Agenda Item 5: Prevention of the discrimination and protection of minorities - (India)

26 July - 13 August 2004
Palais des Nations, GenevaUN Sub-Commission on the Promotion
and Protection of Human Rights
56th session, 26 July – 13 August 2004
Item 5: Prevention of the discrimination and protection of minorities

Franciscans International welcomes the paper submitted to the Sub-Commission by Mr. Eide and Mr. Yokota on the topic of discrimination based on work and descent and the proposed framework for a draft set of principles and guidelines.

Article 26 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits, inter alia, any discrimination based on the origin and the status of a person. Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination also requests that States undertake a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms. Also, in August 2002, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) clearly recognised that the Dalits caste was “related directly to article 1 of the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination”. In light of these instruments both ratified by India, Dalits should, therefore, be able to exercise their rights individually as well as within their society among people of other castes, without any discrimination.

Further, several articles of the Indian Constitution are clearly related to castes issues:

  • Article 17 affirms that “untouchability” is prohibited and is an offense punishable by law;
  • Article 15 restricts racial and caste discrimination with regard to accessing all public places of business and entertainment;
  • Article 16 rejects racial and caste discrimination for equal-opportunity employment;
  • Article 23 prohibits trafficking in human beings and forced labour;
  • Article 29 banns any restriction to the admission of any person to state educational institutions.

In addition to those provisions, the Indian government adopted many ordinary laws to deal with problems related to castes and disadvantaged groups.

However, as the Eide-Yokota paper highlights, though extensive measures were put in place by the Indian government in conjunction with the National Commission on Minorities, there are still concerns that “persist about the effectiveness and impact of those measures.”1

In addition, UN treaty bodies and Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly addressed the sub-standard living conditions of the Dalit community in India. In 2004, the Committee on the Rights of the Child2 recommended that the Indian government give necessary attention and follow-up to the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Labour and Welfare in 2002 on the Development of Primitive Tribal Groups. In February 2000, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women noted, “discriminations against women who belong to particular castes or ethnic or religious groups is also manifest in extreme forms of physical and sexual violence and harassment.”3. In 2000, Maurice Glèlè-Ahanhanzo, the former Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance spoke of the numerous atrocities against members of the Dalit caste, specifically referencing situations where Dalits were dragged out of their homes and shot at point-blank range. In 1997, the Committee on Human Rights recognized and brought attention to the fact that “members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, as well as the so-called backward classes continue to endure severe social discrimination and to suffer disproportionately many violations of their rights under the Covenant, inter alia inter-caste violence, bonded labour and discrimination of all kinds.”4.

Some of our Franciscan sisters working in Tamil Nadu and Karnatala States with Dalit communities gave testimonial last June before the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery about the structural violence and outright social, political and cultural discrimination that they witness against the Dalit people. The sisters illustrated the brutality they observed in the city of Coimbatore in the Kalapatti colony last May, when 80 Dalit houses were attacked and several people were injured. They reiterated that as a result of this group’s present isolation from mainstream society they are left uneducated and underemployed.

Franciscans International would like to recommend the Sub-Commission:

  • To continue to conduct research in order to clarify the obstacles that prevent existing international and national laws be fully implemented;
  • To identify the deep-rooted beliefs, practices and methods of discrimination against Dalits, but also against other discriminated minority groups in Mali, Japan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Senegal and Bangladesh;
  • To pay more attention to education aspects for those vulnerable groups and exchange views with the Special Rapporteur on the right of education;
  • To enhance cooperation with the Committee on the elimination of Racial Discrimination, the ILO, UNESCO and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Finally, our organization supports the proposal contained in the Eide-Yokota paper to appoint a Special Rapporteur entrusted to examine more deeply the causes of discrimination based on work and descent, including the implication and the role of various actors in the society and to provide recommendations to States.

1, E/CN.4/Sub.2/2004/31 of 5 July 2004, § 79.

2, CRC/C/15/Add.228 of 26 February 2004, § 81 et 82.

3, A/55/38, § 39.

4, CCPR/C/79/Add.81 of 4 August 1997, § 15.

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Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2004
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Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2004