UN: High Commissioner must not betray Dalit human rights


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-38-2001
ISSUES: Caste-based discrimination,

UN: High Commissioner supports India’s refusal to address Dalit issue 

The latest UPDATE for this appeal is available at: 
[ http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2001/187/

We have learned that a meeting addressed by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, with the theme ‘Including the Excluded in South Asia’, has completely ignored the issue of caste discrimination, which affects an estimated 200 million South Asians born into the lowest castes, subject to extreme violence, deprived of the most fundamental rights and considered untouchable. 

According to the High Commissioner’s Newsroom, it was the first general meeting of a new non-governmental organization, South Asians for Human Rights, a group established last year, bringing together human rights defenders from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 300 participants attended, with the intention of evolving a human rights vision for South Asia. 

Mrs. Robinson delivered the meeting’s keynote address on 11 November, former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral chaired the inaugural session and also present was Ms. Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. 

The speakers were silent about Caste and the issue of Dalits throughout the entirety of the meeting. The High Commissioner, in mentioning the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban (held in September 2001) said that the Indian Government’s attitude there was positive. In fact, the gigantic attempt made by the Indian Government to exclude the discussion on caste at preparatory sessions and at the conference itself was condemned by all civil society participants and NGOs who, in defiance of the Indian Government, passed a strong statement calling for the elimination of caste-based discrimination. Numerous governments also opposed the Indian government’s stance, and the Dalit caucus went on hunger strike to protest the desperate actions of the Indian government to prevent any mention of this massive form of discrimination during the WCAR. Under such circumstances, calling the Indian position at Durban ‘positive’ is not only untrue, but a betrayal of the human rights of more than 200 million Dalits and others suffering from caste discrimination in South Asia. 

AHRC is firmly of the view that the key issue in developing a human rights perspective in South Asia is to deal with Caste. This is not only because this form of discrimination and socio-economic exclusion affects such large numbers; the psyche of South Asia is conditioned by thousands of years of caste practices and South Asia is retarded in every way due to this practice. South Asian attitudes to torture, extra-judicial killings, right to life (including the right to food), rights of children, rights of women, in fact every right, is conditioned by this. It is nonsense to talk about South Asian Human Rights without addressing the fundamental issue of caste. 

On several occasions during the last 18 months, AHRC has raised the issue of the High Commissioner’s attitude to the caste issue. You would remember that in the Asia-Pacific Experts’ Seminar in preparation for the WCAR (held in September 2000 in Bangkok), the theme was ‘Migrants and Trafficking in Persons with Particular Reference to Women and Children’ and we carried out a successful campaign of protest, calling for space to discuss other vital discrimination issues in Asia, including the caste issue. 

A dalit representative present at the meeting in Delhi has already registered his protest during the meeting itself. Further, it may be noted that at a meeting in Geneva prior to the Indian visit, Mrs. Robinson was briefed on the need to raise and support the Dalit issue whilst in India, especially in the light that the issue had been suppressed at Durban. Nevertheless, she chose to remain silent, and to support the cynical role of the Indian government in the WCAR. 

The niceties of diplomacy will always betray the most excluded and neglected. It may be that High Commissioner Mary Robinson is not culturally capable of understanding the problem. That of course is not the fault of those who suffer from such terrible exclusion. She has had enough time to learn and to consider the issue. It is not possible anymore to ignore that what she does results in playing games with the rights of vast millions of people. It is no surprise. After all, Mahatma Gandhi did the same. Like the Dalit leader Ambedkar did with Gandhi, we must not mince words about this betrayal of rights. Mrs. Robinson can decide to be against us, but we cannot go along and betray ourselves. 

[For more information on the campaign against caste discrimination at the WCAR, please see our website: www.wcar.alrc.net ] 


We suggest you write to Mrs. Mary Robinson, either by fax or by email, to let her know that it is completely unacceptable to neglect to mention the plight of the Dalits when speaking about human rights in South Asia, and that supporting the Indian government’s stance in Durban is akin to betraying the movement of oppressed low caste masses who are finally being heard at the international level after millenia of neglect. A sample letter and contact details are provided below. 


Dear High Commissioner 

I am surprised by a statement attributed to you at the recent South Asians for Human Rights conference held in Delhi on November 11, to the effect that the Indian Government’s attitude at the Durban World Conference Against Racism was a positive one. You also excluded from your keynote address any reference to the caste discrimination faced by hundreds of millions of Dalits across South Asia. The Indian Government’s position on caste and Dalits is quite well known to have been, both before and during the Durban conference, an appalling act of betrayal. This betrayal has had the blessing of not only your silence but now also your approval. I call upon you to take a clear stand on the issue of Caste and Dalits. Further, I request you to not betray the human rights of these people who have suffered so much for thousands of years and continue to do so. 

Yours sincerely 



Mrs. Mary Robinson 
High Commissioner for Human Rights. 
Fax: +41 22 917 9012 
e-mail: webadmin.hchr@unog.ch 

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-38-2001
Countries : India,
Issues : Caste-based discrimination,