Original HRC document


Document Type: Final Report

Date: 2016 Jan

Session: 31st Regular Session (2016 Feb)

Agenda Item:

Human Rights Council Thirty-first session

Agenda item 3

Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,

political, economic, social and cultural rights,

including the right to development

Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues

Note by the Secretariat

The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the report of

the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák. The report provides an update of her

activities during 2015. It includes a thematic analysis on the topic of minorities and

discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues



I. Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 3

II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur ................................................................................................ 3

A. Country visits ........................................................................................................................... 3

B. Communications ...................................................................................................................... 3

C. Additional activities ................................................................................................................. 3

D. Update on the Forum on Minority Issues................................................................................. 4

III. Minorities and discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status ................ 5

A. Introduction ............................................................................................................................. 5

B. Definition and characteristics of caste-based discrimination ................................................... 6

C. Global overview of caste-affected groups ............................................................................... 7

D. International legal framework .................................................................................................. 10

IV. Specific areas of impact of discrimination in caste-based and analogous systems .......................... 12

A. Civil and political rights .......................................................................................................... 12

B. Economic, social and cultural rights ........................................................................................ 14

V. Situation of caste-affected women and girls .................................................................................... 19

VI. Initiatives and good practices to address caste-based discrimination ............................................... 20

A. United Nations system ............................................................................................................. 20

B. National legislation and special measures ............................................................................... 21

C. Civil society initiatives ............................................................................................................ 23

VII. Conclusions and recommendations ................................................................................................. 23

I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita

Izsák. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues was established by the

Commission on Human Rights in its resolution 2005/79, as an independent expert. It was

renewed by the Human Rights Council in its resolutions 7/6 of 27 March 2008, 16/6 of

24 March 2011 and 25/5 of 28 March 2014.

II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur

2. The Special Rapporteur wishes to draw the attention of the Council to the bulletin

published on her website every six months, which summarizes all the activities of the

mandate, including communications, press statements, public appearances, country visits

and thematic reports.1

A. Country visits

3. The Special Rapporteur visited Brazil from 14 to 24 September 2015.2 Brazil is a

highly diverse society with countless minority groups, who migrated there as a result of a

wide range of factors, including colonialism, slavery and targeted migration policies. A

large focus of the visit was the situation of Afro-Brazilians, including Quilombos and other

traditional communities, who remain marginalized due to historical patterns of

discrimination against them; Brazilian Roma; and religious communities of African origin,

including Candomblé and Umbanda communities.

B. Communications

4. The Special Rapporteur sent letters of allegation and urgent action letters to the

Member States concerned based on information received from diverse sources about human

rights violations perpetrated against national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.

Those communications and the responses thereto are publicly available.3

C. Additional activities

Events, conferences and outreach

5. On 20 March 2015, the Special Rapporteur participated in a side event on

implementing linguistic minority rights, organized by the Permanent Delegation of the

Council of Europe to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in


6. On 16 June 2015, the Special Rapporteur held a side event in Geneva, in

collaboration with the Council of Europe, the European Union and the Organization for

Security and Cooperation in Europe, on combating discrimination as a root cause of Roma

marginalization. She has also established a website dedicated to the protection of Roma,

1 www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/SRminorityissuesIndex.aspx.

2 A/HRC/31/56/Add.1.

3 www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/CommunicationsreportsSP.aspx.

including background information about her study of the human rights situation of Roma


7. On 16 June 2015, she participated in a side event to commemorate the first-ever

International Albinism Awareness Day (13 June).

8. On the occasion of the fifth annual meeting of the Global Network of the

Responsibility to Protect Focal Points, held in Madrid on 23 and 24 June 2015, she sent a

video message on violence against minorities.

9. On 25 September 2015, she convened a one-day workshop in Brasilia on the

situation of Roma in the Americas. A summary of the workshop will be presented to the

Human Rights Council at its thirty-first session.

10. On 27 October 2015, she convened, jointly with three other special rapporteurs, a

side event during the seventieth session of the General Assembly on guaranteeing attention

to vulnerable groups in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

11. On 28 October 2015, she presented her annual report to the General Assembly

(A/70/212), which focused on minorities in the criminal justice system.

12. On 2 November 2015, she delivered a speech titled “An American tragedy, a bloody

injustice: police killings of unarmed black men and boys” at Michigan State University.

13. On 23 November 2015, she moderated an expert meeting in Geneva on “Minorities

in the criminal justice system: discussion on the draft recommendations of the eighth Forum

on Minority Issues”.

14. On 24 November 2015, she participated as a keynote speaker in a side event in

Geneva on combating impunity, and the need for effective justice system action on behalf

of minorities, organized by Minority Rights Group and the Permanent Mission of Austria to

the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva.

15. On 25 November 2015, she moderated a side event in Geneva on “Minority rights

protection in the United Nations system: looking back and looking ahead — a forum for the

future”, organized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human

Rights (OHCHR) and by her mandate.

16. On 26 November 2015 in Geneva, she delivered a speech at an event

commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the International Convention on

the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on “Fifty years of achievements:

lessons learned and good practices”.


17. The Special Rapporteur issued several public statements, many jointly with other

mandates, highlighting issues of concern involving minorities. Those statements are

available on her website.

D. Update on the Forum on Minority Issues

18. The Special Rapporteur was requested by the Human Rights Council, in its

resolutions 6/15 and 19/23, to guide the work of the Forum on Minority Issues. The eighth

session of the Forum was held in Geneva on 24 and 25 November 2015, with a thematic

focus on minorities in the criminal justice system.

4 www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/StudyProtectionRoma.aspx.

19. Over 500 delegates participated, including representatives of Member States, United

Nations mechanisms, regional intergovernmental bodies, non-governmental organizations

(NGOs) and minorities. They identified challenges involving minorities, as well as effective

practices to combat discrimination against minorities during all stages of the criminal

justice process. Recommendations from the Forum will be presented to the Council at its

thirty-first session.

III. Minorities and discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status

A. Introduction

20. The Special Rapporteur is concerned by information she has received regarding

incidents of discrimination in caste-based and analogous systems of inherited status,

including atrocities committed against individuals ascribed to the lowest strata by virtue of

their caste status. During the course of her work, she regularly addressed the continued

plight of such people through press statements,5 consultations, side events and thematic

reports to the Human Rights Council.6

21. The Special Rapporteur recognizes the complexity of addressing this topic within the

minority rights framework, as there exists the view that caste systems are a way to organize

society without the domination of majority groups, and that therefore, “lower caste” groups

may not strictly fall under the category of minority groups. However, she believes that,

while many caste-affected groups may belong to the same larger ethnic, religious or

linguistic community, they often share minority-like characteristics, particularly their

non-dominant and often marginalized position, stigma, and the historic use of the minority

rights framework to claim their rights. She further acknowledges that caste and caste-like

systems are present in other groups, including some indigenous communities. Moreover,

she highlights that minority groups who are characterized by their non-dominant position

and whose members possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from

those of the rest of the population are also, in many cases, caste-affected groups, and

therefore face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination on the grounds of both their

minority status and descent. Consequently, she believes that a minority rights approach can

provide a valuable platform for the protection of the rights of caste-affected communities

and that minority rights standards, including equality, non-discrimination, consultation,

participation and special measures, should be applied to combat discrimination based on

caste and analogous systems.

22. The Special Rapporteur stresses that discrimination based on caste and analogous

systems exists in many countries. While acknowledging important differences between

affected communities in terms of the manifestation, severity and experience of caste-based

discrimination, she firmly believes that there are common characteristics to caste and caste-

like systems that inherently contradict the principles of human dignity, equality and non-

discrimination, particularly differentiated social status, whereby individuals placed in the

lowest positions are regarded as “inferior” and “non-human”. The resulting extreme

exclusion and dehumanization of caste-affected groups translates into individuals and

communities often being deprived of or severely restricted from enjoying their most basic

civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

5 www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13352.

