The UK’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations fails to address caste-based discrimination

4th October 2017

GENEVA: 21 September 2017 – the Human Rights Council adopted the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Kingdom. The review took place on 4 May 2017, when the UK received 227 recommendations. Member states raised concerns about the proposed Bill of Rights, remaining with the European Court post Brexit, indefinite detention of asylum seekers, human trafficking, gender equality, migrants’ rights, ethnic minorities, travellers and Roma community, abortion policies in Northern Ireland and a rise of hate crime post the Brexit vote in June last year. In reply to the received recommendations the UK government stated that it supports 98 and notes 131 recommendations.

DSN-UK is disappointed that none of the member states specifically raised the issue of caste-based discrimination in the UK; the issue had been raised in the previous UPR cycle by Nicaragua:

Put in practice a national strategy to eliminate discrimination against caste, through the immediate adoption of the Equality Law of 2010 that prohibits such discrimination, in conformity with its international human rights obligations, including CERD’s General Recommendation 29 and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism (Nicaragua).

In August 2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed a concern that “several provisions of the Equality Act 2010 have not yet been brought into legal effect, including Section 9(5)(a) on caste-based discrimination” and recommended to the UK to:

Invoke Section 9(5)(a) of the Equality Act 2010 without further delay to ensure that caste-based discrimination is explicitly prohibited under law and that victims of this form of discrimination have access to effective remedies, taking into account the Committee’s general recommendation No. 29 (2002) on descent”.

At the same time, in July 2016, DSN-UK challenged the UK Government on its non-implementation of the law to outlaw caste-based discrimination in the UK. DSN-UK, leading a consortium of organisations, including Anti Caste Discriminations Alliance, CasteWatch UK and the National Secular Society, instructed well known solicitors Mishcon de Reya to write a pre-action letter to the Minister for Equalities and Women and the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP. As a result the Government pledged to launch the public consultation on the legislation by the end of the year (2016). It took another follow up letter before finally on 28 March 2017, the Government announced “Caste in Great Britain and equality law: a public consultation”.  An initial deadline of 18 July was extended to 18 September due to the snap general election over the summer.

Prior to the UPR DSN-UK and International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) made a joint submission to the mechanism, outlining the need to outlaw caste-based discrimination in the UK and the government’s failure to implement the legislation as agreed by both Houses of Parliament. DSN-UK and IDSN also distributed DSN-UK recommendations to a number of Geneva-based permanent missions. Yet, the issue has been overshadowed by Brexit-related political debates not only in the UK but also at the third UPR cycle of the UK, in Geneva.

Nevertheless, DSN-UK will continue to campaign for a caste discrimination free world and this includes in the UK, and to challenge the government on its lack of action to outlaw caste discrimination in the UK.  Although lacking targeted recommendations, a number of more general UPR recommendations, addressing issues of discrimination and access to justice, are “supported” by the UK government. Georgia, Paraguay, Kazakhstan and Republic of Korea requested the UK to further incorporate the CERD into its domestic laws and adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination measures. DSN-UK believes that the United States of America and the Netherlands’ recommendations below encompass an adoption of secondary legislation outlawing caste discrimination and providing access to justice for victims of caste-based discrimination:

134.87 Review and strengthen current policies and initiatives to combat societal discrimination against members of racial, religious and ethnic minority groups (United States of America);

134.154 Ensure the accessibility of appropriate legal aid to safeguard access to justice for all, particularly for the most marginalized groups in society (Netherlands)

The UK committed to provide a follow up to 5 recommendations by May 2018 and a mid-term report on all recommendations by May 2019.

The video recording of the adoption session is available here.