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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses anti-discrimination efforts in Nepal, Mauritania and Sweden with non-governmental organizations

Committee on the Elimination
  of Racial Discrimination 

30 April 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations with respect to Nepal, Mauritania and Sweden, whose reports on the implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination will be considered this week.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the speakers and reaffirmed the importance of a dialogue with civil society.

During the discussion, representatives of non-governmental organizations from Nepal drew the Committee’s attention to the adverse impact of the Government’s infrastructure projects on indigenous peoples’ identity, existence, heritage, culture, and way of life, and the lack of legal provisions safeguarding the meaningful participation of indigenous peoples and consultation with them.  They also highlighted that despite the constitutional safeguards, Dalits continued to face severe discrimination, violence and exploitation on a daily basis.

In the discussion on Mauritania, speakers stressed that although the country had recently made progress in combatting racial discrimination, numerous obstacles prevented proper enjoyment of rights in practice.  The Haratins, or black Moors, continued to be victims of discrimination due to their historic belonging to the caste of slaves, and the Mauritanian authorities were often in denial about the existence of slavery and racial discrimination in the country.  Some non-governmental organizations claimed that civil servants occupied their positions regardless of their race or colour of skin, and that there was no slavery in the country.

As for Sweden, civil society representatives highlighted the negative impact of the losses of reindeer to predators and industrial development on Saami livelihoods; racially motivated hate speech and racial profiling; the situation of Roma from the European Union and Swedish Muslims; and domestic violence inflicted on immigrant women.  Sweden should introduce affirmative action on culturally diverse experts, all-inclusive definition of minority and minority rights, combat deprivation among Swedish Muslims, and honour an agreement reached with the Saami on reindeer predators.

Speaking on Nepal were the Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Shankar Limbu, Dalit NGO Federation, Feminist Dalit Organization, and Samata Foundation.

Speaking in the discussion on Mauritania were SOS Esclaves, Minority Rights Group, Fonadh, Association Ensemble pour la promotion et la protection des droits de l’homme, AMPDH, Observatoire Mauritanien des droits de l’Homme et de la Démocratie, Amnesty International, Consortium for the Defense of Human Rights in Mauritania, Association of Women Heads of Household, and Ms. Aminetou Ely.

Speaking on Sweden were the Saami Council, Civil Rights Defenders, International Organization for Self-Determination and Equality, and Swedish Muslims in Cooperation Network.

The Committee will next meet in public today 30 April at 3 p.m. to consider the combined seventeenth to twenty-third periodic report of Nepal (CERD/C/NPL/17-23).

Opening Statement

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the representatives of non-governmental organizations, and reaffirmed the importance of a dialogue with civil society and thanked those present in Geneva.  

Statements on Nepal

Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples stated the Government of Nepal had given a high priority to the infrastructure development without respecting international instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, thus adversely impacting indigenous peoples’ identity, existence, heritage, culture and way of life.  Out of the 683 proposed hydropower projects, 95 per cent were in the indigenous peoples’ land.  Millions of individuals had been displaced and hundreds of cultural and religious sacred sites had been affected.  Similarly, the road expansion project in the Kathmandu valley would forcibly evict more than 150,000 individuals from their houses, livelihood and ancestral lands.  The Committee should urge Nepal to ensure the respect for indigenous people’s land rights, and self-determination.

Mr. Shankar Limbu, a civil society activist, reminded that the Constitution of Nepal of 2015 had been promulgated without meaningful participation and consultation with indigenous peoples.  Despite early warning letters from the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2009 and 2012, and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, no special and independent thematic committees had been formed in the Constituent Assembly.  As a result, the Constitution systematically established racial supremacy of the Hindu dominant race, which made up 28 per cent of the total population and enjoyed overwhelming representation and control of all decision-making institutions, including the legislative, executive and judiciary branches.  It was urgent to amend the discriminatory and racist provisions of the Constitution to eliminate systematic racial discrimination against indigenous peoples, to ensure their right to autonomy, self-rule, land ownership, access to natural resources, use of mother tongue in education, and the recognition of customary justice law.