6 See, inter alia, A/69/266, A/HRC/25/56 and A/HRC/19/56.

23. Following an analysis of the information received, she further considers that caste

and analogous forms of discrimination are a major cause of poverty and perpetuate poverty

in affected communities. As stressed previously,7 the relationship between inequality,

discrimination and poverty and their impact on disadvantaged minority groups cannot be

ignored or underestimated. Targeted attention to the situation of the poorest and most

socially and economically excluded and marginalized communities is essential to break the

vicious cycle of discrimination, exclusion, poverty and underdevelopment.

24. Research on caste-based discrimination outside the South Asian context is

underdeveloped and the lack of official, up-to-date and disaggregated data poses additional

difficulties in terms of providing a comprehensive overview of the issue. Nevertheless, the

Special Rapporteur considers that devoting a thematic report to this particular topic is

necessary, given that discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited

status constitutes a serious violation of human rights and deserves specific attention. She

hopes that the present report will serve as an incentive to stimulate further and more

in-depth research and investigation into caste-based discrimination around the globe.

B. Definition and characteristics of caste-based discrimination

25. Discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status refers to a

form of discrimination based on descent.8 Because one’s caste can be determinative of

one’s occupation, it is also referred to as “discrimination based on work and descent” and

defined as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on inherited status

such as caste, including present or ancestral occupation, family, community or social origin,

name, birthplace, place of residence, dialect and accent that has the purpose or effect of

nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal footing, of

human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any

other field of public life”.

26. The term “caste” refers to a strict hierarchical social system that is often based on the

notions of purity and pollution, in which individuals placed at the bottom of the system may

face exclusion and discrimination in a wide range of areas. The concept of “caste system” is

primarily associated with the South Asian region, where its existence is linked to the

religiously sanctioned social structure of Hinduism, which identified four original and

endogamous groups, or castes, called varnas.

27. At present, the term “caste” has broadened in meaning, transcending religious

affiliation. Caste and caste-like systems may be based on either a religious or a secular

background and can be found within diverse religious and/or ethnic groups in all

geographical regions, including within diaspora communities.

28. Caste and analogous systems present distinguishing characteristics:

(a) Hereditary nature: caste status is inherited by birth and follows the individual

until death;

(b) Labour stratification and occupational segregation: caste status determines and is

confined to certain occupations, which are compulsory and endogenous. Individuals from

lower-caste strata are traditionally assigned to tasks deemed “polluting” or menial by higher

7 See A/HRC/25/56, para. 31.

8 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, general recommendation No. 29 (2002) on

article 1, paragraph 1, of the Convention (Descent).

caste groups, including sweeping, manual scavenging (cleaning of excreta from dry

latrines) and disposal of dead animals;

(c) Untouchability practices: a set of collective behaviours and norms stemming

from the belief that contact with individuals from lower castes is “polluting”;

(d) Enforced endogamy: inter-caste interactions are limited and in some cases de

facto prohibited. Manifestations of enforced endogamy include limitations or prohibitions

on inter-caste marriages, commensality (the practice of eating together) and sharing

common goods or services. Attempts to challenge these prohibitions are often severely

punished through violence against caste-affected individuals and retaliation against their


29. Existing pervasive and entrenched stigma of individuals and groups ascribed to

“lower caste” strata permeates caste systems. As highlighted by the former Special

Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, stigma can be

understood as “a process of dehumanizing, degrading, discrediting and devaluing people in

certain population groups, often based on a feeling of disgust”.9 The process of

“dehumanization” of individuals and groups owing to their low caste status begins with the

association between such status and the notions of “pollution”, “filthiness” and

“untouchability”, resulting in them being considered “impure” and “unworthy”. This

process evolves into widespread social segregation of affected individuals and communities

who are confined to separate physical spaces and, as mentioned above, to certain degrading

jobs from which they cannot break free. This imposed marginalization becomes an

externalized and internalized social norm that eventually legitimatizes mistreatment and

abuses against affected communities, perpetuating discrimination and patterns of human

rights violations against them.

30. Stigmatization and dehumanization of affected communities is further reinforced by

negative stereotypes in the media and, as the Special Rapporteur has noted previously,10 the

repeated presentation of broad negative stereotypes of minority groups as, inter alia,

“dirty”, which nurtures inaccurate and false assumptions and opinions that may eventually

develop into discriminatory attitudes and entrenched prejudices.

C. Global overview of caste-affected groups

31. Estimates indicate that over 250 million people suffer from caste-based

discrimination worldwide.11 Though the highest numbers of affected communities are

concentrated in South Asia, particularly India and Nepal, discrimination on the grounds of

caste or analogous status is a global phenomenon and can be found in other geographical

contexts, including in Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific region, as well as in diaspora

communities. Although the following examples are not exhaustive, they aim to be

illustrative of caste-affected communities in different regions.


32. Dalits constitute the largest caste-affected group in South Asia. They comprise a

myriad of sub-caste groups and, although subjected to similar forms of discrimination

across the region, the situation of Dalits in caste-affected countries differs for historical and

9 See A/HRC/21/42, para. 12.

10 See A/HRC/28/64, para. 62.

11 www.unicef.org/protection/discrimination.html.

political reasons.12 Dalits represent the victims of the most grave forms of caste

discrimination, are often assigned the most degrading jobs and subjected to forced and

bonded labour, have limited or unequal access to resources (including economic resources,

land and water) and services, and are disproportionately affected by poverty.

33. In India, according to official data, 13

Dalits (referred to as “scheduled castes”)

constitute more than 201 million people. This figure does not include Dalits who have

converted or are born and raised within non-Hindu religious communities, such as the Dalit

Muslim and Christian communities; unofficial statistics estimate that the actual number of

Dalits in India is much higher. 14

34. In Nepal, official data indicate that the Dalit population comprises approximately

3.6 million people,15 although civil society organizations estimate that number at 5 million.

In Bangladesh and Pakistan, where most Dalits belong to the Hindu minority, the figures

are also contested. In Bangladesh, unofficial data estimate the Dalit population to range

between 3.5 and 5.5 million people.16 In Pakistan, the most recent official data, from 1998,

estimate the Dalit population to be 330,000,17 but researchers calculate that the actual

number could be at least two million.18

35. In Sri Lanka, three parallel caste systems (Sinhala, Sri Lanka Tamil and Indian

Tamil groups) coexist; caste discrimination is found in each one. Within the Sinhala

system, lower-caste groups, including the Rodi, have low levels of education, suffer

extreme poverty and lack of assets and are under continued pressure to pursue hereditary

caste occupations, such as removing dead animals and dirt.19 In the Sri Lanka Tamil caste

system, the bottom stratum is comprised of a myriad of groups collectively labelled as

Panchamar and regarded as “untouchables”. Population displacement due to war and the

2004 tsunami has resulted in a large internal displaced population in the Jaffna peninsula,

with a disproportionate presence of Panchamar groups now in camps for internally

displaced persons.20 The caste system among Indian Tamils traces its origins to their arrival

to the plantations as indentured labourers during the colonial era and presents unique

characteristics, which differ from the traditional Indian caste system. Some features are

common, however, including the avoidance of inter-caste marriage and the link between

lower castes and greater levels of poverty.21

12 “Caste-based discrimination in South Asia”, study commissioned by the European Commission to the

International Dalit Solidarity Network (June 2009), pp. 2 ff.

13 www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/PCA/PCA_Highlights/pca_highlights_file/India/


14 http://idsn.org/countries/india.

15 Central Bureau of Statistics of Nepal, “National population and housing census 2011 (national

report)” (November 2012).

