This week DSN-UK Director Meena Varma was featured on the BBC Asian Network Lunchtime programme. Meena emphasised the need for caste legislation and expressed her concerns about the upcoming consultation. Yet, those opposing the legislation stated that “caste system” does not exist. To listen to the programme please click here (minute 5:25- 9:00, broadcasted on 10/10/2016).
On 15 September 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, presented her annual report to the Human Rights Council. This year her report focused on global trends of debt bondage, reflecting the information received from a range of stakeholders who completed the SR’s questionnaire on bonded labour. The report outlined that ‘debt bondage, also known as bonded labour, is one of the four practices similar to slavery’ and are closely related to different forms of exploitation, including forced labour, trafficking and child labour. The SR noted that a global trend of debt bondage ‘can be seen whereby vulnerable people, including those belonging to minority groups, indigenous people, women, children, people determined as being of low caste, and migrant workers, are disproportionately impacted by debt bondage’. The report highlights that debt bondage practice is widespread in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal ‘despite the specific prohibition on such practices within the legal frameworks of these countries’ and those trapped in bonded labour are ‘reportedly predominantly Dalits, persons of “low” caste’. In February 2016 DSN-UK and READ (Rights Education and Development Centre) jointly completed the SR’s questionnaire, sharing their first-hand knowledge of debt bondage in India, Tamil Nadu, under the sumangali scheme. In 2013 Dalit Solidarity Network UK funded by TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and Development) started working in partnership with Rights Education and Development Centre (READ) to End the sumangali Scheme in South India, where textile and garment products are made for big brands and retailers by girls and young women from low caste backgrounds under exploitative conditions. Girls and young women are recruited by brokers to join the so-called ‘Sumangali Thittam’ or ‘Marriage Scheme’, promised they would receive a considerable amount of money at the end of three to five years of employment. In the western and central parts of Tamil Nadu, a high number of adolescent girls reportedly work as bonded labourers under the sumangali scheme in textile mills and garment factories, which is a major hub in the global knitwear sector that supplies international brands. The majority of these workers are reported to belong to Dalit communities and are aged between 14 and 18 years. Debt bondage is also reported in power loom workshops located in the Tirupur region of Tamil Nadu, which produce woven cloth both for domestic manufacturers and for global suppliers. Those affected by debt bondage in this region are reported to include members of Dalit communities and other poor communities and to include both men and women. Furthermore, some non-agricultural industries in which debt bondage among children is reported to exist include carpet weaving, beedi making, silk production, silk sari production, the brick kilns and stone quarries. Urmila concluded her report by stating that bonded labour is ‘a complex and multidimensional form of contemporary slavery that impacts on individuals across the world’, particularly people belonging to minority groups, including women, children, indigenous people, people of “low” caste and migrant workers, in numerous sectors of the economy. She indicated that debt bondage prevails due to governments’ failure to ‘implement effective legislation on debt bondage’ and included three pages of recommendations to eradicate the practice. IDSN advocates for Dalit rights internationally and monitors a number of mechanisms referring to caste-based discrimination. Conveniently IDSN compiled all of the references to caste discrimination at the UN, including mentions in statements at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council and the UN treaty bodies.
