Monthly Archives: November 2016

DSN-UK at the 9th session of the Forum on Minority Issues

29th November 2016

On 24 and 25 November 2016, DSN-UK Director Meena Varma, currently also Acting Executive for International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), was in Geneva, at the Forum on Minority Issues (the Forum), which provides space for a constructive dialogue for a range of stakeholders, but most importantly placing civil society representatives at the centre of the discussions. This year the Forum’s theme analysed the situation of minorities in humanitarian crises. The issue that was highlighted by IDSN in its report published in 2013 “Equality in Aid: addressing caste discrimination in humanitarian response”.

At the beginning of the session the UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, presented her findings stating that minorities are disproportionately affected during disasters and conflicts, and in the aftermath of a natural or manmade crisis. She outlined some examples where minorities have been disproportionately affected by crisis situations, including in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, USA, Yemen and South Asia. She noted that ‘an analysis of emergency responses to natural disasters in South Asia, including in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, has demonstrated that Dalits, for example, have suffered from acute discrimination throughout all the phases of disaster response, from rescue to rehabilitation’.

The Forum’s participants were invited to make statements adding to the draft recommendations, prepared in advance, to improve the situation of minorities in humanitarian crisis worldwide. Three statements by civil society representatives explicitly focused on caste-based discrimination of Dalit communities, who are disproportionately affected by humanitarian crises.

Bhakta Bishwakarma, representing IDSN and Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization outlined that ‘disaster policies and programs have not been inclusive and sensitive enough towards the most marginalised – Dalit, women, children, people with disabilities, senior citizens etc’ and ‘the survivors of devastating earthquake in Nepal are eagerly waiting for just and sustainable recovery for one and half year’.

Pirbhu Lal Satyani, member of National Lobbying Delegation on minorities and a coordinator at Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network stated that ‘hundreds of thousands of Dalits were affected by the floods in Pakistan in 2010, and many of them were denied access to relief camps’, had to ‘live and sleep in the open air’, and lacked access to basic goods such as food, water and blankets.

Deepak Nikarthil from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, also representing Asia Dalit Rights Forum and IDSN, made an oral statement outlining that ‘South Asia region is one of the most disaster prone regions in the world, and Dalits are one of the most vulnerable groups to disaster in India and South Asia’. He recommended to ‘explicitly recognise the discrimination based on work, descent and caste based discrimination as an exclusionary variable in Disaster management as well as disaster risk reduction’.

The final recommendations of the Forum, covering all stages of humanitarian crisis, will be presented by the SR to the Human Rights Council in March 2017.

DSN-UK “joining hands to end racial discrimination” with CERD

25th November 2016

On 23 November 2016, DSN-UK Director, Meena Varma, attended the consultation with civil society under the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The consultation aimed to reflect on the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination achievements in combating racial discrimination and to seek civil society’s views on how to improve and enhance CERD engagement with civil society for greater impact on the ground.

Many NGOs attended having been sent an invitation to attend by the CERD secretariat, which is a normal practice for many of the OHCHR events to make all welcome.

Bakhta Bishwakarma, representing IDSN and NNDSWO, making a statement at the CERD consultation. Photo: Deepak Nikarthil

Bakhta Bishwakarma, representing IDSN and NNDSWO, making a statement at the CERD consultation. Photo: Deepak Nikarthil

DSN-UK, International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) and Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization (NNDSWO) submitted a joint response to CERD questions:

  1. What are the key challenges and issues of racial discrimination in your country/region today and how do you work to address them?
  2. What has been your experience, as civil society, of engaging with CERD to date?
  3. How can the CERD improve and enhance its engagement with civil society, and its work on racial discrimination for greater impact on the ground?

The joint submission outlined the organisations’ experiences in their engagement with CERD, main challenges in their advocacy work and suggestions for improvement.

At the start of the meeting a Committee member, Verene Albertha Shepherd, noted a number of challenges that civil society organisations around the globe face in eliminating racial discrimination. It included a denial of racial discrimination, lack of access to public and political participation for discriminated groups, and the lack of data and national laws prohibiting racial discrimination. Among the discriminated groups the member mentioned people of African descent, Dalits, Roma people, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Civil society organisations were invited to make their statements, which was taken by a number to raise specific issues. Among those was Deepak Nikarthil from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, also representing IDSN. He was recommended on his statement by a key member of the CERD Committee and emphasised that racial discrimination is often practiced in a form of exclusion and thus should include caste-based discrimination. He expressed his concerns about the lack of global recognition of CERD General Recommendation 29, and whilst a number of countries have embedded protection against caste-based discrimination in its constitutions, law implementation was often weak. Deepak also emphasised that Dalit women face multi-structural discrimination in India.

As Meena declined to make a statement in favor of her Dalit colleagues from National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and NNDSWO, we were delighted that Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance highlighted that despite CERD recommendations to the UK the country still lacks legal protection against caste-based discrimination, and the recently announced public consultation on caste legislation and Equality Act 2010 was worrying as it seeks to establish whether the law was needed at all. One of the panelist of the meeting, Claire Thomas from Minority Rights Group International, among her five specific suggestions to the CERD, recommended to mobilise efforts to ensure that ethnicity is not dropped out of the SDGs’ indicators, which would also include caste-based discrimination.

Bakhta Bishwakarma from NNDSWO, also representing IDSN, was given an opportunity to speak about caste-based discrimination in Nepal. He outlined that Nepal had failed to submit a number of state reports covering the period of 2002-2016, which created a gap in the interactions between the civil society of Nepal and CERD. He suggested that CERD should consider new ways of engagement with the civil society organisations, independent of state reports and encourage states to develop and implement national actions plans addressing racial discrimination.

The meeting ended by the CERD Chairperson, Anastasia Crickley, thanking all participants for their statements and suggestions, and ensuring that they take into serious consideration the inputs from the consultation to strengthen its partnership with civil society to combat racial discrimination.

The UN summary of the event can be found here.