16 Iftekhar Uddin Chowdhury, “Caste-based discrimination in South Asia: a study of Bangladesh”,

working paper series, vol. III, No. 07 (Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 2009), p. 2.

17 www.pbs.gov.pk/population-tables.

18 “Caste-based discrimination in Pakistan”, International Dalit Solidarity Network briefing note (May


19 Kalinga Tudor Silva and others “Caste discrimination and social justice in Sri Lanka: an overview”,

working paper series, vol. III, No. 6 (Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 2009), pp. 3–6.

20 Paramsothy Thanges and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Caste discrimination in war-affected Jaffna society”

in Kalinga Tudor Silva and others, Casteless or Caste-blind? Dynamics of Concealed Caste

Discrimination, Social Exclusion and Protest in Sri Lanka (International Dalit Solidarity Network,

Indian Institute of Dalit Studies and Kumaran Book House, 2009), pp. 50-77.

21 Sasikumar Balasundaram and others, “Caste discrimination among Indian Tamil plantation workers in

Sri Lanka” in Tudor Silva and others, Casteless or Caste-blind?, pp. 78-96.

36. In Japan, feudal society stratification during the Tokunaga regime (1603-1867)

placed two groups at the bottom of the system, referring to them as the senmin (humble

people): the eta (extreme filth) and hinin (non-human). Although the Emancipation Edict

was promulgated in 1871 to include the senmin in mainstream society, the Burakumin, as

their descendants are now known, continue to be considered as an outcast group, subjected

to prejudice and discrimination, including in employment, education and marriage, and

physically segregated in Buraku districts.22 Official figures estimate the total Buraku

population to be 1.2 million; however, unofficial figures place the number at almost

3 million.23

Middle East

37. In Yemen, the Muhamasheen (“marginalized ones”), also known as Al Akhdam,

constitute a minority group subjected to descent-based discrimination. There are no official

data, but unofficial sources estimate their number at between 500,000 and 3.5 million. Their

occupational roles include garbage collection, street sweeping and cleaning toilets and

drains. They suffer from social stigma and discrimination, which exacerbate their

socioeconomic exclusion and poverty.24


38. According to the former Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial

discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, there are three types of descent-based

discrimination in Africa, including caste systems based on “occupational specialization of

endogamous groups in which membership is based on ascription and between which social

distance is regulated by the concept of pollution” and those in which discrimination is

based “on real or perceived descent from slaves, leaving many in ‘virtual’ slavery, unable

to leave their owner’s employ for fear of reprisals or starvation”.25

39. In Mauritania, the two major cultural and ethnolinguistic groups, the Arab-Berber

(commonly referred to as Moors), which includes the Beidane and the Haratines (also

known as black moors) and some of the Afro-Mauritanian communities (including the

Peuhl, Soninke, Wolof and Bambara), present divisions along ethnic and caste lines. The

Moors are further divided into tribes and castes by profession, including blacksmiths,

religious leaders and warriors. Relations among the different castes are very hierarchical

and result in the exclusion and marginalization of certain castes, such as blacksmiths.26 The

Haratine constitute the largest ethnic group (40 to 60 per cent of the population) but remain

economically and politically marginalized. Regarded as the “slave caste”, most of the

present-day victims of slavery and slavery-like practices are Haratine.27

40. In Madagascar, there are 18 main tribes, some of which have their own caste

systems, such as the Merina and the Bara. Within the Merina hierarchy, there are four main

castes: the Andriana, the Hova, the Mainty and the Andevo. The Andevo (descendants of

22 “Reality of Buraku discrimination in Japan: history, situation, challenges” (International Movement

against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Buraku Liberation League and Buraku Liberation

and Human Rights Research Institute, February 2001). See also E/CN.4/Sub.2/2001/16, para. 40.

23 www.bll.gr.jp/eng.html.

24 See A/HRC/30/31, para. 77.

25 See A/HRC/17/40, para. 56.

26 See A/HRC/26/49/Add.1, para. 9.

27 See A/HRC/15/20/Add.2, para. 12.

slaves) face caste discrimination, especially in marriage, and are particularly vulnerable to

exploitation, poverty and slavery-like practices.28

41. In Nigeria, discrimination against Osu descendants persists. Osu people were

historically considered a property of the local deities among communities in Igboland, in

south-east Nigeria. The Osu were dedicated and “sacrificed” to these gods and forced to

live on the outskirts of the villages. In 1958, the Osu Abolition Law was passed, but

members of the Osu are still subjected to social exclusion, segregation and mistreatment,

and discrimination in employment and marriage.29

42. In Senegal, caste systems exist within several ethnic groups, particularly among the

Wolof community, which is divided between the Geer and the Neeno. Some forms of

untouchability are allegedly practised against some Neeno groups, including prohibition

from residing or remaining in particular places and avoidance of physical contact.30

43. In Somalia, clan structure determines the composition of society, which is divided

into ranked clan groups. Somalia’s minorities are diverse and comprise three distinct social

groups: Bantu, Benadiri and the “occupational groups”.31 The “occupational groups”, also

referred to as “sab” (a collective term for “low-caste”), include the Midgan (also known as

Gaboye, Madguban and Musse Deriyo), Tumal and Yibro. These groups are stigmatized as

being of “unholy origin” and dedicated to “polluting” occupations. Discrimination against

them includes being targeted for hate speech and prohibition of intermarriage.32

44. Caste-affected groups have also been identified in other countries, such as Burkina

Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia,

Madagascar, Mali and Sierra Leone.

Diaspora communities

45. The caste system migrated with the South Asian diaspora to other regions, including

Africa (Mauritius, South Africa), Europe (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern

Ireland), the Americas (United States of America, Canada and Suriname), the Middle East

(Bahrain, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates), Malaysia, Australia and the Pacific (Fiji).

D. International legal framework

46. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes that all human beings are

born free and equal in dignity and rights. The principle of inherent dignity of all persons

permeates the entire Declaration; the preamble refers to this principle, together with the

equality of human rights, as the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

47. The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious

and Linguistic Minorities requires States to take measures to ensure “that persons belonging

to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental

freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law” (art. 4 (1)).

28 See A/HRC/24/43/Add.2, paras. 7-14.

29 See A/HRC/17/40, paras. 58 and 59; and CERD/C/NGA/CO/18, para. 15.

30 Abdoulaye Bara Diop, La Société Wolof: Tradition et Changement (Karthala, 2012), pp. 25 ff.

31 Martin Hill, “No redress: Somalia’s forgotten minorities” (Minority Rights Group International,

2010), p. 8.

32 Mohamed Eno and Abdi Kusow, “Racial and caste prejudice in Somalia”, Journal of Somali Studies,

vol. 1, Issue 2 (2014), pp. 91-118.

48. Core international human rights treaties33 build upon the principle of the inherent

dignity and equality of all persons, which is recalled in their respective preambles, and

enshrine the rights to equality and non-discrimination of all persons, as well as the equal

enjoyment of human rights for men and women.

49. In its general recommendation No. 29 (2002), on article 1, paragraph 1, of the

Convention (Descent), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

confirmed that the term “descent” did not solely refer to “race” and unequivocally

established that descent-based discrimination “includes discrimination against members of

communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of

inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights”.

50. The Committee identified several factors that could indicate the existence of

discrimination on the basis of caste and analogous systems of inherited status in affected

communities, including “inability or restricted ability to alter inherited status; socially

enforced restrictions on marriage outside the community; private and public segregation,

including in housing and education, access to public spaces, places of worship and public

sources of food and water; limitation of freedom to renounce inherited occupations or

degrading or hazardous work; subjection to debt bondage; subjection to dehumanizing

discourses referring to pollution or untouchability; and generalized lack of respect for their

human dignity and equality”. It also made specific recommendations, including in the areas

of preventing hate speech in the media, administration of justice, political participation and

the right to education.