Dalit Solidarity Network UK challenges UK government on the non-implementation of promised legislation to outlaw caste discrimination. In July 2016, Dalit Solidarity Network UK instructed well known solicitors Mishcon de Reya to write a pre-action letter to the Minister for Equalities and Women and the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening. This was a significant milestone for Dalit Solidarity Network UK leading a consortium of organisations, including Anti Caste Discriminations Alliance, CasteWatch UK and the National Secular Society who seek to challenge the UK government over the non-implementation of the promised legislation to outlaw caste discrimination in the UK. Well known solicitors, Mishcon de Reya’s Employment team, acting on a pro bono basis for Dalit Solidarity Network UK challenged the UK government on this matter with Diya Sen Gupta and Daniel Cashman of Blackstone Chambers, also acting pro bono. The response to the letter from the government, and the Minister for Equalities, Justine Greening, was to confirm that it will undertake a public consultation on the legislation – to take place for 12 weeks at the end of this year. Under the caste system, which is practised most commonly on the South Asian continent, individuals are born into a lifelong hierarchical status. As the former Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening MP will be more than well aware of the human and labour rights abuses suffered by Dalits in South Asian countries as a result of caste discrimination. She has met Dalit groups on her visits. There is clear evidence of caste discrimination amongst the South Asian diaspora in the UK, affecting Christians, Hindus, Muslim and Sikh communities. Dalits have campaigned since 2007 for the inclusion of ‘caste’ as a protected characteristic (like race and gender) in the Equality Act 2010. By an amendment effected by section 97 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, the ability for caste to become an aspect of race then became an obligation for the Government to so legislate. In July 2013, the government introduced a timetable that set out a series of steps, including a public consultation, intended to lead to the enactment of this caste legislation in the summer of 2015. Key deadlines in this timetable have not been met, and to date the government remains silent on whether it will make an Order under section 9(5) of the Equality Act 2010 so as to provide for caste to be an aspect of race. So what of this recently announced consultation? The goalposts have been moved. We were told in 2013 the consultation would focus on ‘how to implement the legislation. It now appears that the focus will be on ‘whether to implement the legislation’ CasteWatch UK is preparing to mobilise the many thousands of Dalits to protest outside Parliament if the terms of the consultation are not fair and equal. The Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance have stated in their press release: ‘The Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance is deeply concerned that the UK Government has decided to consult on the need for the law already agreed by Parliament in April 2013. The Government is blatantly ignoring the will of Parliament and UN CERD’s recommendation that the law be brought into force without further delay. The National Secular Society has raised the issue at the United Nations Human Rights Council saying It (UK Government) has just announced a public consultation on “whether additional measures are needed [on] … caste discrimination … under the 2010 Equality Act”. This in effect invites the opinions of the public, including those of ‘so-called higher’ caste and those wishing to discriminate on grounds of caste, to oppose the legislation recommended by the UN in accordance with the UK’s “international human rights obligations”, and required by Parliament. Theresa May has pledged; “The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.” Will she stand by this pledge and give protection to the many thousands of potential victims of caste discrimination rather than listen to the rich lobby that insists there is no caste discrimination in Britain – well not much anyway!
Disappointment again as the UK Government fails to advance the implementation of the caste discrimination legislation – despite the duty placed in it to do so by Parliament 4 and 5 August 2016, Palais de Wilson, United Nations, Geneva Every two years all state parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) are required to submit reports on the implementation of the treaty. In March 2015 the United Kingdom (UK) submitted three combined reports and was reviewed by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on 4th and 5th of August 2016. Before the review in Geneva thirteen NGOs and two national human rights institutions prepared shadow reports, including precise recommendations and highlighting areas of concern. Four organisations – DSN-UK joint with IDSN, Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) P.83 and Recommendation 9, Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA) and the Runnymede Trust P.23 outlined their concerns in relation to caste-based discrimination in the UK and the government’s failure to implement the CERD recommendation number 30 from 2011. All 4 submissions urged the UK Government to perform its duty as required by Parliament and the rule of law and to amend the Act to add ‘caste as an aspect of race’. In Geneva, alongside several UK NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions, DSN-UK Director, Meena Varma, made a formal presentation to the CERD Committee and other NGOs. She highlighted the importance of the caste legislation and the frustration with the delays in implementing it. The UK was going against the will of Parliament and to continue to use the Tirkey v Chandok case as a delaying mechanism to the decision is just plain wrong. Although the review proceedings concentrated on institutional and individual racism against BME communities and the rise in hate crime post Brexit referendum, the rapporteur on the UK, Mr Gün Kut, asked for an explanation of what “careful consideration of court judgements in Tirkey v Chandok case” meant. The UK delegation repeated the government’s position expressed previously that caste could be already covered under the ‘ethnic origin’ and since there is no clear definition of caste the government was uncertain of which characteristics would be protected under ‘caste’. Once again we heard the refrain ‘we are considering the need for legislation in light of the Tirkey v Chandok case’ At the end of the review the Chair of the CERD committee stated she was still unclear to why the UK delegation is delaying to enact a law against caste discrimination but the UK representatives chose to ignore it. DSN-UK and other NGOs campaigning for caste legislation were disappointed with the UK government’s lack of interest in making any progress with the legislation but remain hopeful that the concluding recommendations will once again propose to ‘invoke section 9(5)(a) of the Equality Act 2010 to provide for “caste to be an aspect of race” – and finally provide the necessary and much needed protection in the eyes of the law. A summary of the CERD review of the UK is now available here.
