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In October 2010, the UN Human Rights Council working group on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action held a two-week workshop which discussed, inter alia, “structural discrimination”. The report of that workshop was presented to the plenary of the Human Rights Council on 22 March 2011. Strangely, the report contained no mention of what is unquestionably the most widespread, pernicious and deeply-rooted example of structural discrimination on Earth: I refer of course to the caste system.

But as is usual in any meeting of academics, a large part of the discussion was taken up with the question of “What do you mean by …”. A delegate noted that the term “structural discrimination” was still controversial, as there was no consensus among academics as to how it operated. Really? Perhaps we can help.

Structural discrimination surely means any form of discrimination underpinned by law, or by traditional, social, cultural, or religious norms and practices. Perhaps the experts were unaware of the existence of caste-based discrimination. IHEU representative David Cornut was on hand to set them right. Below is his speech in full. Video of David’s intervention is also available on the IHEU Youtube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/IHEUUnitedNations?feature=mhum#p/f/12/GRBnqmtgikc

–Roy Brown

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: Tuesday 22 March 2011 

Agenda Item 9: Report of Working Group on the Durban Follow-up
Speaker: IHEU Representative David Cornut

Caste Discrimination

Thank you sir.

We were surprised that in its discussion on structural discrimination the working group on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action made no mention of caste discrimination.

Mr President, caste discrimination is deeply embedded in Indian society and has manifestations in other countries such as Japan, Nigeria and Mauritania. It is generally racial in origin even though those origins may be buried deep in the past.

Caste discrimination is a world-wide phenomenon affecting some 300 million of our fellow human beings, of whom some 170 million are in India. It is significant that the Government of India has tried on repeated occasions to deny that caste discrimination falls under the heading of racism or under the remit of the CERD, but that argument was firmly laid to rest by the decision of the CERD in 2002 that discrimination based on work or descent clearly does fall within its mandate. Surely then, this is an issue that should receive the attention of the working group.

We recognise that the Government of India has outlawed untouchability and has put in place several schemes aimed at guaranteeing special treatment for Dalits and other backward classes, but it is clear that these programs have had little real impact on the ground. More must be done to educate all Indians that everyone is entitled to full respect for their human rights.

We recognise that the caste system is deeply rooted in Indian society, culture and religion, but that must not be permitted to absolve the Indian government from responsibility to do far more to alleviate suffering of the Dalits, especially women, and to recognise that religion does not trump human rights.

Thank you sir

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