51. In addition, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights,

in its resolution 2000/4, established that discrimination based on work and descent was a

form of discrimination prohibited by international human rights law, and requested

Governments concerned to put in place all necessary constitutional, legislative and

administrative measures, including affirmative action, to prohibit and redress that form of

discrimination, as well as to criminally sanction all persons or entities within their

jurisdictions who might have engaged in practices of discrimination on the basis of work

and descent.

52. The draft United Nations principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of

discrimination based on work and descent constitute a comprehensive framework to assist

multiple stakeholders, including States, United Nations agencies and civil society

organizations, in identifying caste-based discrimination and in implementing measures to

combat such discrimination. The draft principles and guidelines formulate specific

recommendations to States to develop and implement a legal framework explicitly

prohibiting discrimination based on work and descent and establish plans of action to

enforce the abolition of untouchability and segregation at the national and local levels.

They also recommend that States conduct surveys and research on affected communities,

and combat discrimination based on work and descent in multiple areas, including physical

security, protection against violence, access to justice, equal political participation,

employment, health, food, water, housing and education.

53. At the regional level, in 2013 the European Parliament adopted a resolution on

caste-based discrimination, in which it called for the European Union to promote the draft

United Nations principles and guidelines as a guiding framework for eliminating

caste-based discrimination and to promote their endorsement by the Human Rights Council.

It also called on the European Commission to recognize caste-based discrimination as a

“distinct form of discrimination rooted in the social and/or religious context” which must be

33 www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CoreInstruments.aspx.

addressed together with other grounds of discrimination, including ethnicity, race, descent,

religion, gender and sexuality, and appealed for the inclusion of caste-based discrimination

as a human rights issue in future European Union human rights policies, strategies and

action plans.

54. Other relevant international standards are the International Labour Organization

Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), along with its

accompanying Recommendation No. 111, and the Principles and Guidelines to Address

Caste Discrimination in the Private Sector (Ambedkar Principles) of the International Dalit

Solidarity Network.

IV. Specific areas of impact of discrimination in caste-based and analogous systems

55. The Special Rapporteur has identified a number of areas of particular concern in

relation to caste and analogous systems. The areas described below are not exhaustive but

rather provide a general overview of the most serious manifestations of caste-based


56. The Special Rapporteur regrets the scarcity of relevant information outside the South

Asian context and stresses the need for further research.

A. Civil and political rights

1. Right to life and physical integrity

57. The use of violence against individuals and communities at the lower end of caste

and caste-like systems to maintain the system and perpetuate oppression is common.

Attempts to alter the social order by questioning and actively defying caste rules may result

in harassment, threats, physical attacks and even murder.

58. Often, claiming human rights is considered as “forbidden”, and deserving of

punishment. Inter-caste and inter-group marriages; demands for land rights, increased

wages and political participation; and refusal to perform traditional occupations, may

trigger not only economic retaliation by those most threatened by changes in the status quo,

but also unleash violence.

59. In South Asia, violence against Dalits is reported to be widespread and driven by the

effects of the caste system and the lack of justice for victims.34 Although official data are

scarce, information from some States indicates that the number of reported crimes against

Dalits is rising. For instance, data from the National Crime Records Bureau in India reveal

that reported crimes against individuals from scheduled castes increased 19 per cent in 2014

from the previous year.35 In Nepal, Amnesty International reported that in 2014 victims of

discrimination on the grounds of caste were subject to torture and other ill-treatment,

including sexual violence.36

34 Minority Rights Group International, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015,

p. 167 ff.

35 National Crime Records Bureau of India, Crime in India (2014), p. 108. .

36 Amnesty International, The State of the World’s Human Rights 2014/15 (2015), p. 268.

2. Access to justice and policing

60. Entrenched caste discrimination within the criminal justice system translates into

victims facing multiple obstacles at every stage of the legal process: from lodging a

complaint to investigation, trial and judgement. Often, the fear of reprisal prevents victims

from reporting attacks, resulting in underreporting and impunity. In South Asia, most

violence against Dalits and Dalit communities is underreported and not addressed by


61. Due to caste prejudice or deference shown to perpetrators from higher castes, law

enforcement officers may refuse to register and/or investigate cases brought by individuals

from lower castes.38 In some instances, these officers perceive caste-based discrimination as

a social issue to be solved within the community rather than a crime. Refusal to register

such cases as criminal offences is justified as preserving “social harmony”.39

62. According to a recent study,40 the ways in which police refuse to register caste-based

atrocities include: (a) showing apathy; (b) discouraging victims and encouraging

compromises between the victims and the accused; (c) delaying arrival; (d) threatening or

inflicting violence on victims; (e) bringing false cases against victims at the behest of the

accused to pressure them to accept a compromise; (f) accepting bribes from the accused to

drop the victim’s case; and (g) declaring the accused innocent without following due


63. Even if such crimes pass the first stage in the process, there are long pretrial periods

and the acquittal rates for these crimes are extremely high. Lower castes are also

disproportionately represented in pretrial detention, owing to indiscriminate arrests, slow

investigations and prosecutions, weak legal aid systems and inadequate safeguards against

lengthy detention periods.41

3. Right to political participation

64. Political marginalization emerges as a consequence of discrimination against

caste-affected communities, who are excluded from or underrepresented in both local and

national decision-making. Individuals from lower-caste groups may face numerous

obstacles to participation in public elections and equal opportunities to run for and be

elected to public positions. These include being subject to threats, harassment and physical

attacks; being forcibly prevented from standing in elections or, if elected, forced to resign

or not to exercise their mandate; being excluded from electoral rolls; and being denied the

right to vote.42

65. Caste-affected groups tend to be outvoted and unable to secure proportional

representation. For instance, in Mauritania, where the Haratine comprise 40 to 60 per cent

of the population, according to statistics collected by the Initiative pour la Résurgence du

Mouvement Abolitionniste Mauritanie, only 11 of 147 members of Parliament are Haratine.

In Yemen, the Muhamasheen have no political representation at the national level.43

37 “Caste-based Discrimination in South Asia”, p. 4.

38 See E/CN.4/Sub.2/2001/16, para. 26.

39 OHCHR, “Opening the door to equality: access for justice for Dalits in Nepal” (2011), p. 45.

40 Nalori Dhammei Chakma, “Equity watch 2015: access to justice for Dalits in India” (Swadhikar and

National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, 2015), pp. 38-39.

41 Amnesty International, The State of the World’s Human Rights 2014/15, p. 181.

42 See CERD/C/IND/CO/19, para. 17.

43 See A/HRC/30/31, para. 77.

66. Some caste-affected countries, including India and Nepal, have constitutional and

legal requirements to reserve seats for disadvantaged caste groups in legislative bodies. In

Pakistan, seats are reserved for non-Muslim minorities.

4. Freedom of religion or belief

67. Caste discrimination exerts a strong influence in the religious sphere. Individuals

from the lowest castes may be barred from religious sites, relegated to separate religious

buildings or separate spaces and buried in separate cemeteries.

68. Caste-based discrimination on the grounds of religion has a particular impact on

women and girls. The existence of practices labelled as “religious dedication” of girls to

temple deities, including the Devadasi system, constitutes a de facto form of forced

prostitution and sexual slavery, mainly targeting Dalit girls.44

69. Minority women, many of them from low-caste backgrounds, may be subjected to

kidnapping and forced religious conversion. According to the Special Rapporteur on the

right to freedom of religion or belief, “such incidents seem to occur in a climate of

impunity”.45 Civil society organizations have reported several cases of Dalit Hindu girls

being kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam following marriage in Pakistan.46

B. Economic, social and cultural rights

1. Right to work

70. Allocation of labour on the basis of caste is one of the core pillars of caste and

caste-like systems, with lower castes typically confined to “polluting”, “filthy” or “impure”

tasks and occupations. This labour division is characterized by its extreme rigidity and

exclusion, preventing individuals from the lowest strata from changing occupations and

largely hindering their labour mobility. Attempts to challenge the established order may

result in social punishment, including physical and psychological aggression and

community boycotts.

