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Caste discrimination's place in the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) has been confirmed by numerous international bodies created by treaties and by the title of the conference itself. In the concluding observations of its forty-ninth session held in August/September 1996 (as it reviewed India's tenth to fourteenth periodic reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) affirmed that "the situation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes falls within the scope of" the convention.2

The committee has clearly stated that the term "descent" contained in article 1 of the convention does not refer solely to race, and encompasses the situation of scheduled castes and tribes.3 In March 2001, CERD's "Concluding Observations" on Japan's report noted that discrimination based on descent constitutes racial discrimination, and that "the term `descent' contained in Art. 1 of ICERD has its own meaning and is not be confused with race or ethnic or national origin."4 In the same month, while reviewing Bangladesh's report, the committee reaffirmed that "the term `descent' does not solely refer to race or ethnic or national origin and [that it] is of the view that the situation of castes falls within the scope of the Convention."5

Similar conclusions were drawn by the U.N. special rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in his January 1999 report. In 1997, the Human Rights Committee noted that members of scheduled castes endured "severe social discrimination," and suffered "disproportionately from many violations of their rights under the [ICCPR]." In reviewing Nepal's report in August 2000, CERD "remain[ed] concerned at the existence of caste-based discrimination, and the denial which this system imposes on some segments of the population of the enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Convention." In January and February 2000, serious concerns over the treatment of Dalit children and Dalit women in India were also expressed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in their reviews of India's periodic reports under the children's rights and women's rights conventions.6

Despite blockage of discussion of the issue of caste in the major intergovernmental fora of the WCAR process, several preparatory meetings for WCAR have highlighted the need to address caste-based discrimination. These include the Asia-Pacific Experts Seminar in Bangkok, the European NGO meeting in Strasbourg, the African Experts Seminar in Addis Ababa, the NGO forum in Tehran, the Asia-Pacific NGO meeting in Kathmandu, the Global Conference Against Racism and Caste-Based Discrimination in New Delhi, and various Satellite Conferences, including the Bellagio Consultation.

2 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, "Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: India," CERD/C/304/Add.13, September 17, 1996.

3 "Scheduled Castes" is legal parlance for "Dalits."

4 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, "Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Japan," CERD/C/58/Misc.17/Rev.3, March 20, 2001.

5 Ibid. In August 2001, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considered Sri Lanka's ninth periodic report. Despite the persistence of the problem, the report did not make any reference to caste-based discrimination in the country. See Committee on the Elimination of Racism Discrimination, "Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 9 of the Convention: Ninth periodic reports of States parties due in 1999: Sri Lanka," CERD/C/357/Add.3, November 20, 2000. At this writing, CERD had yet to issue its concluding observations on Sri Lanka's report.

6 See Appendices for relevant text from these and other U.N. reports.

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