Dalit NGO Federation stated that although the Constitution prohibited untouchability and discrimination based on caste, it lacked provisions on many indirect forms of discrimination.  Despite constitutional safeguards, Dalits continued to face severe discrimination, violence and exploitation on a daily basis.  Up to 40 per cent of Dalits in Nepal were landless, more than 42 per cent lived below the poverty line, and their literacy rate was 13 per cent lower than the national average.  Only 40 per cent of Dalits had access to essential healthcare services, and only 14 per cent of Madhesi Dalits had access to safe drinking water.  

Feminist Dalit Organization said that Dalit women in Nepal suffered deprivation and exclusion, violence, sexual assault and humiliation.  Their status was the worst in the country, due to extreme poverty, lack of access to education, limited access to property, employment opportunities, and domestic violence.  They were vulnerable to be trafficked to the Middle East for sexual exploitation, because of structural discrimination, they were compelled to drop out from school.  Even though their political representation was rising at the local level, it was not sufficient in the judiciary and in the private sector.  The situation of Dalit women should be carefully addressed by the Government, donor agencies, the United Nations, and those working in various development sectors.    

Samata Foundation drew the Committee’s attention to cast discrimination against Dalits in Nepal, citing examples of the inability of Dalits to marry persons from upper-castes, their lack of access to justice, and lack of inclusive political representation.      

Statements on Mauritania

SOS Esclaves stated that although Mauritania had recently made progress in combatting racial discrimination, serious concerns remained about numerous obstacles to the proper enjoyment of those rights in practice.  The Haratins, or black Moors, who represented 40 per cent of the population, continued to be victims of discrimination due to their historic belonging to the caste of slaves.  The judiciary and of the Government of Mauritania, which continued to negate the existence of slavery, and preferred to speak about their extreme poverty, downplaying the fact it was the result of centuries-long slavery.  

Minority Rights Group spoke of the victimization and discrimination of the Haratins, who the Government often portrayed as extremists.  The law lacked clarity and contained some negative expressions.  The Government had never made a statement on individual communications to the Committee.  The Committee should urge Mauritania to officially recognize the existence of slavery in the country, accord the Haratins an official civil status and ensure the full enjoyment of their rights.
 
Fonadh raised concern about serious human rights violations in Mauritania and in particular the exclusion of certain communities.  Equal opportunities in the civil administration, the military and access to university education were jeopardized.  Widows and orphans from the violent events of the 1980s and 1990s had often suffered from disappearances and summary executions.  The Government still had to deal with the question of restitution of civil service careers, and the fact that agricultural lands in the south had been taken away from their rightful owners without any compensation.  The black communities still could not access universities and sit for exams.

Association Ensemble pour la promotion et la protection des droits de l’homme highlighted the progress in the area of human rights and noted that much remained to be done.  Laws criminalized slavery, racial discrimination, and torture, and protected women and girls, and there were advances in democratic participation and enjoyment of freedoms.  The international community should support to the country, given the drought which adversely affected the poorest population.  Specific policies needed to be implemented to address youth unemployment and to involve the Haratin population.  

AMPDH called on the Government of Mauritania to increase the number of programmes to combat poverty, which was at the root of all the problems the country was dealing with.  Civil servant positions were open to all regardless of race or skin colour, the speaker stressed, noting examples of the Haratins – including women - who held top positions in ministries.  Mauritanians of all races occupied positions in civil service both home and abroad.  Mauritania had outlawed slavery in the strongest terms and had introduced severe punishments for slavery.

Observatoire Mauritanien des droits de l’Homme et de la Démocratie observed that human rights activists in Mauritania were well represented in Geneva, but some of them were not revealing the whole truth about the situation in Mauritania.  Many women and men of different races were present in Geneva, which demonstrated that there was no slavery in Mauritania.  Some who claimed that they were human rights defenders had forced some women to claim that they were slaves.

Amnesty International highlighted that the authorities were often in denial about the existence of slavery and racial discrimination in the country.  There was a very small number of files dealt with.  Out of 47 cases recorded in courts, only two had been brought to trial.  The Government refused to carry out studies on the ethnic composition of the country, and on access to education and healthcare, which prevented proper analysis on the situation.  Human rights defenders were often subjected to reprisals.  Amnesty International had recorded 166 violations of human rights, as well as testimonies across the country, of the use of law to harass human rights defenders and even to subject them to the death sentence.  