71. Caste-based discrimination confines Dalits in South Asia to certain occupations

associated with their caste, which often involve the most menial tasks, such as sanitation

jobs.47 In Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, street cleaning and the handling of

human waste and animal carcasses are almost exclusively performed by Dalits.48

72. In India, manual scavenging constitutes a caste-designated occupation that is mainly

imposed upon Dalits, particularly Dalit women, who represent 95 per cent of manual

scavengers.49 Despite the passing of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers

and their Rehabilitation Act in 2013, the practice reportedly persists, institutionalized

44 Maggie Black, “Women in ritual slavery: Devadasi, Jogini and Mathamma in Karnataka and Andhra

Pradesh, Southern India” (Anti-Slavery International, 2007).

45 See A/67/303, para. 43.

46 Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network and International Dalit Solidarity Network, “Scheduled caste

women in Pakistan: denied a life in dignity and respect”, alternative report to the Committee on the

Elimination of Discrimination against Women at its fifty-fourth session (2013), p. 12.

47 International Labour Office, Equality at Work: Tackling the Challenges (2007), pp. 35-36.

48 Human Rights Watch, “Caste discrimination: a global concern” (2001), p. 12.

49 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Solution Exchange, “Social

inclusion of manual scavengers” (UNDP, 2012), p. 7. See also Human Rights Watch, Cleaning

Human Waste: “Manual Scavenging”, Caste and Discrimination in India (2014).

through State practice, with local governments and municipalities employing manual


73. This rigid and stratified allocation of work results in Dalits having not only limited

job opportunities, but also lower wages,51 particularly in rural areas.52

74. In Japan, the Buraku face job discrimination. Hiring detectives to investigate the

background of job applicants is reported to be common.53 Research highlights that, if

investigations result in the person being considered as Buraku in origin, the individual is

likely not to be further considered in the selection process. Despite the amendments to the

Basic Resident Registration Act and to the Family Registration Law to restrict access to the

family registry (Koseki), professionals who have access, including public notaries, lawyers

and judicial scriveners, are allegedly often paid to obtain such information.54

Intersectionality between caste and contemporary forms of slavery

75. Discrimination based on caste increases the vulnerability of affected groups to

contemporary forms of slavery.55 Research indicates that forced and bonded labour is

widespread within caste-affected communities, despite legal bans.56 In South Asia, Dalits

comprise the majority of people subjected to domestic bonded labour, and a large number

of victims of trafficking in persons, sexual slavery and other forms of labour exploitation

are members of low castes.57

76. In Nepal, in the agricultural sector, Haliyas (“ones who plough”) are labourers

effectively caught in a debt bondage system. They plough the land, a task considered

dirty.58 They are often forced to take out loans from landowners to cover personal expenses

and are charged exorbitant rates of interest, making their debts extremely difficult to pay

back and effectively trapping them in a never-ending cycle of submission. According to

civil society reports, despite criminalization by the Government in 2010, the practice still

persists and there is currently no legislation in place for the rehabilitation of Haliyas.59

77. In Pakistan, Dalits, who are mainly minority Hindus, are disproportionately affected

by forced and bonded labour, particularly in the Sindh and Balochistan provinces.60

78. In Mauritania, the Haratine are the ethnic group most associated with slavery,

suffering from discrimination, marginalization and exclusion as the “slave caste”, although

50 See A/HRC/15/55 and Corr.1, para. 75.

51 ILO, Equality at Work: Tackling the Challenges (2011), pp. 43 and 44.

52 “Caste-based discrimination in South Asia”, p. 5.

53 Kenzo Tomonaga, “The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial

Discrimination and Buraku discrimination” in Descent-Based Discrimination (International

Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, 2004), pp. 47-48.

54 Buraku Liberation League and International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and

Racism – Japan Committee, report to the Human Rights Committee on disclosure of evidentiary

materials for just and fair justice systems, and the right to privacy and the Japanese family register

system “Koseki Seido”(2013).

55 See A/HRC/24/43, para. 15.

56 Bethan Cobley, “International consultation on caste-based discrimination” (International Dalit

Solidarity Network, 2012), p. 21.

57 See A/HRC/17/40, para. 33.

58 See A/HRC/24/43, para. 16.

59 Asian Legal Resource Centre, submission to the universal periodic review of Nepal (2015), p. 4.

60 Anti-Slavery International, Poverty, Discrimination and Slavery: The Reality of Bonded Labour in

India, Nepal and Pakistan (2008), p. 14.

slavery is also reported to affect black African communities there.61 Despite slavery being

formally abolished and a recent anti-slavery bill passed in August 2015, the practice

reportedly remains widespread, affecting predominantly the Haratine.62 According to some

estimates, 50 per cent of the Haratine community is subjected to de facto slavery through

domestic servitude and bonded or forced labour; 90 per cent of those affected are women.63

2. Right to housing and right to water and sanitation

79. Reports indicate that caste-affected communities face discrimination in accessing

adequate housing and housing segregation.64 They may be forced to live on the outskirts of

towns, or in segregated colonies or informal settlements,65 and may also be subject to

forced evictions and displacement.66

80. As highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water

and sanitation, stigma associated with caste manifests, inter alia, in lack of access to

drinking water and sanitation facilities and in restricted access to shared or common water

and sanitation facilities.67

81. In Yemen, the Muhamasheen mainly reside in underdeveloped neighbourhoods on

the outskirts of the capital.68 More than half of their households rely on external water

sources such as dams, streams or wells; only two out of five households have latrines.69

82. In Bangladesh70 and India,71 Dalits are often systematically excluded from access to

water and sanitation. Reports indicate that Dalits may be prohibited from fetching water;

have to wait in different queues when accessing wells; and, in the event of water shortage,

must give non-Dalits priority. Dalits may be subjected to large-scale violence and physical

attacks by members of the dominant caste when attempting to access facilities in areas

inhabited by them.72 Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to physical violence from

members of the dominant castes while collecting water from public wells and taps.73

3. Right to health

83. Studies in South Asia demonstrate patterns of discriminatory behaviour against

individuals from lower castes, particularly in health care, including denial of or restrictions

on services, lack of treatment and longer waiting periods. Health-care providers spend less

61 See A/HRC/15/20/Add.2, paras. 9-12; and A/HRC/26/49/Add.1, para. 7.

62 Anti-Slavery International and others, Enforcing Mauritania’s Anti-Slavery Legislation: The Continued

Failure of the Justice System to Prevent, Protect and Punish (2015), pp. 3-6.

63 Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, alternative report submitted to the Human Rights

Committee at its 107th session during the consideration of the first periodic report of Mauritania

(2013), p. 4.

64 See, inter alia, E/C.12/NPL/CO/3, para. 11, and CERD/C/JPN/CO/3-6, para. 19.

65 See A/HRC/22/46, para. 11.

66 See E/C.12/IND/CO/5, para. 31.

67 See A/HRC/21/42, para. 36.

68 See A/HRC/30/31, para. 77.

69 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Yemen situation report: Muhamasheen mapping update

(2015), p. 2.

70 See A/HRC/15/55 and Corr.1, para. 76.

71 Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan and others, “Violations of the right to water and sanitation” (2014), p. 11.

72 See A/HRC/21/42, para. 36.

73 Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Navsarjan Trust, “Understanding

untouchability, a comprehensive study of practices and conditions in 1589 villages” (2010), p. 19.

time with them, and staff use derogatory or demeaning words and avoid physical contact

when examining them.74

84. Caste-based discrimination has a direct impact on the health status of affected

individuals. Statistics reveal significant disparities in health indicators, with individuals in

lower castes presenting poorer health indicators than those in higher castes.

