UN begins to move on caste discrimination

  • Date / 18 June 2009

Caste discrimination “clealy falls within my mandate” claimed the newly-appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Racism Mr Mugai, speaking on 16 June 2009 at the end of a short debate on his first report to the Human Rights Council. One week after the landmark conference on untouchability held in London under the auspices of IHEU, an official of the Human Rights Council has finally taken this issue on board. (video added)

IHEU Main Representative in Geneva, Roy Brown, said “We welcome this important new move by the Special Rapporteur. We now look forward to caste discrimination, untouchability, or discrimination based on work or descent being included in the remit of the new UN Observatory on Racism.”

Brown highlighted the issue of untouchability in a speech to the Human Rights Council on 17 June. Here are the video and the full text of his speech:

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 11th Session (2 – 19 June 2009)
Speaker: IHEU Representative, Roy W Brown: Wednesday 17 June 2009
Agenda Item 9: Racism


Thank you, Mr President

Discrimination based on work or descent, untouchability or caste discrimination, is widespread throughout much of Asia and in several countries in Africa, affecting an estimated 250 million people worldwide.

India outlawed such discrimination in its 1950 Constitution, has passed laws against the practice since then and has set up exemplary programs of affirmative action. Nevertheless, the law is rarely enforced and caste discrimination remains endemic in India.

We therefore welcome the statement by the Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mr Muigai, citing CERD recommendation No. 29 of November 2002, [1] that this form of discrimination clearly falls within his mandate. In this regard, we also welcome the final report of the Sub-Commission-appointed Special Rapporteurs on the topic of discrimination based on work or descent as an important step forward that should now be followed up by the Council.

May we also in this connection refer delegates to the resolution of the European Parliament adopted on 1st February 2007 on the situation of the Dalits in India, [2] and, secondly, to the Declaration on Untouchability from the First World Conference on Untouchability held in London last week under the auspices of IHEU, [3] which inter alia:

Calls upon all States where discrimination based on work or descent, untouchability or caste discrimination is prevalent […] to undertake programs of education and training for all sections of society, including public officials, the police and the judiciary, aimed at the elimination of the practice and at ensuring that the laws are enforced.”


Calls upon the Human Rights Council to recognise the need for action on this issue, to appoint a working group to study the full impact of such discrimination around the world, and to set up an office (an “observatory”) to receive complaints from victims of such discrimination.

The time has surely come, Mr President, for the Human Rights Council to take up this issue – the most widespread, pernicious and intractable form of discrimination on Earth.

Thank you, sir

[1] http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/f0902ff29d93de59c1256c6a00378d1f?Opendocument
[2] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P6-TA-2007-016&language=EN
[3] https://humanists.international/global-initiative-against-untouchability-launched-london

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