Parliament debates failure of the UK Government to implement anti-caste based discrimination legislation
Following an event held at the House of Lords by the APPG for Dalits and the APPG for Human Rights called “Dalit rights are Human Rights” in May 2016, Lord Harries called for a debate on 11 July 2016 in the House of Lords asking Her Majesty’s Government on the planed steps to implement anti-caste based discrimination legislation. Lord Harries started the debate by clarifying that: ‘First, what we are concerned about is discrimination in the public sphere. The law is concerned with what happens in public. It exists to ensure that there is no discrimination in the areas of employment, education and the provision of public goods and services. Secondly, we are concerned with caste as a social phenomenon, which has affected all religions from the Indian subcontinent, including Christianity and Islam’. He went on to summarise the steps since 2013 with regard to the caste discrimination legislation: ‘In July 2013 the Government introduced a timetable which set out a series of steps, including a public consultation, which was to lead to the implementation of this Act in the summer of 2015. As part of the process Ministers approved a feasibility study to be conducted into if and how it might be possible to estimate the extent of caste-based discrimination in Britain. A consortium conducted the research in the autumn of 2014. The consortium’s report was due in November 2014, but it is yet to be published. My first question to the Minister therefore is: why has this research not been published? The question posed by the Government was clear enough. Is it or is it not possible to estimate the extent of caste-based discrimination in the UK? If it is possible, why has this not been carried out? If it is not possible, or if there is a downside to doing so, we need to hear the reason for that. In either case, there is no good reason to stop the process <…>. When we have raised these issues in the past, the Government have repeatedly cited the Tirkey v Chandhok employment tribunal case as a reason for non-implementation of the legislation so far. In that case the tribunal noted that caste-based discrimination can constitute unlawful race discrimination in certain contexts and that caste should be an aspect of race as defined by Section 9(1) of the Equality Act 2010. However, the judge made it clear that he was dealing only with the facts of that case and was not making any more general point about caste and the law. I think the Minister, as well as the whole country would find it quite intolerable if issues of discrimination on the basis of gender, race or religion were left simply to employments tribunals with no statute law to back them up. May I ask the minister why discrimination on the grounds of caste should be regarded as different?’ Lord Cashman stated he found ‘the most worrying <…> [the government’s] casual disregard of the United Nations and our international treaty obligations. The 2012 UN Human Rights Council’s recommendation could not be clearer. It states: “Put in practice a national strategy to eliminate discrimination against caste, through the immediate adoption of the Equality Law of 2010 that prohibits such discrimination, in conformity with its international human rights obligations, including”, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s, “General Recommendation 29 and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism”’. Lord Lester QC ended his speech stating: ‘The current state of the law lacks legal certainty. There is no binding and authoritative legal precedent. That legal uncertainty violates the rule of law, and the government’s continuing inaction violates Parliamentary sovereignty’. He called ‘on the Minister to inform the House in her reply whether or not the government will now perform the duty cast upon it by Parliament, and, if not, what is their justification for refusing to do so’. Both Lord Desai and Baroness Flather, Hindu Peers, spoke strongly and passionately on the need for legislation. Lord Desai was clear: ‘It has been explained what the law is and what the Government ought to do. So why do they not do it? Obviously, there is a very strong lobby—let us call it the caste Hindu lobby—which is very powerful, prosperous and persistent. They have abandoned me but I know they would love to get me on their side.’ And from Baroness Flather: ‘Naturally, they are not going to say, “Oh, there is caste discrimination”. They are a powerful group of people. There are a lot of Hindu organisations and they have a lot of connections in Parliament, possibly in the House of Lords as well. We have to be aware that they have quite a lot of pull in this matter.’ Apart from the Minister, who did not give an opinion one way or the other, the only Peer to speak out against the legislation was the Conservative Hindu Peer, Lord Popat, who even went as far asking for the amendment to be repealed: ‘I urge the Government to bring forward legislation to repeal the amendment to the Equality Act 2010. