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Structural discrimination, a common thread between the Roma and the victims of caste systems

Roma / Caste systems

14 June 2011

GENEVA (14 June 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism, Githu Muigai, said Tuesday that deep-rooted discrimination, prejudices, and intolerance are common threads that run through the lives of the Roma people in Europe and the victims of caste or similar systems of inherited status in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“All victims should receive the same attention and protection, and all forms of racism and discrimination should be addressed with the same emphasis and determination,” the expert said, presenting his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council. “It is essential to avoid establishing any hierarchy among the different manifestations of discrimination, even if they may vary in nature and degree depending on the historical, geographical and cultural contexts.”

In his report, Mr. Muigai assesses racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against Roma, particularly in Europe.

“While positive developments and good practices have been identified at the regional and national levels they have been insufficient,” he noted. “Important challenges remain that reveal grave and deep-rooted problems of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against Roma that need to be addressed in the most vigorous manner.”

The Special Rapporteur highlighted that it is essential to develop a comprehensive approach based on stronger legal, political and institutional measures, taking into account the structural dimension of the problem, the interrelation between discrimination and socio-economic marginalization and political exclusion, as well as the situation of the most vulnerable Roma.

In his view, legislative measures should be adopted and complemented by key measures such as affirmative action to redress historical inequalities; human rights training of State agents; and educational and awareness-raising measures to foster mutual understanding, respect and tolerance.”

Discrimination based on work and descent
The Special Rapporteur’s report also addresses discrimination based on work and descent in different regions.

“The vital first step is to recognize that discrimination on the grounds of descent constitutes a form of racial discrimination prohibited by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” Mr. Muigai said. “However, certain Governments have failed to implement effectively their obligations to protect against such discrimination, and have, in some instances, sidestepped the question of caste discrimination.”

Mr. Muigai invited Governments to include information on the issue of discrimination based on caste and other analogous systems of inherited status in their reports to UN human rights bodies. He also called for the collection of disaggregated data, on a regular basis, to be able to identify the number of people affected and design appropriate strategies to fight this kind of discrimination.

“Shortcomings do not stem only from Governments and institutions but also from the population itself, including within communities considered of lower caste or status,” the expert noted. In his view, any legal measure to outlaw discrimination should go “hand-in-hand with awareness-raising, with a special emphasis on the judiciary, police and civil service, to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the law by the police and civil service to ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims.”

Githu Muigai (Kenya) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in August 2008. He is a lawyer specialized in international human rights law. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on racism was established in 1993 by the former Commission on Human Rights to examine incidents of contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and official measures to overcome them. It was further extended by the Council in 2011.

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