In a report stressing the need for better protection against discrimination for Roma and victims of caste systems, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mr. Githu Muigai, warns that the rights of an estimated 250 million people across the globe are at risk because they are subjected to discrimination on the basis of caste or other social systems based on inherited status.

In the report, which was presented on 14 June in the Human Rights Council, Mr. Muigai identifies good practices and contemporary challenges at international and national level. To illustrate the manifestations of this form of discrimination, he reports on the situation in affected countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and among Diaspora communities on the basis of publicly available information.

In the conclusion the Rapporteur recommends, among other things, “the continued use of the draft principles and guidelines on discrimination based on work and descent as a guiding framework for the elaboration of effective measures to be taken by States to fulfil international legal obligations, including the duty of Governments to engage in genuine efforts to dispel the prejudicial beliefs that constitute, support and reinforce discrimination based on work and descent, including notions of untouchability.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on the 14 June 2011:

“The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism, Githu Muigai, said Tuesday that deep-rooted discrimination, prejudices, and intolerance are common threads that run through the lives of the Roma people in Europe and the victims of caste or similar systems of inherited status in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

All victims should receive the same attention and protection, and all forms of racism and discrimination should be addressed with the same emphasis and determination,” the expert said, presenting his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council. “It is essential to avoid establishing any hierarchy among the different manifestations of discrimination, even if they may vary in nature and degree depending on the historical, geographical and cultural contexts.”  …

“The most commonly known form of discrimination based on inherited status is the centuries-old condition of ‘untouchability’, which restricts employment opportunities and treats those belonging to lower castes as outcasts of the societies in which they live. Women and girls belonging to these communities are most vulnerable to sexual slavery, trafficking and infanticide. Few, Muigai adds, can hope to change their inherited status.

“The legal framework on discrimination based on descent is unambiguous but is not properly implemented. The vital first step is for States to recognize that discrimination on the grounds of descent constitutes a form of racial discrimination prohibited by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination,” the Special Rapporteur notes.

Muigai adds that the population itself, including in lower caste communities, is also responsible for perpetuating discrimination. “Despite Government efforts to eradicate this type of discrimination through constitutional guarantees, legislation and affirmative action programmes, caste -based discrimination remains deplorably widespread and deeply rooted. Victims face structural discrimination, locking them in a persistent and vicious cycle of poverty and marginalization.”

He recommends that legal measures be taken hand-in-hand with awareness-raising of the judiciary, the police and civil service to effectively bring justice and remedies to victims of multiple forms of discrimination.”

Read the full article from the OHCHR  including Muigai’s findings in relation to the Roma victims of discrimination here

Read the press release issued by Mr. Muigai here

Read the Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Githu Muigai here

IDSN country information on caste-based discrimination

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