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement. It is unnecessary, given that there is little hard evidence of caste discrimination. The amendment supports out-of-date notions of caste that belong in a different continent,’ Speaking on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Baroness Thornton did not mince her words: ‘We have seen the opposite of strong and swift. “Flabby and slow motion” would better describe the lack of activity since 2013. This lack of activity, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and others have said, shows a contempt for Parliament that is really unacceptable.’ The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission in their briefing for the debate stated quite clearly – without any room for doubt. ‘In our view, it is both necessary and desirable for the Government to implement section 9(5) of the Equality Act 2010 (the Act), in order to clarify that the Act’s prohibition of race discrimination and harassment includes protection against discrimination and harassment based on “caste”. ….We therefore consider that it remains necessary for Government to implement section 9(5) of the Act in order to provide legal clarity.’ Lord Deben outlined that: ‘In her first statement, she (Theresa May) reminded the Conservative Party that her first principle was to ensure that all people had a fair do in life. Can one possibly say that and yet exclude from the fair do in life those who happen to be Dalits? This is the first chance that a new Government have got to stand up and tell this House that they intend to obey the law’. Baroness Williams of Trafford on behalf of the Government ended the debate saying: ‘I agree that this is an issue which the new Administration, led by the new Prime Minister, who herself was Minister for Women and Equalities in 2010-12, will need to consider afresh, and I am sure that they will. A full transcript of the debate can be found here.
APPG for Dalits and the Parliamentary Human Rights Group on the 24th of May 2016 hosted a successful event at the Houses of Parliament titled “Dalit Rights are Human Rights”
message in which he stated that he is sad to step down from the APPG for Dalits Chair’s role but happy to pass it on to Yasmin Qureshi, and will continue supporting Dalits’ campaign. Diya Sen Gupta gave an overview of anti-caste discrimination legislation progress and British case law. She highlighted that Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct and indirect discrimination and harassment. 2013 amendment added a statutory duty to include caste under race, yet no timeline was set. In 2014 the Equality and Human Rights Commission carried a public consultation, yet no publication of the consultation was made. Mr. Justice Langstaff, the judge in Tirkey v Chandok caste was clear that his ‘focus has been on the appeal in this particular case, in its particular circumstances <..> not to resolve academic disputes, and establish more general propositions, of no direct relevance to the case in hand’. Therefore, the case is not a precedent for other caste-based discrimination cases, and as this type of process is expensive and discouraging, anti-caste discrimination legislation is very much needed. On the future of the legislation Ms Gupta added that government has no immediate plans to implement the legislation and it may not be exercised before April 2018, when the Sunset clause could come into play and the law may be repealed due to anti-legislation lobbying. Kate Green MP stated that the reluctance to adopt the anti-caste discrimination legislation is politically driven and influenced by allies outside the UK. HMG has not honoured the timetable it introduced in 2013 despite efforts from Peers and MPs and responses to the PQs asked: How to respond to this ‘aggressive inertia’? She suggested to: (1) point out to the government its disregard of this as a human rights issue, thus weakening the government’s reputation; (2) making it very clear to ordinary families affected by caste what it would mean for them and emphasising that their culture and family life would not be affected; and (3) advance the argument for anti-caste based discrimination legislation by going back to the moral principle (statement) that this form of discrimination is not acceptable and statute is extremely helpful to secure human rights and protect people against discrimination. Human rights should not be subordinate to short term political gain. She suggested that the campaign should focus on specific strategies and become louder. A statement from the audience (Keith Porteous Wood) highlighted that under the last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) the UN recommendations included words like “obligation” in relation