8th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues and Dalit discrimination
2nd December 2015
DSN Director, Meena Varma attended the UN Forum on Minority Issues as part of a delegation from Minority Rights Group International. MRGI held its Council meeting just prior to the Forum. The current MRGI Council Chair is Gay McDougall, the first UN Independent Expert on Minorities and member-elect of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Meena is the Vice Chair of the Council.
Over 500 participants attended the 8th session of the Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva on 24-25 November 2015, which analysed a range of issues relating to minorities in the criminal justice system and looked for new solutions to prevent and respond to atrocities and violence crimes committed against minorities around the world.
On 24 November Mr Ramesh Nathan, Secretary General of National Dalit Movement for Justice made a very powerful intervention at the Forum on caste based discrimination and crimes committed against Dalits: ‘I would like to present the issue of 260 million Dalits in Asia who are traditionally regarded untouchable or as outcasts. They continue to be discriminated and serious crimes are committed against them raging from verbal abuse of outcaste names, physical assault, murders, arson, social and economic boycotts, naked parading, burning, mass killing, gang rapes, forcing to drink urine and eat human faeces and etc.’
Mr Ramesh highlighted that although a large number of countries in Asia, including India and Nepal, have legal protection and “special laws” are put in place, those legislations are largely ineffective in implementation and ‘Dalits continue to suffer caste based discrimination and violence in all spheres of life’. Moreover, ‘caste biases are deeply embedded in criminal justice administration system’ and enforcement, especially ‘police officers, exhibiting their caste and clearly perpetrating atrocities’. What is even more worrying is that Dalit activists often are accused of being terrorists and posing a threat to the national security.
On the same day at a Side event, organised by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and the Permanent Mission of Austria to the UN, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Ms Rita Izsák spoke on Combating impunity and the need for effective justice system action on behalf of minorities. In her presentation Mr Izsák emphasised some of the crimes committed against minorities and stated that Dalit women have been ‘victims of impunity’. The Side event identified that lack of minorities’ representation as decision makers in criminal justice system prevents minorities from accessing remedy and fair compensation.
On 25 November Ms Durga Sob from Feminist Dalit Organisation in Nepal spoke at the Forum on Minority Issues, calling for increased Dalit participation in justice sectors, stronger Dalit NGOs and wider campaigning to increase awareness on caste based discrimination.
Ms Manjula Pradeep, Executive Director of Navstajan organisation, outlined the persistence of violence against Scheduled castes and Dalits in caste affected countries, especially India and Nepal, unequal protection, structural inequality, and serious and sustained human rights abuses. She also outlined some of the serious challenges that Dalit and Scheduled caste women experience and loose hope due to prevalence of lawlessness and impunity. In her conclusion Ms Manjula suggested to include caste based discrimination in some of the prepared recommendations, such as 27, 42 and 55, in recognition of caste affected minorities.
Over the two days the wide variety of presentations at the Forum on Minority Issues indicated the severity of violence and atrocity crimes committed against minorities, including Dalits, and reiterated the need for the proposed recommendations.
The UN Forum on Minority Issues provides a unique and inclusive venue for dialogue and for the elaboration of practical recommendations from all participants: UN Member States from all regions, minority communities, experts from UN bodies and specialized agencies, international organizations, academics and other experts.
A set of recommendations stemming from the session on preventing and addressing violence and atrocity crimes targeted against minorities will be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2016.