Three Dalit human rights defenders spoke at the UN Forum on Minority Issues. Durga Sob, from Nepal, and Manjula Pradeep and Ramesh Nathan from India, delivered strong statements on the dismal state of access to justice for Dalits and the maltreatment of Dalits in the criminal justice system.
This year’s Forum on Minority Issues took place on 24th and-25th November and had a thematic focus on “Minorities in the Criminal Justice System”. This is a key issue that is faced by Dalits in India who are not only impaired from accessing mechanisms of justice but also often the main victims of police torture and custodial death, due to deeply ingrained caste discrimination.
Durga Sob, President of the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) spoke on the panel of the forum and explained to participants that there is a “lack of accountability for law enforcement when it comes to Dalits.”
Sob reiterated the recommendations given at the UPR of Nepal just a few weeks earlier, endorsing the national obligations regarding access to justice and a need to strengthen the criminal justice system of Nepal in favour of Dalits and Dalit women in particular, by ensuring Dalit equal representation in all justice sector institutions. To improve access to justice for Dalits Ms. Sob recommended strict enforcemet of the Caste-based discrimination and Untouchability Act and also encouraged decision makers to strengthen NGOs and campaigns for awareness.
General Secretary of the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) Ramesh Nathan delivered a statement under the session on “Minorities and the exercise of police powers”, while Navsarjan Trust director Manjula Pradeep gave a statement “Addressing the root causes of discrimination in the administration of justice”.
Both statements provided a number of recommendations, promoting the protection of Dalits in the criminal justice system. The concrete recommendations included suggestions on how to improve implementation of existing laws and affirmative action policies, whilst ensuring that officials charged with implementing the laws protecting minorities adhere to their responsibilities, including through the enactment of penalties for non-compliance with protective laws.
Ms. Pradeep also pointed out that the failure to ensure equal protection for Dalits is a major issue and that authorities lack commitment to resolve it. She commented that the “Lawlessness and impunity when it comes to Dalits generates a lack of faith in the justice system.”
Mr. Nathan furthermore explained that in India In over 60% of victims of torture belong to Dalit and religious minorities and that Dalits and other minorities were mistreated due to deep-seated bias within police forces.
Convener of the Forum, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Rita Izsak noted that Dalit women were key victims of impunity.
The outcome document of the Forum with thematic recommendations , as well as statements and other documents will be uploaded at the Forum’s webpage.