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