Consortium for the Defense of Human Rights in Mauritania said that after half a century of independence, Mauritania was a diverse country of many ethnicities, the vast majority of whom had been fully racially integrated.  It was impossible to distinguished between ethnicities due to inter-marriages and integration.  The country had ratified many international treaties to safeguard human rights, and had set up the mechanism for the repatriation of 24,000 refugees from Senegal.  The 2008 consultation process had led to regulations in line with Islamic values, and to the institution of the National Reconciliation Day.  The Government had also welcomed refugees from Mali following terrorist attacks in that country.  All international institutions should lend support to that reconciliation process.  

Association of Women Heads of Household explained that as an organization it was multicultural and represented all women in Mauritania.  It combatted slavery, racism and discrimination.  The statistics did not reflect the reality in the country.  Mauritanians going to Senegal found themselves stateless upon return and had no rights at all.  Trafficking in persons was the most flagrant violations and a form of modern of slavery, the organization stressed.  

Ms. Aminetou Ely, a civil society activist, noted that Mauritania hesitated to ensure a full enjoyment of human rights, including recognizing linguistic diversity, equality of individual and collective property, equality before law, the fight against impunity in cases of torture, arbitrary arrest, and extrajudicial executions committed against black communities.  Ms. Ely also highlighted the denial of the right to truth and justice for the crimes of extrajudicial executions and torture committed against Afro-Mauritanians during the 1980s and the 1990s.  

Statements on Sweden

Saami Council said that the losses of reindeer to predators and industrial development represented the greatest danger to the Saami livelihoods, and urged Sweden to honour the agreement reached with the Saami on reindeer predators.  The Committee should call on Sweden to fully compensate Saami herders, and postpone all extractive activities in the Saami territories until Saami representatives had been properly consulted.  

Civil Rights Defenders raised concern about the situation of the Saami people, racially motivated hate speech, racial profiling, and the situation of Roma from the European Union.  There was a complete absence of core standards on consultation with indigenous peoples, a speaker said, raising concern about the Swedish Government continuing to allow extractive activities in the Saami land.  There was not enough training on racially motivated hate speech to counter the rising neo-Nazi propaganda.  Individuals belonging to ethnic minorities experienced disproportionate profiling by the Swedish police, while Roma citizens of the European Union Member States did not enjoy equal access to public services, forcing them to leave the country.

International Organization for Self-Determination and Equality highlighted the fact that immigrant women often suffered domestic violence, exacerbated by the increase in xenophobia and racism in recent years.  Sweden resisted the inclusion of immigrant languages and culturally competent resources in procedures relevant to domestic violence.  There was an ethnic conflict in Sweden by hiding statistics on domestic violence among immigrant women.  Sweden should introduce affirmative action on culturally diverse experts, an all-inclusive definition of minority and minority rights, and remove the intolerant legal provision against the use of immigrant languages.

Swedish Muslims in Cooperation Network noted that Muslims in Sweden represented ten per cent of the population, and expressed concern that the recent focus of the Government on political extremism and war on terrorism led to the segregation and stigmatization of the Muslim community.  There were no official statistics on race, ethnicity and religion in Sweden, but everything pointed to the fact that Muslims were the most stigmatized and marginalized minority in the country.  They were the most economically deprived, with high levels of unemployment.  Sweden should implement urgent measures to combat deprivation among the Swedish Muslims, particularly among Muslim women and address the removal of Muslim children from their families.

Questions by Committee Experts

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Rapporteur for Nepal, raised the questions of the racial discrimination in the context of the 2015 earthquake, the fear of reprisals among the Dalits upon return to Nepal, and the number of the Dalit and indigenous prisoners.  The draft Constitution had mentioned free determination and land ownership by indigenous peoples, but the current Constitution did not contain those references, he noted.

MARC BOSSUYT, Committee Rapporteur for Mauritania, asked about the difference between traditional slavery and modern slavery, and which special measures for those suffering from slavery the Committee should recommend to the State party.  Mr. Bossuyt also raised the question of statelessness of Mauritanian refugees returning from Senegal.  
 
GUN KUT, Committee Rapporteur for Sweden, observed that the topics remained more or less the same as in 2013 and asked in what ways the situation had become better or worse.  Mr. Kut also inquired about the problems related to the implementation of the Nordic Saami Convention; the populations most targeted by hate speech particularly in the context of the
forthcoming elections in September 2018; and the problems that constituted the common denominator among different Roma communities.

