and Guidelines

Caste, descent and race

Subsequent practice by UN treaty and charter-based bodies have affirmed that caste-based discrimination fall under the purview of international human rights instruments. IDSN has prepared a position paper on the interrelations between caste, race and descent.

Read more about caste, race and descent

CERD General Recommendation 29 on descent

In 2002, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) adopted General Recommendation no. 29

Confirming the consistent view of the Committee that the term “descent” in article 1, paragraph 1, the Convention does not solely refer to “race” and has a meaning and application which complement the other prohibited grounds of discrimination,

Strongly reaffirming that discrimination based on “descent” includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights […]

Other UN treaty body committees, such as the CERD, CESCR, CEDAW, CAT and the CRC have addressed caste-based discrimination when reviewing relevant state reports, thus confirming that caste-based discrimination falls within the purview of these instruments as well.

For an overview of the General Comments, in which treaty bodies have referred to caste, please find the relevant section in the IDSN compilation on UN references to caste (updated regularly).

Link to CERD General Recommendation 29 on descent

Compilation on UN references to caste, incl. General Comments by UN treaty bodies

More information about UN treaty body reviews of affected countries

UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism

The UN Special Rapporteur has several times reaffirmed the position of CERD that discrimination on the grounds of caste falls within the scope of existing instruments, in particular the International Convention on the Elimination of Alls Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Read about the UN Special Rapporteur on racism and caste

Caste discrimination and the Durban Review Conference


IDSN has created an extensive database on caste-based discrimination.

All documents on discrimination based on work and descent