On 25 and 26 February 2017, a ‘Global Parliamentarians’ Conference on discrimination based on work and descent including caste’ took place in Nepal, Kathmandu, organised by Asian Parliamentarian’s Forum on Dalit Concerns and Asia Dalit Rights Forum. The conference was attended by over 80 participants, including politicians, Dalit activists and diplomats. A highly ambitious programme covered two major themes – the situation today and strategies for tomorrow; and the specific status of Dalit women. Two research reports were released during the conference (1) ‘Dalit women in South Asia: access to education and economic rights – focus on land, higher education, employable skills for livelihoods’; and (2) ‘Report on Regional People’s Tribunal and atrocities against Dalits’.
Over 30 speakers highlighted a number of issues that Dalits and other work and descent based communities face around the globe, including in Brazil, as outlined in Asia Dalit Rights Forum’s publication Towards a Unifying Global Identity: a framework on discrimination based on work and descent, including caste.
DSN-UK was represented by Director, Meena Varma, who chaired one of the impressive panels, titled ‘Addressing discrimination based on work and decent including caste at global level: strategies and achievements of the past and opportunities and tasks for the future’. The panel consisted of Katia Chirizzi, Acting Deputy of Regional Office for South Asia at OHCHR, Henri Tiphagne, Chairperson of Working Group on Human Rights, and Jerald Joseph, Commissioner at Malaysia Human Rights Commission.
Katia Chirizzi highlighted some of the key achievements in recognising caste-based discrimination as a human rights violation at the UN level. She noted CERD General Recommendation 29 on descent-based discrimination and analogous systems of inherited status; specialised reports by a number of Special Rapporteurs, covering caste-based discrimination; and an increase of UPR recommendations related to caste-based discrimination, most recently to Nepal.
Katia also outlined that a Guidance Tool on descent-based discrimination: key challenges and strategic approaches to combat caste-based and analogous forms of discrimination will be launched at the end of March. The launch which will be attended by many UN country team officials will take place in Kathmandu, in the same hotel – potentially even in the same room. The Guidance Tool aims to address work and descent based discrimination, including caste, and provide an important role in addressing it. She ended her presentation by suggesting there was a common thread in the presentations on the day, that adoption of legislations and policies ensuring equality is only a starting point. For change to happen, raising awareness and building the capacity to implement those legislations are essential.
Henri Tiphagne spoke very passionately as a global human rights activist, not as Indian, as he pointed out, because he is not proud of his country’s actions. He stated that Nepal requires applause for recognition of caste-based discrimination, its constitution and for its work with the OHCHR. Henri highlighted that Work and Descent resolution passed more than 20 years ago was the result of the hard work and commitment of and prepared by the community itself. He stated that the UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent are at the core of his and other Dalit activists’ work. And yet the Principles remain in draft form and until the UN Human Rights Council formally adopts them, he believes, neither a declaration nor a convention are going to come into existence.
Henri also outlined some of the challenges, including his organisation losing the right to get foreign funding and IDSN struggling to get ECOSOC accreditation. He urged the UN to formally adopt the Principles and Guidelines, organise a global conference of international organisations, continue adding pressure on states and called for a UN Decade for people facing discrimination on work and descent.
Jerald Joseph affirmed that we should strive for a global conference on caste – similar to the world conference on racism. Caste-based discrimination was recognised at Durban conference on racism due to activists coming together united. However, this has not happened since. He spoke about the situation in Malaysia, noting that the NHRIs have no complaints on caste-based discrimination, yet everyone knows the issue exists. He suggested that this silence needed to be broken and hoped that documentation and speaking out about caste-based discrimination in Malaysia would break the silence. Jerald recommended for NHRIs from different countries to link up, encouraged everyone to submit complaints to NHRIs on caste-based discrimination to bring consciousness of the issue, and lastly, hold governments accountable to Durban plan of action, which they agreed to.
Meena thanked the speakers and outlined some of the key recommendations, which were embedded, among other, in the Kathmandu declaration of solidarity, adopted at the end of two days conference.
The conference successfully brought together Parliamentarians, Human Rights experts, Dalit leaders and those in solidarity from across the globe, including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Germany, Finland, Norway, UK, and other countries. The end of the conference declaration of solidarity voices the need to address work and descent based discrimination in development and socio-economic programmes, and ensure welfare and inclusion of those communities in laws and policies around the globe.