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.