to the anti-caste discrimination legislation and the UK representatives agreed to it. Hence now within the UN the UK looks bad. Satpal Muman said he was representing the community’s perspective and expressed his disappointment with the lack of HMG’s interest and stated he is losing his confidence in the government. He ensured that he continues to campaign and write to government officials but sees no light at the end of the tunnel. In his view the opposition to caste legislation undermines community cohesion and concluded by saying that there should be no room for caste-based discrimination in this country where we have “better rights”. Santosh Dass stated that Indians coming to the UK bring their culture and practices with them hence there is a need for legal protection against caste-based discrimination to protect Dalits in the UK. Baroness Flather suggested that the issue is out of people’s sight and everyone should speak to their MPs and create Dalit specific organisations. She has recirculated the EHRC reports which do have very specific pro-legislation recommendations. We need to marshal friends in both Houses – Hindu organisations have been well organised and mobilised – now is the time to agitate. Look at the Sikh Gurudwaras that have been built on caste lines. Jin Kalkat spoke about his journey and caste discrimination he experienced in the UK. As a result of caste-based discrimination he described feeling upset, hurt and less than a human, no longer safe. He also said he started feeling as an outsider and felt this might lead to radicalisation of an individual. He concluded by asking a question: if there is no respect for human rights in the UK how can we promote it elsewhere? The second part of the event looked at caste discrimination globally. Clive Baldwin highlighted that CERD is an international law prohibiting discrimination and recently celebrated its 50 years anniversary. He stated that India has good laws in place, including prohibition of manual scavenging, yet this inhumane practice still exists. Nepal has also made an extreme transition over the past decade, yet there is a political dismissal of discrimination. He concluded that whilst there is good evidence of international law being translated into domestic laws an issue of implementation remains. Rania El Rajji spoke about caste discrimination in Yemen and the situation of Muhamasheen (“marginalised ones”) people, also known as Al Akhdam, who are at the bottom of the caste system. She highlighted that in March 2015 when the conflict erupted in Yemen, the Muhamasheen ended up at the front of the conflict; yet with very restricted access to humanitarian assistance. She concluded that although normally war brings communities together, the MRG report “Even war discriminates” highlights that Muhamasheen in Yemen are by-passed and discriminated against during the conflict in accessing even the basic goods. Aidan McQuade started by saying that a failure to recognise caste in the UK is a sign of weak leadership. He highlighted that those enslaved come from discriminated groups. As Ambedkar pointed out, caste restricts opportunities, and instead offers division of labour and economic injustice. Aidan reiterated that law can counteract prejudice. He finished by saying that for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights are no longer a priority but trade deals are, which leaves very little incentive for other states, like Nepal or India, to change. To address human rights violations and discrimination politicians have to be prepared to be unpopular. The audience was invited to suggest steps to take in moving forward. Those included submitting shadow reports for the UK review in August 2016 under the CERD, using the EHRC’s reports as a reference, educating people on caste-based discrimination and arranging a follow up APPG meeting. As a result of this meeting Lord Harries of Pentregarth later proposed a debate on caste-based discrimination at the House of Lords, which took place on the 11th of July 2016.
On Saturday, 21 May 2016, Methodist Central Hall in London hosted a wonderful concert organised by the Methodist Women in Britain. The event was opened by Revd Tony Miles of Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. Linda Crossley, the former President and current Vice President of Methodist Women in Britain welcomed some honoured guests and introduced the speakers. Coordinator, Asia and the Pacific, The Methodist Church. DSN-UK would like to thank Methodist Women in Britain for its significant efforts in raising our profile, Dalit struggle in India and the UK, and encouraging everyone at the concert to support our work. For more information – including on the wonderful Paul Field and Garth Hewitt whose songs and music made the concert so memorable, please see Methodist Women in Britain leaflet, which also highlights their key achievements over the past five years.