85. Women in lower castes present the worst health outcomes. For instance, a study in

India75 demonstrated stark disparities between Dalit and non-Dalit women in terms of life

expectancy and access to prenatal and postnatal care.

86. In 2009, a survey by the Ministry of Health76 in Nepal found that the maternal

mortality rates for Dalit women and women from the Therai and Madhesi castes were

significantly higher than those for women from higher castes.

87. Manual scavenging, the digging of graves, the cleaning of human excretions and

forced prostitution also expose individuals in lower castes to a range of health hazards.77

Research further indicates that children in lower castes are at greater risk of infections and

nutritional deficiencies.78

4. Right to education

88. Marginalization of caste-affected groups translates into considerable disparities in

educational opportunities, educational attainment and treatment by school teachers. Such

differences undermine equality of opportunity in employment and hinder social

advancement. According to the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial

discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, discrimination against Dalits at all

levels of the educational system is widespread in caste-affected countries.79

89. The types of structural discrimination and abuse faced by Dalit children in schools

are particularly disturbing, as they are carried out by teachers and replicated by fellow

students. They include segregation in classrooms, the use of derogatory terms for their

caste, forcing them to perform manual work such as cleaning toilets and picking up

garbage, and corporal punishment.80

90. Caste-based discrimination in education results in higher rates of illiteracy, a larger

number of dropouts from school, and a higher risk of children from lower castes being

recruited as child labourers, soldiers or sex workers and subjected corporal punishment and


74 Sanghmitra Acharya, “Access to health care and patterns of discrimination: a study of Dalit children

in selected villages of Gujarat and Rajasthan”, working paper series, vol. 1, No. 2 (Indian Institute of

Dalit Studies and UNICEF, 2010), pp. 15 ff.

75 Vani Borooah and others, “Gender and caste-based inequality in health outcomes in India”, working

paper series, vol. VI, No. 3 (Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 2012), pp. 14-15.

76 Bal Krishna Suvedi and others, “Nepal: maternal mortality and morbidity study 2008/2009 –

summary of preliminary findings” (Family Health Division of the Department of Health Services of

the Ministry of Health, 2009).

77 See A/68/333, para. 65.

78 P. Vart and others, “Caste-based social inequalities and childhood anemia in India: results from the

National Family Health Survey 2005-2006” in BMC Public Health (2015).

79 See A/HRC/23/56, para. 46.

80 Human Rights Watch, “They Say We’re Dirty”: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized

(2014), pp. 20 ff.

81 See CERD/C/IND/CO/19, para. 25.

91. In Japan, the dropout rate for Buraku high school students is reported to be two to

three times the national average. In addition, despite modest increases in college enrolment,

the percentage of Buraku university students is still well below the national average.82 In

Yemen, 80 per cent of the Muhamasheen are reported to be illiterate and suffer extreme

poverty.83 In Mauritania, over 80 per cent of the Haratine do not complete primary school;

they constitute only 5 per cent of students pursuing higher education.84 In Madagascar, most

of the Andevo are reportedly illiterate.85 In Senegal, civil society reports state that children

from lower castes were prevented from sitting with classmates from higher castes.86

5. Humanitarian assistance

92. Evidence indicates that communities in lower positions in caste and analogous

systems are more vulnerable and more likely to be exposed to natural and human-made

disasters and hazards than those from higher castes, for several reasons.87 For example,

their marginalized socioeconomic status may translate into a lack of or limited access to

amenities and information. The location and infrastructure of their homes, usually in remote

and marginal lands such as floodplains, coastal towns and unstable hillsides, on the

periphery of settlements and poorly equipped in terms of basic amenities such as drains,

flood barriers and drinking water, may also increase their vulnerability to natural disasters.

93. Research88 has found that, when emergencies arise, such communities are often not

only the most affected but are also less likely to receive humanitarian aid and rehabilitation.

Analysis of emergency responses to natural disasters in South Asia, including in India,

Pakistan, Sri Lanka89 and, most recently, Nepal,90 have demonstrated that Dalits suffer from

acute caste discrimination throughout all the phases of disaster response, from rescue to

rehabilitation. They are also the most affected by climate change due to their living in

flood- and drought-prone areas.91

94. Reports indicate that discriminatory practices against Dalits in humanitarian

response include priority given to dominant castes in rescue operations; denial of or

unequal access to relief camps, food, water, health services, shelter, housing and education;

segregation in camp facilities; prohibition of use of the common sanitation facilities;

segregation in commensal groups; lack of compensation or restitution of assets due to lack

of documentation to claim entitlements related to land and property; and lack of

participation of affected communities in decision-making regarding reconstruction.92

82 Kenzo Tomonaga, “The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial

Discrimination and Buraku discrimination”, pp. 54-55.

83 See CCPR/C/YEM/CO/5, para. 12.

84 According to the Haratine manifesto (“Manifeste pour les droits politiques, économiques et sociaux

des Haratines au sein d’une Mauritanie unie, égalitaire et réconciliée avec elle-même” (April 2013).

85 See A/HRC/24/43/Add.2, para. 12.

86 African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights and International Dalit Solidarity Network,

“Alternative report on the situation of castes in Senegal” (July 2012), p. 3.

87 International Dalit Solidarity Network, “Equality in aid: addressing caste discrimination in

humanitarian response” (2013), pp. 3-4.

88 National Dalit Watch-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, “Addressing caste discrimination in

humanitarian response” (2011).

89 Timothy Gill, “Making things worse: How ‘caste-blindness’ in Indian post-tsunami disaster recovery

has exacerbated vulnerability and exclusion” (Dalit Network Netherlands, 2007).

90 www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa31/1753/2015/en.

91 Bethan Cobley, “International consultation on caste-based discrimination”, p. 18.

92 International Dalit Solidarity Network, “Equality in aid: addressing caste discrimination in

humanitarian response”, pp. 4-5.

V. Situation of caste-affected women and girls

95. Caste is one of the factors that result in multiple and intersecting forms of

discrimination against certain groups of women.93 Women and girls from low castes are

particularly vulnerable to violation and denial of their rights in both public and private life.

96. They are often the victims of caste-based violence, particularly sexual violence.94

A study95 identified 12 major forms of violence against Dalit women: nine in the

community (physical assault, verbal abuse, sexual harassment and assault, rape, sexual

exploitation, forced prostitution, kidnapping or abduction, forced incarceration and medical

negligence), and three within the family (female feticide and infanticide, child sexual abuse

and domestic violence).

97. Available data indicate that caste-based violence against women and girls, in

particular sexual violence, may be increasing. Violence and the threat of violence are

frequently hidden and go unreported in villages and rural areas, forming a culture of

invisibility, silence and impunity which, in many instances, places the burden of shame on

victims instead of perpetrators.

98. Women from disadvantaged caste groups are also the main victims of trafficking,96

and are especially vulnerable to early and/or forced marriage,97 bonded labour98 and

harmful cultural practices. Accusations of witchcraft are sometimes made to deprive Dalit

women of their basic economic and social rights, including access to land and their assets.99

99. Atrocities against women from marginalized castes are often committed when they

try to assert their rights and challenge caste and gender norms.100 Perpetrators include

dominant caste landlords, police officers, doctors and teachers, with the “punishment” both

being expressive of caste outrage and intended to teach the woman and her community a


100. Dalit women face obstacles in accessing formal justice systems. These include the

refusal by police officers to register criminal complaints or delays in filing complaints, lack

of proper investigation into complaints of violence and ill-treatment, and insensitivity by

law enforcement officials.102

101. Women from caste-affected communities, particularly in rural areas, are often

excluded from political processes and relegated to secondary or subordinate roles in

decision-making. It is reported that rural Dalit women holding seats in the local panchayat

93 See Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, general recommendation No.

25 (2004) on article 4 (1) of the Convention (temporary special measures), para. 12; and general

recommendation No. 28 (2010) on the core obligations of States parties under article 2 of the

Convention, para. 18.

