The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recommends the Government of Yemen to adopt a national action plan to combat the social discrimination and marginalization faced by the Al-Akhdam people, considered ‘untouchable’ in Yemen.

Despite the ongoing political and social conflict in Yemen, the CESCR Committee carried through its examination of the Government’s implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. During the dialogue on 9-10 May, the Committee raised a number of questions on the human rights situation of the Al-Akhdam population, a socially excluded and ‘out-caste’ community in Yemen.

An alternative report, which was submitted to the Committee by the All Youth Network for Society Development in association with IDSN, documented the discriminatory practices and social exclusion against the Al-Akhdam minority in Yemen. Unofficial sources estimate that between 500,000 to 3,5 million people belong to the Al-Akhdam community, which is figuratively suggestive of “people held in contempt and servitude” in Yemen.

During the examination, the experts of the Committee expressed concern about the lack of a concrete wording in Yemen’s Constitution regarding equality. They specifically asked the Yemeni delegation what was being done to address the situation of the Al-Akhdam and expressed their concerns about the overwhelming poverty of this minority group and high drop-out rates in primary and secondary schools.

The delegation said that they recognised that the Al-Akhdam population was very poor, but that this population enjoy the same rights as everyone else, including property rights and the right to attend school. The delegation underlined that the Al-Akhdam population is not an ethnic or cultural minority, and the law does not recognise discrimination against women, the marginalised or the Al-Akhdam. However, according to the delegation special measures had been taken to eliminate discrimination against the Al-Akhdam, such as reservation of seats in universities and employment, and free housing granted by the Government and civil society organizations.

Nevertheless, the Committee expressed deep concern about the widespread manifestations of discrimination in Yemen against disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, in the Concluding Observations. In particular, the Committee was concerned about the “continued social and economic marginalization and discrimination that the Al-Akhdam face, especially concerning access to employment, conditions of work, extensive level of child labour, extremely high levels of school drop-out, lack of adequate housing, water and sanitation, as well as electricity” (paragraph 8).

Furthermore, the Committee recommended the State Party to “adopt a national action plan elaborated with the participation of Al-Akhdam people and equipped with an effective, participatory and transparent monitoring and implementation mechanism. The Committee also recommends that the planned measures focus on access to employment, adequate conditions of work, enrolment of children in education and prevention of school drop-outs, access to medical care, and reduction of child mortality, as well as access to adequate housing, water, sanitation and electricity.”

The Committee emphasized the importance that the State party include statistical data on all Covenant rights, paying particular attention to disadvantaged and marginalized groups of society, in their next report which is due in June 2013.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has on previous occasions recommended the Government of Yemen to enhance its efforts to eliminate discrimination against the Al-Akhdam population, during examinations in 2006 and 2011. Yemen will be reviewed by the Human Rights Committee in March 2012.

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