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Controversial ‘caste’ discrimination inquiry to continue declares UN Sub-Commission

17 August 2003

In an important decision for the estimated 250 million people worldwide suffering from caste discrimination, on 13 August the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights adopted a resolution to continue its inquiry on discrimination based on ‘work and descent’. This important move, adopted by consensus, calls for a working paper to examine the issues, the states in which they occur and to produce a set of principles and guidelines for both states and non-state actors. This decision ensures that discrimination based on work and descent remains firmly on the agenda of the Sub-Commission despite strident opposition from countries including India, Nigeria and Yemen.

India, which has long opposed the decision to pursue such a study, registered its opinion that it was impractical to pursue this issue and called on the Sub-Commission to instigate a careful cost benefit analysis in this area given the unlikelihood of an easy solution to the problem. The Indian delegation further commented that scarce resources should be directed towards other gross violations of human rights to greater effect. They stated that despite will and intent on India’s part to find solutions, these problems had been created over millennia and therefore could not be easily resolved. The expert member of the Sub-Commission from Nigeria refuted the assertion that discrimination of this type existed in Nigeria, for example in regard to the Osu communities. Yemen was equally keen to object to its inclusion in the study, stating that its constitution and state policies establish equality and political participation.

A number of non-governmental organizations and coalitions, including the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), have been lobbying extensively on the issue of work and descent, a term which is used broadly to delineate ‘caste-like’ discrimination globally. This coalition of NGOs have highlighted the global dimension to the issues and drawn attention to the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on work and descent in 2002. In CERD’s General Recommendation 29, the Committee stated that discrimination on the basis of work and descent includes caste and other analogous systems of inherited status, which are a violation of human rights law. It was pointed out in this years sessions that victims of this often de-humanizing form of discrimination often belong to minority groups.

Minority Rights Group International welcomes the decision of the Sub-Commission to continue its inquiry into the issue of discrimination based on work and descent. It further expresses its intention to assist to the full extent possible Sub-Commission Members, Mr. Eide and Mr. Yokota in their preparation of the working paper. MRG believes that this paper will be an important contribution to progress towards the eradication of this gross and widespread form of discrimination.

Notes for editors

A new working paper to be submitted to the Sub-Commission in 2004 has been requested with a view to fulfilling the mandate given in Sub-Commission resolution 2000/4 with particular regard to:

  1. Examining legal, judicial, administrative and educational measures taken by the Governments concerned;
  2. Identifying additional communities affected by discrimination based on work and descent;
  3. Preparing a draft set of principles and guidelines for all relevant actors, not only national or federal Governments, but also local governments as well as private sector actors such as corporations, schools, religious institutions and other public places where discrimination based on work and descent often occurs. Work will be undertaken in cooperation and collaboration with relevant international human rights treaty bodies and United Nations organs and agencies, inter alia, the CERD, the ILO and UNESCO, taking full account of the contents of CERD’s General Recommendation XXIX (on descent-based discrimination).

Notes for editors

  • The joint statement delivered to the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights by Minority Rights Group International and the Lutheran World Federation is available on this website.
  • For interviews, further information or copies of MRG’s Advocacy Briefing ‘Inheriting a Life Without Dignity: A call to the United Nations to address caste based discrimination’ (August 2001), please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].