94 See A/HRC/26/38/Add.1, para. 15, and A/HRC/26/38/Add.2, para. 16.

95 Aloysius Irudayam and others, “Dalit women speak out, violence against Dalit women in India”

(National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, 2006), pp. 3-4.

96 See A/HRC/26/38/Add.1, para. 28.

97 See A/HRC/29/40, para. 23.

98 Anti-Slavery International, Poverty, Discrimination and Slavery.

99 See A/HRC/20/16, para. 39.

100 Evidence, “Atrocities against Dalit women and access to justice”(2011), p. 4.

101 International Dalit Solidarity Network and others, “Violence against Dalit women”, briefing note for

the eleventh session of the Human Rights Council.

102 Minority Rights Group International, written contribution to the general discussion on access to

justice at the fifty-fourth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against

Women (2013).

(town assembly) have been forced to stay at home and be represented by their husbands at

meetings. Those who have attempted to speak in the panchayat have been subjected to

backlash, and even violence, against members of their caste.103

102. Outside South Asia, information on caste-affected women and girls is scarce. In

Japan, a survey by the Buraku Liberation League revealed that Buraku women experienced

discrimination in a wide range of areas, including marriage, employment and health care,

and approximately 30 per cent had suffered from sexual violence.104 In Mauritania, Haratine

women are reported to be at greater risk of violence, in both the public and private spheres,

and to suffer from high levels of sexual violence, including rape and marital rape, domestic

violence and sexual assault.105

103. Human rights violations against women and girls because of their caste status also

include extremely disadvantaged social and economic conditions that have a direct impact

on the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights. Women and girls from lower

castes have lower literacy levels and are more likely to be prevented from pursuing

education. Many perform dangerous and unprotected work, including manual scavenging,

and receive lower salaries. Many also have no or limited access to public services,

including health care, as well as to government schemes and entitlements, and are de facto

prohibited from owning land.106

VI. Initiatives and good practices to address caste-based discrimination

A. United Nations system

104. The issue of discrimination based on descent and, in particular, caste-based

discrimination, has been gaining momentum in the United Nations system for the past two

decades. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has been

instrumental, as it first addressed discrimination based on caste and on similar forms of

social hierarchy as a form of discrimination based on descent, as provided in article 1 (1) of

the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and

has also addressed the issue in its reviews of affected States. The adoption of general

recommendation No. 29 (2002) consolidated the Committee’s interpretation of article 1 (1)

and formulated a global definition of caste-based discrimination: “discrimination based on

caste and analogous systems of inherited status”.

105. The work of the former Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of

Human Rights has been of vital importance in the process of giving visibility to the issue of

caste-based discrimination. Following its resolution 2000/4, declaring that discrimination

based on work and descent was a form of discrimination prohibited by international human

103 Navsarjan Trust and others, “The situation of Dalit rural women”, submission to the general

discussion on rural women of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

(2013), p. 3.

104 Buraku Liberation League Central Women’s Division, “What the survey findings tell us: Buraku

Women” in Minority Women Rise Up: A Collaborative Survey on Ainu, Buraku and Korean Women

in Japan (International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, 2004), sect. 1.2.

105 Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization and Initiative pour la résurgence du mouvement

abolitionniste Mauritanie, submission for the second periodic review of Mauritania (2015), p. 6.

106 Navsarjan Trust and others, alternative report to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of

Discrimination against Women for its examination of the fourth and fifth periodic reports of India


rights law, the Sub-Commission appointed an expert to prepare a working paper on the

topic to identify communities in which discrimination based on occupation and descent was

ongoing, as well as to make concrete recommendations for the effective elimination of such

discrimination. The outcome document (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2001/16) focused on countries in

Asia only. Two Special Rapporteurs with the task of preparing a comprehensive study on

discrimination based on work and descent were subsequently appointed, which led to the

draft United Nations principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of

discrimination based on work and descent, yet to be formally endorsed by the Human

Rights Council.

106. In 2013, the guidance note of the Secretary-General on racial discrimination and

protection of minorities explicitly recommended that United Nations action and policies

“reflect the fact that persons targeted for discrimination based on descent, in particular

caste-based discrimination and related practices, are in a number of contexts in a

particularly marginalized position and in need of focused attention”.

107. In 2014, the United Nations network on racial discrimination and the protection of

minorities developed an action plan to support the implementation of those

recommendations, including preparing “guidance for the United Nations system on key

challenges, priorities and strategic approaches to combat discrimination based on work and

descent”. At the time of writing the present report, a guidance tool on descent-based

discrimination, including key challenges and strategic approaches to combat caste-based

and analogous forms of discrimination, was being finalized.

108. Special procedure mandate holders have also begun to address caste-based

discrimination in their communications to States and in thematic and country visit reports.

B. National legislation and special measures

109. Progressive and instrumental steps that can be taken by States to protect caste-

affected communities include the following: identification of communities who suffer from

discrimination on the basis of caste and analogous systems of inherited status; explicit

recognition of caste-based discrimination as a human rights violation in national normative

frameworks; ad hoc legislation to combat specific forms of discrimination on the grounds

of caste and analogous systems; the establishment of special measures, including

reservations, quotas and targeted schemes; and the effective implementation of legislation

and special measures.

Constitutional provisions

110. In South Asia, several constitutions explicitly refer to “caste” as one of the grounds

for prohibited discrimination, including those of Bangladesh (art. 28), India (arts. 15 and

16), Nepal (art. 18), Pakistan (arts. 22, 26 and 27) and Sri Lanka (art. 12.2 and 12.3).

Furthermore, the constitutions of India (art. 17) and Nepal (art. 24) explicitly outlaw


111. Outside South Asia, constitutional references to “caste” are limited. Examples

include the constitutions of Burkina Faso (arts. 1 and 23) and Mauritius (art. 16.3). Some

constitutions do not list “caste” as one of the prohibited grounds for discrimination, but

provide specific references to discrimination based on analogous systems of inherited

status. For example, in Japan constitutional provisions prohibit discrimination based on,

inter alia, “race, social status or family origin” (art. 14). In the Constitution of Somalia,

“clan” affiliation is one of the prohibited grounds for discrimination (art. 11).

112. Specific constitutional or legislative provisions establishing reservations or quota

systems for caste-affected groups have been adopted in some countries. In India, the

Constitution and its amendments permit special measures for the social and educational

advancement of marginalized communities, including scheduled castes, and provide

reservations of electoral seats in the Lower House and state legislatures for scheduled

castes. The new Constitution of Nepal contains several provisions for safeguarding the

rights of Dalits, including in employment, education and health care, and articulates a

political system based on proportional representation for disadvantaged groups, including

Dalits, minorities and women, at the local and national levels.

Specific legislation

113. Specific legislation to combat caste-based discrimination in all its manifestations is

instrumental to criminalize discriminatory practices, bring perpetrators to justice and

provide redress to victims. Nevertheless, poor levels of both implementation of legislative

measures and accountability, or a lack thereof, result in prevailing impunity and the

perpetuation of caste-based discrimination.

114. In South Asia, India and Nepal have enacted specific legislation to combat

caste-based discrimination. In India, two of the most recent laws are the Scheduled Castes

and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill (2015) and the

Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act (2013).

Nepal enacted the Caste Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and

Punishment) Act in 2011, which criminalizes such discrimination in private and public


115. In Japan, the Law on Special Measures for Dowa Projects, enacted in 1969 and in

force until 2002, was aimed at improving the living conditions in identified Buraku districts

(Dowa districts) by improving access to welfare, employment and education, and providing

redress in cases of discrimination against Buraku people.

