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Continued plight of the ‘untouchables’

UN experts call for strengthened protection of more than 260 million victims of caste-based discrimination

GENEVA (24 May 2013) – They occupy the lowest levels of strict, hierarchical caste systems founded on notions of purity, pollution and inequality. They face marginalization, social and economic exclusion, segregation in housing, limited access to basic services including water and sanitation and employment, enforcement of certain types of menial jobs, and working conditions similar to slavery.

They are the Dalits of South Asia, who constitute the majority of victims of entrenched caste-based discrimination systems which affect some 260 million stigmatized people worldwide, people considered ‘untouchable’.

“Caste-based discrimination remains widespread and deeply rooted, its victims face structural discrimination, marginalization and systematic exclusion, and the level of impunity is very high,” a group of United Nations human rights experts warned today, while urging world Governments to strengthen protection of the hundreds of millions of people across the globe who suffer from discrimination based on work and descent.

“This form of discrimination entails gross and wide-ranging human rights abuses - including brutal forms of violence,” they said. “Dalit women and girls are particularly vulnerable and are exposed to multiple forms of discrimination and violence, including sexual violence, on the basis of gender and caste. Children victims of caste-based discrimination are more at risk to be victims of sale and sexual exploitation.”

On this day, two years ago, the experts recalled, Nepal adopted the ‘Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Bill’, a landmark legislative piece for the defense and protection of the rights of Dalits. A recent decision by the British Government in April 2013 to cover caste discrimination by the Equality Act serves as a good practice to protect Dalits in diaspora communities.

“We urge other caste-affected States to adopt legislation to prevent caste-based discrimination and violence and punish perpetrators of such crimes, and call on world Governments to endorse and implement the UN Draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent.”*

The UN experts expressed concern about a serious lack of implementation in countries where legislation exists, and called for effective application of laws, policies and programmes to protect and promote the rights of those affected by caste-based discrimination. “Political leadership, targeted action and adequate resources should be devoted to resolving the long-standing problems, discrimination and exclusion faced by Dalits and similarly affected communities in the world,” they stressed.

“Caste-based discrimination needs to be addressed as a major structural factor underlying poverty,” the expert said, while welcoming the acknowledgment of caste-based discrimination as a source of inequality by the global consultation on the post-2015 development agenda.

However, they expressed hope that the agenda will also include specific goals for the advancement of Dalits and particularly affected groups. “Their specific needs require tailored action to lift them out of poverty and close the inequality gap between them and the rest of society,” they underlined.

“We will pay specific attention to the particularly vulnerable situation of people affected by caste-based discrimination and advocate for their integration and inclusion so that they can fully enjoy their human rights in accordance with international human rights law and national legislation”, the UN independent experts said.

“No one should be stigmatized; no one should be considered ‘untouchable’”.

The experts: Rita IZSÁK, Independent Expert on minority issues; Rashida MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Gulnara SHAHINIAN, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences; Najat Maalla M'JID, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; Mutuma RUTEERE, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Catarina de ALBUQUERQUE, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation; Magdalena SEPÚLVEDA, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

(*) UN Draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent:
http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session11/A-HRC-11-CRP3.pdf

For further information on the experts mandates and activities, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Marta Franco (+41 22 917 9268 / mfranco@ohchr.org) or write to minorityissues@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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