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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

Human Rights Council 

15 March 2016

The Human Rights Council this evening held an interactive dialogue with Rita Izsák, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

In her presentation, Ms. Izsák noted that discrimination based on caste was a global phenomenon that affected over a quarter of a billion people in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific region and diaspora communities.  Minority rights standards should be applied to combat discrimination based on caste.  States should adopt specific legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of caste and fully implement legal provisions, as well as conduct awareness-raising campaigns at the national and local levels, targeting both affected communities and the wider public to sensitize them against that form of discrimination.  She spoke about her mission to Brazil.

Brazil spoke as the concerned country. 

During the interactive dialogue, many speakers noted the particularly vulnerable status of women and girls, who were victims of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.  Other speakers took the opportunity to note their own countries’ diversity, listing minority groups who lived there.  Several delegations suggested that in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, States should consider including caste-specific indicators.

Speaking were the European Union, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Council of Europe, Russian Federation, Nigeria, India, Mexico, Switzerland, Nepal, Senegal, Romania, Austria, United States, Namibia, Sri Lanka, China, Iraq, Latvia, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Mauritania, Bangladesh, and Hungary.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Minority Rights Group, Friends World Committee for Consultation, International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Alliance Defending Freedom, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, World Jewish Congress, Japanese Workers’ Committee for Human Rights, and Shia Rights Watch.

Armenia, China and Azerbaijan spoke in right of reply. 

The Council will next meet on Wednesday, 16 March, at 9 a.m., to hear the presentation of the report of the Forum on Minority Issues and the report of the Special Procedures Coordinating Committee, and then hold a general debate on its agenda item on subsidiary bodies.  At 11 a.m., the Council will consider the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review of Micronesia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Nauru, Rwanda, Nepal, and Austria.


The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues (A/HRC/31/56).
The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues – mission to Brazil (A/HRC/31/56/Add.1).
The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues – mission to Brazil: comments by the State  (A/HRC/31/56/Add.2).

Presentation of Report by the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

RITA IZSAK, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, presenting her annual report, said that discrimination based on caste was a global phenomenon that affected  over a quarter of a billion people in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific region and diaspora communities.  Caste-affected groups often self-identified as minorities, and minority rights standards should be applied to combat discrimination based on caste.  She expressed concern over the use of violence against individuals and communities of caste-affected groups, including torture and sexual violence.  She also referred to caste-discrimination within the criminal justice system and to the political marginalization of individuals from lower-caste groups.  Allocation of labour on the basis of caste typically confined individuals from lower-caste groups to the most menial tasks and increased their vulnerability to slavery and forced labour.  Caste-affected groups may be forced to live in segregated areas with restricted access to drinking water and sanitation, and be subject to forced evictions and displacement, she added.  Patterns of discriminatory behaviour against individuals from lower castes could be also found in other areas, including health care, education and religion.  Caste-affected women and girls were particularly vulnerable to violations and denial of their rights as they were subjected to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. 

States should adopt specific legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of caste and fully implement legal provisions, including appropriate penalties for acts of caste-based discrimination, as well as special measures in specific areas.  States should also conduct awareness-raising campaigns at the national and local levels, targeting both affected communities and the wider public to sensitize them against this form of discrimination.  Law enforcement officers should receive training to identify and adequately respond to cases of caste-based discrimination, particularly those involving caste-based violence.  Turning to her visit to Brazil between 14 and 24 September 2015, Ms. Izsak commended Brazil for the development of many positive initiatives to advance the rights and situation of minority communities, to combat racism and discrimination, and to end poverty.  She voiced concerns about the fact that Afro-Brazilians remained marginalised and faced sharp inequalities, that Quilombos and traditional communities were among the most socially and economically excluded people, and that the Roma community continued to be largely invisible and socially excluded.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Brazil, speaking as the concerned country, noted that it had largely met the Millennium Development Goals ahead of time.  Hunger had been eradicated and extreme poverty had been drastically reduced.  People belonging to historically marginalized groups, such as Roma, Quilombolas and others, had been the greatest beneficiaries.  Those policies secured health assistance and school attendance for children and thus contributed to promote sustained inclusion in the long run.  Brazil reaffirmed its commitment to prevent and punish any abuse or illegitimate acts of violence committed by the police or any other law enforcement official.  It had reinforced its institutional and normative framework in order to eliminate impunity and ensure compliance with human rights legislation.  The authorities kept constant dialogue with communities affected by major investment projects.  As for the situation of the Rio dos Macacos community in Bahia, the disputed area had been the property of the navy since 1954.  Since 2010 the judiciary had issued successive eviction warrants against the Rio dos Macacos community.  Enforced compliance was, however, postponed by the Government in order to secure a peaceful solution. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