116. In the United Kingdom, the passing of the 2010 Equality Act brought the

caste-discrimination issue into the public arena. Since its amendment in 2013, the Act now

includes caste as an aspect of race, following advocacy from civil society organizations and

the recommendation of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its

2011 review of the State.107

Specialized institutions

117. In its general recommendation No. 29 (2002), the Committee requested States to

“establish statutory mechanisms, through the strengthening of existing institutions or the

creation of specialized institutions, to promote respect for the equal human rights of

members of descent-based communities”.

118. In 2002, Nepal established a National Dalit Commission tasked with a twofold

objective: to increase the participation of Dalit communities “in the mainstream of national

development” and to create a favourable environment for Dalit communities.108

119. In 2004, India established the National Commission for Scheduled Castes as a

separate body109 with a wide-range of functions, including monitoring implementation of

legislation on scheduled castes, investigating complaints and reporting periodically on the

status of implementation of legislation.

107 See CERD/C/GBR/CO/18-20, para. 30.

108 http://ndc.gov.np/site/cms/12.

109 www.ncsc.nic.in.

C. Civil society initiatives

120. Civil society organizations are instrumental in advancing the cause of caste-affected

communities through advocacy at both the national and international levels, networking and

implementation of specific programmes and campaigns to combat caste and caste-like

discrimination. There are numerous good practice initiatives led by civil society actors to

eradicate caste-based discrimination against Dalit communities in South Asia;110 however,

similar initiatives to combat discrimination against other caste-affected groups in other

regions are, with some exceptions, still emerging.

121. In Mauritania, the Initiative pour la résurgence du mouvement abolitionniste

Mauritanie was established in 2008 by a prominent Haratine leader to advocate for the

eradication of slavery and slavery-like practices, as well as to take specific cases before

judicial courts.

122. In Yemen, the All Youth Network for Community Development was set up by

young people belonging to the Akhdam minority (Muhamasheen) to work at the local level

to eliminate caste discrimination. Its programmes target education, political participation,

human rights education and capacity-building.

VII. Conclusions and recommendations

123. Discrimination based on caste and analogous systems is a global phenomenon,

affecting more than 250 million people worldwide. This serious human rights violation

infringes upon the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, as it

differentiates between “inferior” and “superior” categories of individuals because of

their inherited caste status. It also leads to extreme exclusion and dehumanization of

caste-affected communities, who are often among the most disadvantaged populations,

experience the worst socioeconomic conditions and are deprived of or severely

restricted in the enjoyment of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

124. Discrimination based on caste and analogous systems is deeply embedded in

interpersonal and communal relationships in caste-affected countries. Therefore,

overcoming it will require not only legal and political responses, but also

community-based approaches aimed at changing the mindsets of individuals and the

collective conscience of local communities. In this regard, formal and informal

community education and open dialogue from an early age are essential elements to

ensure that the principles of human dignity and equality generally are accepted and


125. The Special Rapporteur acknowledges that further in-depth studies of caste-

affected communities, particularly outside of South Asia, are needed in order to

comprehensively assess the situation of and specific challenges facing such groups and

implement adequate measures to combat caste-based discrimination that affects them.

To that end, the collection of data disaggregated by, inter alia, caste, sex, ethnicity,

religion and language is essential to adequately map affected groups in caste-affected

countries. Data collection programmes should allow for diverse forms of self-

identification and comply with international standards regarding the right to privacy.

126. Discrimination on the basis of caste and analogous systems is a major cause of

poverty, inequality and social exclusion of affected communities. In the

implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, States should

110 Bethan Cobley, “International consultation on caste-based discrimination”, pp. 48-54.

consider including caste-specific indicators to ensure that the Sustainable

Development Goals and their targets address the situation of affected groups.

127. The Special Rapporteur believes that relevant elements and standards

emanating from the minority rights framework, including equality,

non-discrimination, consultation, participation and special measures, can contribute

to the protection of the rights of caste-affected communities and should be applied to

combat discrimination based on caste and analogous systems.

128. States should adopt specific legislation prohibiting discrimination on the

grounds of caste and/or analogous systems. Existing legal frameworks to combat caste

discrimination must be adequately and fully implemented and include appropriate

penalties for acts of caste-based discrimination.

129. States should conduct awareness-raising campaigns at the national and local

levels, targeting both affected communities and the wider public to sensitize them

against caste discrimination and analogous forms of such discrimination. These

campaigns should inform the public about the various manifestations, legal

prohibitions and penalties associated with caste discrimination, and victims should be

informed of their rights and available means of legal recourse to bring to light caste-

based discriminatory practices and obtain redress.

130. Comprehensive national action plans and budgets to combat discrimination

based on caste and analogous systems should be urgently developed and implemented

in caste-affected countries. Plans should have clear objectives and measures in a wide

range of areas, including poverty reduction strategies, employment, health, housing,

education and access to basic services, including water and sanitation. They should

include specific attention to the issues of caste-affected women, be developed in

coordination with affected groups and local organizations working with them and be

provided with sufficient funding. Their progress should be regularly monitored.

131. Special measures, including reservations, quota systems and/or schemes, should

be put into place and enforced in specific areas, including employment, education, and

public and political institutions, in order to guarantee the effective participation and

representation of affected communities in public life.

132. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to caste discrimination, as they

suffer from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination owing to both their

gender and unprivileged caste status. They are disproportionately subjected to dire

human rights violations, including violence and, particularly, sexual violence,

trafficking, early and/or forced marriage and harmful traditional practices. They face

obstacles in accessing justice and redress and are excluded or relegated to a secondary

or subordinate role in decision-making processes. Caste-affected States should

urgently take robust action to eradicate such violations through, inter alia, the

enactment and effective implementation of specific legislation and the adoption of

special measures, policies and programmes to address the entrenched situation of

marginalization and exclusion experienced by women and girls owing to their caste


133. Ad hoc supervisory bodies or specific departments in national human rights

institutions should be established to address and monitor caste-based discrimination,

where relevant. They should analyse existing domestic legislation, and recommend

programmes and provide advice on public policies to enhance the implementation of

non-discrimination legislation. They should provide complaint-handling services,

including by receiving complaints, conducting investigations and initiating or

pursuing legal actions in relation to cases involving caste-based discrimination. These

bodies should be independent and provided with sufficient funding, resources and

staff to adequately fulfil their mandate.

134. Law enforcement officers should receive training to identify and adequately

respond to cases of caste-based discrimination, particularly those involving caste-

based violence. Rapid-response protocols should be developed and implemented by

police officers to attend to victims and conduct in situ investigations. Criminal

penalties should be established for law enforcement officers who neglect or

intentionally decide not to investigate and/or prosecute complaints filed by individuals

regarded as “low caste”. Recruitment of members of affected communities into law

enforcement agencies should be encouraged, including through the establishment of a

quota system for caste-affected individuals.

135. Human rights education in schools should be a mandatory subject. Language in

school textbooks should be revised to eliminate stereotypical and prejudicial

portrayals of caste-affected communities and contest the social construction of caste

and caste-like systems and related notions, including untouchability and segregation.

136. Specific measures should be developed to tackle discrimination, including on

the grounds of caste, in all development and disaster recovery actions and

programming. Implementation of caste-analysis methodology in the humanitarian

assistance framework to adequately identify affected communities, as well as the

implementation mechanisms to ensure that humanitarian relief is equally distributed,

is fundamental to prevent caste-based discrimination from being replicated in

humanitarian response actions.

137. States should extend invitations to special procedure mandate holders to assess

the situation of caste-affected communities in their respective countries and request

their assistance for technical cooperation.

138. The draft United Nations principles and guidelines for the effective elimination

of discrimination based on work and descent should be promoted by States and

endorsed by the Human Rights Council.