Human Rights Watch, joined by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), welcomes the fact that the OHCHR has made the elimination of caste-based discrimination a strategic priority in its anti-discrimination work.
Caste-based discrimination and analogous forms of discrimination affect approximately 260 million people globally, the vast majority living in South Asia. Caste-based discrimination is a violation of international human rights law, inherently contradicting the universal principles of non-discrimination, dignity, and equality. It is also a violation of the principles underpinning humanitarian assistance.
Despite commitments to end caste and descent-based discrimination, the practice persists due to poor enforcement of laws and policies. Affected communities face severe restrictions and limited access to resources, services and development, keeping most in severe poverty. As socially and economically excluded and marginalized communities, the rights to health, education, water and sanitation, security, political representation and access to decision-making in state and private institutions is often limited. Dalit women are particularly disadvantaged due to the intersectional discrimination of caste and gender. Dalit women suffer from multiple forms of discrimination based on caste, gender and poverty, which make them highly vulnerable to physical assaults, including rape and forced sex work, and other crimes which often go unpunished.
Access to justice is inhibited by entrenched caste discrimination within the criminal justice system and enforcement agencies. In many affected countries, the police exhibit caste biases in perpetrating or colluding in atrocities against Dalits. In India, for example, atrocities and violence against Dalits are on a double-digit rise, whereas acquittal rates for these crimes remain extremely high. The attacks are brutal and inhumane, ranging from gang-rapes to the recent burning alive of two children in India’s Haryana state. Police negligence and abuse of power in Nepal due to caste bias, also remains a massive obstacle to justice.
Human Rights Watch and IDSN are concerned that the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted without any reference to millions impoverished and excluded due to caste discrimination. The goals are unlikely to be achieved without inclusion of specific indicators addressing caste-based inequality and exclusion.
The systemic and entrenched nature of caste-based human rights violations have been addressed by the UN Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures Mandate Holders, the former UN Sub-Committee on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and in Universal Periodic Reviews.
We urge the HRC and member states to act on the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, and to promote and endorse the UN Draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent. The HRC should adopt a resolution on these principles and institutionalize regular reporting and effective dialogue on the elimination of discrimination based on caste and analogous forms of inherited status.
*International Dalit Solidarity Network also shares the views expressed in this statement.