European Union said that in her report, the Rapporteur had encouraged States to apply relevant elements and standards emanating from the framework on the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including equality, non-discrimination, and many other elements, and asked for her to indicate best practices in that regard.  Azerbaijan spoke about the diversity of its own population, which included Armenians, Avars, Georgians, Jews, Kurds, and many other ethnic groups.  Azerbaijan was experiencing armed conflict with a neighbouring country, but continued to pursue a consistent policy towards the protection of the rights of all minorities.  Georgia asked the Rapporteur to elaborate on the community-based approaches outlined in her report, and provide information on existing best practices.  Georgia’s domestic approach to minorities was briefly described. 

Council of Europe said that its Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was widely ratified, adding that the Council of Europe would soon publish practical measures on combatting hate speech, such as raising awareness of the importance of pluralism.  Russian Federation welcomed the Rapporteur’s interest in the status of ethnic and religious minorities, calling attention to Kurds in conflict zones and elsewhere.  She was encouraged to guide her work based on the principles of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.  Nigeria expressed shock at the number of people who continued to suffer from discrimination all over the world based on caste and other analogous statuses.  Continuous education was needed where the caste system was prevalent to do away with that “horrid culture” that led to social exclusion and deprived people of their fundamental human rights. 

India said that the Special Rapporteur had breached her mandate which clearly described the minorities she should work on.  This opened the door to other groups being considered minorities.  The publication of this report provided an opportunity to address the issue of the role and responsibilities of Special Procedures.   Mexico noted the need for more disaggregated data on the issue of caste, and highlighted the need to adopt measures to ensure equal treatment in the justice system.  Switzerland said that concerned States must adopt specific legislation prohibiting caste-based discrimination, and train police officers on how to deal with and prosecute these cases.  Nepal said that its new Constitution guaranteed all fundamental rights, equality and non-discrimination, including on the basis of caste.  A zero-tolerance policy had been adopted on caste-based discrimination, and had facilitated the Dalits’ access to education.  Senegal regretted the allegations by the Special Rapporteur regarding the caste system in Senegal.  The Constitution in Senegal formally prohibited discrimination on any ground.  Romania said that positive measures, non-discrimination legislation, and the promotion of diversity were needed, but might not be sufficient to combat societal discrimination. 

Austria noted that a minority rights approach could provide a valuable platform for the protection of the rights of caste-affected communities, and that minority rights standards should be applied to combat discrimination based on caste and analogous systems.  United States asked the Special Rapporteur about the opportunities for realistic portrayals of Roma persons and culture, particularly in mobile devices and social media venues.  It also called on the Chinese Government to allow Tibetans and Uighurs to practice their faith without undue State interference.  Namibia stated that all States should abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  To that end, goals set out in the fourth National Development Plan and Vision 2030 documents were indicative of the strong legal and political support afforded to minority groups in Namibia.

Sri Lanka criticized certain paragraphs in the Special Rapporteur’s report which were inaccurate and misrepresented the reality of society and societal formation and structure in Sri Lanka.  The term “Dalit” had no relevance in the country’s context as there was no community identified by such nomenclature at all.  China strongly objected to the statement made by the United States, noting that it respected the diversity and unique character of minority groups.  The central and local governments had invested large sums of money to reduce poverty and to provide education for all ethnic groups.  Iraq stated that the country’s diversity was attacked through the acts of ISIS, which destroyed churches and cultural heritage.  Languages of ethnic minorities were taught in Iraqi schools, in the areas where they made up the majority of the population. 

Latvia noted with regret that caste was among the factors that resulted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against women, and asked the Rapporteur to elaborate on measures to be taken to eliminate obstacles in addressing justice that women faced in that context.  Norway noted that the Sustainable Development Goals asked States to include caste-based indicators, and asked the Rapporteur whether there was currently any dialogue with the Expert Group on Goal Indicators with the aim of developing caste- or minority-specific indicators?  Poland supported the Rapporteur’s practical recommendations on States’ responsibility to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of society, for instance by adopting specific legislation with that aim.  South Africa said it was regrettable that the report said there was State-sponsored and sanctioned discrimination based on the caste system in South Africa, adding that references in the report to a segment of the South African population as a “diaspora community” were disturbing and worrisome.  The Rapporteur was asked to share her thoughts on how to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action with respect to the rights of minorities. 