This April a range of events and ceremonies have been organised around the world to celebrate Dr Ambedkar’s 125th birthday. The Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York hosted a Special Event at the UN Headquarters on 16 April with the title ‘Combating Inequalities for the Achievement of SDGs’. UNDP Administrator and Chair of the United Nations Development Group, Ms. Helen Clarke, who is among the candidates for the post as the next UN Secretary General, delivered the key note speech wherein she commemorated the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar and stressed the relevance of his vision and ideals for the realization of the Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by the UNGA last September. Please see the official press release from the Mission’s own webpage. The full event can be streamed from UNTV via the following link. On April 14th UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Ms. Rita Iszák-Ndiaye also made a speech to mark the event. See the full video statement and latest UN article on her groundbreaking report on “minorities and caste-based discrimination”. DSN-UK trustee and Vice Chair, Corinne Lennox, wrote a wonderful tribute celebrating Dr Ambedkar, called ‘Dr Ambedkar: a visionary for human rights’. There was also a range of celebratory events organised by India’s representations around the world, including in Geneva, Copenhagen, Beijing, Indonesia, Turkmenistan, Brunei and Guatemala. Dalit Solidarity Network UK, together with other activists advocating for Dalits rights, celebrated Dr Ambedkar’s 125 birthday at a dedicated event at the House of Lords on 14 April. Lord Harries of Pentregarth opened the event by requesting a minutes silence to honour Lord Avebury, a champion of Dalit Rights who sadly passed away on 14 February 2016. Dr Ambedkar’s work for Dalits and internationalisation of caste discrimination. Jens Lerche, reader in agrarian and labour studies at SOAS, noted that DR Ambedkar was fighting against inequality and poverty, and despite the high level of economic growth in India a large number of people in the country, especially Dalits and Adivasis, continue living in poverty, work in exploitative industries and perform least attractive jobs. He highlighted that Dalits and Adivasis experience historic discrimination and inequalities in power, and regardless of affirmative action in education system caste discrimination prevails in the sector. Murali Shanmugavelan, researcher at SOAS, stated that to achieve equality and non-discrimination caste hierarchy should be rejected without a compromise, including a rejection of Hindu social order. He also suggested that India should recognise caste as a primary lens to address discrimination and inequality in the country. Dr. Virander Paul, Deputy High Commissioner for India in London, gave a summary of events he attended on the day to celebrate Dr Ambedkar’s 125 birth anniversary and indicated that the discussion at this event, celebrating Dr Ambedkar and what he stood for, was most detailed. Baroness Flather added that discrimination based on caste can be forbidden under the British laws and urged an ongoing campaign for anti-caste discrimination legislation. Mr Ravi Kumar, general secretary of Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, ended the panel by reminding everyone that Dr Ambedkar stood for everyone, not just for Dalits. Lord Harries summarised the situation of anti-caste discrimination legislation in the UK. He highlighted some of the challenges, such as the government refusing to publish the findings of consultation on caste discrimination in the UK and the recent attempts to block the legislation. Some of the questions and comments from the audience included worries that caste legislation will reach the sunset clause deadline and the process will have to restart. Everyone was encouraged to ensure that their MPs, especially those with big Hindu communities, know where we stand. A question was raised on the use and purpose of Dr Ambedkar’s house in London, which was not decided on yet. And a final question asked why there is no treaty on caste discrimination, like there is one on apartheid. To this Dr Keane answered that not all pressing issues get an UN treaty, including Indigenous and Minorities, although there is a Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues.