Other Experts inquired about violence against the Dalit women in Nepal and the situation of imprisoned Dalit leaders, the representation of the Dalits in the legislative branch, their enjoyment of the right to freedom of association, property rights and the reasons for the continued practice of untouchability.  

Turning to Mauritania, Experts asked about the use of law against human rights defenders, the lack of civil status of the Haratins, the problem of statelessness, and the possibility of conducting a study on slavery.

As for Sweden, Experts inquired about the data on hate crimes, and how the Government could be convinced to collect disaggregated data, including on violence against minority and immigrant women.  Commenting on the lack of data on the prosecution of hate crimes, Experts asked about intersectional discrimination and prosecution of neo-Nazi groups for inciting racial discrimination.  Could Muslims in Sweden publicly practice their religion?  Had there been any improvements in the situation of people of African descent in Sweden?  

One Expert observed that he had never experienced such a degree of interference coming from the Government level, expressing hope that in the future legitimate representatives of civil society would be able to interact with the Committee freely.    
 
Answers on Nepal

Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples spoke about recent attacks on indigenous human rights defenders who had protested against the submergence of indigenous peoples’ lands, and against breaches of the treaty that indigenous peoples had reached with the Nepalese State in the 18th century.  There were 26 indigenous political prisoners languishing in prisons without any evidence, and another 80 persons had been imprisoned for slaughtering a cow.  The right to self-rule had been eliminated from the Constitution.  The earthquake of 2015 mostly affected indigenous peoples.

Feminist Dalit Organization stated that discrimination against the Dalit women in Nepal was rampant because they lacked political and social protection, education and economic means, and because they lived in remote areas.  They could not report their cases to the police due to the social protection enjoyed by perpetrators.  Inter-caste marriage was not possible for Dalits; they were not allowed to enter temples and to rent rooms in cities and towns.  

Dalit NGO Foundation noted that there was no reliable data on the situation of the Dalit community.  Just two out of some 300 judges were Dalits.  Despite the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation, sentences did not correspond to crimes.  Judges had a high discretionary power in the application of anti-discrimination legislation.  There was a lack of political will to implement law properly.

Answers on Mauritania

Minority Rights Group explained that Mauritanian refugees deported to Senegal and Mali could be labelled as stateless because they were black.  There was a racial discrimination policy underpinning that process.  Upon return, they had not been allowed to return to their houses, but had to go to the south of the country.  They had not been able to receive their birth certificates.  Additionally, the Government purposefully withheld passports from some witnesses of the crimes committed in the 1990s.

SOS Esclaves clarified that there was a difference between traditional and modern slavery.  Victims of historic slavery were born into slavery, whereas the latter knew freedom prior to their exploitation.  Special measures to support victims of slavery were necessary.  

Answers on Sweden

Saami Council said that the Saami issues were somewhat more visible in the public debate nowadays, but the fact remained that Sweden had not taken measures to resolve the problem of discrimination of the Saami people.  The State party’s report had no content on the Saami issue.  The Saami reindeer herders were forced to leave their traditional livelihoods due to reindeer predators.  The positive development was the adoption of an agreement on reindeer predators, but the downside was the lack of respect for that agreement by the Swedish Government.  Unfortunately, there had been no positive developments in terms of mining activities in the Saami traditional territories.  As for the problems with the implementation of the Nordic Saami Convention, the Government should not make it a simple wish list.

Civil Rights Defenders said that not much positive change had taken place due to industrial extractive activities on the Saami land.  There was a need for a truth commission on the abuses committed against the Saami people.

International Organization for Self-Determination and Equality noted that the Government’s reaction to the Nordic Resistance Movement, which had performed a large number of marches during which participants had worn neo-Nazi symbols and gestures, had been very weak due to the narrow interpretation of laws on hate speech.  

Swedish Muslims in Cooperation pointed out to the normalization of hate speech against the Muslim community.  It was clear that the forthcoming elections were about the Muslims and people of African descent.  There was discussion about banning the veil and deployment of the military in racially segregated neighbourhoods. 

Concluding Remarks 

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, underscored the importance of the role played by civil society during the dialogue and after the publishing of the Committee’s concluding observations.
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