Mauritania hailed the important work undertaken within the frame of the Rapporteur’s mandate, noting that the caste system of inequality had been abolished with the birth of the Mauritanian constitution. Today, there was no caste system in Mauritania.  Bangladesh outlined the domestic situation as regards the issue under discussion, and added that the international community should be mindful of not confusing the issue of minorities with that of general disadvantaged groups.  Minorities in some areas might be part of disadvantaged groups, but all disadvantaged people were not minorities.  Hungary said that in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, States should consider including caste-specific indicators to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals and their targets addressed the situation of affected groups.

Minority Rights Group, in a joint statement, said that the lack of access to justice, lack of effective implementation of anti-discrimination policies, and the denial of the persistence of these forms of discrimination, prevented the eradication of caste-based discrimination.  Friends World Committee for Consultation drew the Council’s attention to the impact of discrimination in the justice system on the rights of children of incarcerated parents and children of members of minority groups.  International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism was deeply concerned about discrimination against Buraku people in Japan, and asked that Japan adopt specific anti-discrimination legislation and establish an independent complaint-resolution body.  Alliance Defending Freedom, in a joint statement, referred to the conflict in Syria and the genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities by ISIS, and urged the Council to recognize this genocide.  Dominicans for Justice and Peace was very concerned about massive exodus and internal displacement of Christians and Yazidis fleeing “Da’esh” in Iraq, and emphasized the lack of inclusiveness of religious minorities in the Iraqi society.  World Jewish Congress remained deeply concerned as the number of verbal and physical anti-Semitic attacks had grown, especially in Europe, often initiated by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. 

Japanese Workers’ Committee for Human Rights called on the Government of Japan to immediately take measures to prevent discrimination against minorities and legislate a law against hate speech and racial discrimination.  It should also desist from making disparaging statements regarding sexual slavery.  Shia Rights Watch, in a joint statement with Free Muslim Association, drew attention to Malaysia’s violation of the rights of minorities, in particular of Shia Muslims.  They were not recognized as a religious entity nor were their rights protected when terror attacks happened.   

Concluding Remarks

RITA IZSÁK, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, noted that her report was a milestone one because for the first time it talked about caste-based discrimination.  In many occasions it was difficult to find government reports on caste-based discrimination.  As for the definition of minorities, she explained that it was fluid.  To belong to a minority required objective and subjective criteria, and belonging to a group.  The United Nations  Network on Racial Discrimination and Protection of Minority Rights had been working to address caste-based discrimination.  The establishment of specialized institutions in specific countries was a positive development.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was working with Nepal to target advocacy regarding the Untouchability Act, monitoring and investigating emblematic cases.  As for the role of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in closing the inequality gap with a view to caste-based discrimination, the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation did not come through.  She would work on how Member States were implementing development goals to ensure that nobody was left behind.  The most vulnerable communities were in rural areas and were far away from decision-making, which was why Member States had to invest more efforts to reach them.  Ms. Izsák invited Member States to take part in the upcoming Forum on Minority Issues. 

Right of Reply

Armenia, speaking in a right of reply in response to Azerbaijan, said the country tried to show itself as a tolerant country, and ignored current issues around refugees.  Statistics had been manipulated by the Azerbaijani regime, and overall the human rights situation in Azerbaijan had declined over the last few years.  The appalling record of human rights in Azerbaijan was regularly condemned by reputable non-governmental organizations.

China, speaking in a right of reply, said the United States ignored facts and made groundless accusations against China’s human rights situation as regards ethnic minorities.  The United States was not qualified to point fingers, as racial discrimination in that country was widespread and severe.  Selective and violent law enforcement practices led to the deaths of people of colour in the United States.  Hope was expressed that the United States would reflect on their own human rights situation and face their own problems and address entrenched race issues.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a right of reply in response to Armenia, said it was no surprise the speaker had skipped human rights violations committed against 300,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis evicted from Armenia at end of the 1980s.  There were 30,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan which demonstrated the country’s culture of tolerance; in Armenia there were no Azerbaijanis.  


For use of the information media; not an official record

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