Minorities and caste-based discrimination side event on a new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues
DSN-UK Director, Meena Varma, was invited by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to be one of the panellists for a side event with Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur (SR) on Minority Issues following her report on caste-based discrimination. The event took place on 16 March 2016 and focussed on the global nature of caste discrimination including in Mauritania, Yemen and UK. The SR’s report on caste-based discrimination as presented below provided the perfect opportunity to widen the discussion beyond South Asia. Alongside Meena and Rita the event featured Ms. Mohna Ansari, Member of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal, Ms. Rania El Rajji, Middle East Programme Coordinator, Minorities Right Group International and Ms. Salimata Lam, National Coordinator SOS-Esclaves, Mauritania. When asked by the Moderator, Mr. Antti Korkeakivi, Chief, Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights what were the good practice examples of the next steps to address this issue, Rita replied that this was the $1 million question as it was a matter of changing mindsets. Mohna said that the National Human Rights Institute in Nepal sets a very good example at both policy and practice levels. The challenge remains in inter-caste marriage, which many find unacceptable. But there is legislation in the new Constitution to address the issue of ‘untouchability’ with compensation built in. Salimata informed us of the situation in Mauritania – ‘In the eyes of the law, we are all equal, but societally other norms hold sway. Even a destitute will invoke his noble status and the taboos remain because there are no laws to overturn the caste system itself.’ Rania apologised that there was no representative from the affected community in Yemen. This is due to the ongoing violence and the current ‘no-exit’ policy. The Al Akhdam (translated as Slaves) now call themselves Muhamasheen (marginalised ones). Their occupational roles include garbage collection, street sweeping and cleaning toilets and drains. They suffer from social stigma and discrimination, which exacerbate their socio-economic exclusion and poverty. Rania stressed the need to raise awareness to the affected community of their own rights – so that they could begin to demand them. Meena stressed the role of the ‘rule of law’. We may not be able to change mindsets (certainly not in a generation) BUT we can change behaviours where the rule of law holds sway and legislation is implemented effectively. That is why the UK legislation has such a role to play as it will send a clear message to those countries where there is no political or judicial will to address caste-based discrimination and better the lives of millions. Rita reiterated the commitment of the mandate to addressing caste-based discrimination which had begun under the tenure of the first SR on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall. Despite the challenges she will continue to keep the issue high on the UN agenda! Earlier that day a delegation from the International Dalit Solidarity Network met the new Deputy High Commissioner, Kate Gilmore. She received detailed updates from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as the current position in the UK and the lack of implementation of the legislation to protect potential victims in the diaspora communities of caste-affected countries.
The International Dalit Solidarity Network working with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues to combat caste-based discrimination. On 15 March 2016 the SR on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, presented her annual report to the Human Rights Council, which focused on caste-based discrimination. She encouraged all caste-affected states to take progressive and instrumental steps to protect caste-affected communities. The report highlighted that individuals and groups ascribed to the lowest strata by their caste status share minority-like characteristics, such as marginalised position, stigma and the use of minority protection mechanisms by self-identifying as minority groups. The SR indicated that 250 million people worldwide suffer from caste-based discrimination, with the highest numbers in South Asia but also present in Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. Dalits and similar communities from the lower-caste strata face various human rights violations: use of violence, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence to oppress them; obstacles in accessing justice systems; political marginalisation; restriction in accessing religious sites; hindered labour mobility; slavery, including trafficking and sexual slavery; forced and bonded labour; restricted access to adequate housing, water and sanitation; limited access to health services and education; and unequal access to humanitarian assistance in disaster and recovery situations. This was the first milestone report at the United Nations level on caste-based discrimination and states had different reactions to it. At an interactive dialogue session with the SR the representative of India questioned the SR’s on Minority Issues mandate and stated that she was in breach of it to include caste-based discrimination. Nepal concentrated on its positive efforts to address caste-based discrimination and “untouchability” practices. Sri Lanka highlighted its invitation to the SR and stated that the report is ‘inaccurate’ and ‘misleading’. Mauritania outlined that slavery has been abolished and there is no marginalisation or caste-based discrimination of any group in the country. Bangladesh also emphasised its efforts to protect ethnic and religious minorities, but suggested that ‘not all disadvantaged groups are minorities, such as homeless’, therefore there has been some ‘confusion with the concept of minorities, diverting attention from where it should be’. Many states spoke in support of the report expressing their concern at the extent of caste-based discrimination and recognised it as a major cause of poverty, inequality and social exclusion. In a strongly worded statement, Switzerland said that caste discrimination was unacceptable in 2016. Norway called on states to implement legislation effectively. We were disappointed to note that the US took the opportunity to raise the question of Tibet with China and that the United Kingdom did not respond or raise any questions during the Interactive Dialogue regarding the issue of caste discrimination in the UK. Minority Rights Group International, Human Rights Watch and International Dalit Solidarity Network issued a combined statement welcoming the report on a ‘long neglected issue of systematic discrimination’. The SR replied to the comments emphasising that minorities definition is ‘a liquid and changing definition’ based on self-identification of the groups. She noted that she was disappointed that the Sustainable Development Goals failed to include minorities but was hopeful that more efforts and attention will be paid to caste-based discrimination following her report.