Two Independent Experts – on water and sanitation and on human rights and extreme poverty – expressed serious concern about the human rights situation of Dalits during their visit to Bangladesh earlier this month.

The two UN experts visited the Gonoktuli Dalit colony in Dhaka on 9 December. Photo: BDERM

In Bangladesh, discrimination is rampant. It also affects Dalits, and the government must guarantee their human rights.

This was one of the concluding messages from two UN specialists, the Independent Expert on water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, and the Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda, following a one week mission to the country in early December.

Their stay included a visit to the Gonoktuli Dalit ‘colony’ in Dhaka, the largest of 17 such communities in the city. The visit was organised by the Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM) and Nagorik Uddyog. The experts also met with BDERM representatives Zakir Hossain and Bothanki Solomon during a joint meeting with local human rights groups.

Ms Albuquerque stated that Dalits “suffer from discrimination based on their occupation, or their parents’ occupation, namely sweepers. These people clean the toilets and empty the septic tanks of others throughout the country. They are reportedly denied education because of social stigma, and their jobs are threatened.

Although they work in sanitation all day long, they have no or inadequate access to water and sanitation in their own homes. The Government must end all forms of discrimination and adopt immediate measures to guarantee their human rights,” she concluded.

The visitors placed a particular emphasis on the obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination. “In Bangladesh, discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, disability, work, descent, and tenure status, is rampant. This has an enormous impact on these individuals’ ability to lift themselves out of poverty and to claim their rights,” the experts said.

The experts will include their observations and recommendations from the country visit in two separate reports that will be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2010.

Discrimination based on work and descent is the official UN terminology for caste discrimination. In Bangladesh, an estimated 5.5 million people are victims of this form of discrimination. They suffer from a lack of access to basic social services such as water, sanitation, adequate housing, health care, social services and school facilities.

Ahead of the country visit, IDSN recommended to the Independent Experts that they consider the specific provisions on adequate food, water and housing in the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent, and make use of them as a guiding framework to propose measures to tackle caste discrimination in Bangladesh.

Full press statement by the two UN experts

OHCHR news item on the country visit

BDERM: A short report on the UN visit

Press coverage in the Daily Star

See how other Independent Experts have addressed caste discrimination in their work