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NGOs urge ICERD to address “multiple and contemporary forms of racism”

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FORUM-ASIA, along with three other international organisations working on racial discrimination, presented a joint statement on the Substantive Session of the Preparatory Committee on the Durban Review Conference in its first session on 24 April, 2008, calling for the ICERD in the “broadest possible way” to deal with multiple and contemporary forms of racism, including caste-based discrimination which affects 260 million people globally.

A Joint Statement on Item 6: Objective No. 2 of the Durban Review Conference

“To assess the effectiveness of the existing Durban follow-up mechanisms and other relevant United Nations mechanisms dealing with the issue of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in order to enhance them”

By The Lutheran World Federation, International Movement against Discrimination and All forms of Racism, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), and Pax Romana at the 1st Substantive Session of the Preparatory Committee of Durban Review Conference on April 24, 2008

Madam Chairperson:

Caste-based discrimination is a reality that affects an estimated, or perhaps more than, 260 million people across the globe. It is not an issue that should be mired in any kind of controversy regarding its coverage or non-coverage under the International Convention for Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) any more. The fact that a large chunk of humanity in South Asian countries, Buraku people in Japan and similar social groups in many African countries do face multiple forms of discrimination should be a ground good enough for being covered under the Durban follow-up mechanisms and also UN Human Rights mechanisms.

The global character of caste or work and descent-based discrimination has been very clearly established by the affirmation of UN Treaty bodies like the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination under General Recommendation No. 29 and also through examination of countries like India, Nigeria, Nepal, and Yemen in recent years. Other Treaty Bodies like the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Child Rights Committee, Committee against Torture and Charter bodies like the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and several Special Procedures have explicitly recognized this kind of discrimination to be in violation of international human rights law and impressed upon the respective governments in the caste-affected countries about the urgent need for combating it, including utilizing international human rights mechanisms.

While presenting his report at the 7th session of the Human Rights Council, Mr. Doudou Dienne, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism said: “Since the World Conference against Racism in Durban, the issue of discrimination on the grounds of caste has been on the international agenda. Despite the objection of some member states, the main human rights bodies working in the area of racism and discrimination have stated clearly that prohibition of this type of discrimination falls within the scope of existing instruments, in particular the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.” He further added that in this context, women and girls were victims of multiple discrimination, including in certain cases sexual exploitation or forced prostitution. These specific examples of dual discrimination were already acknowledged in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which states that “racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance reveal themselves in a differentiated manner for women and girls, and can be among the factors leading to a deterioration in their living conditions, poverty, violence, multiple forms of discrimination, and the limitation or denial of their human rights”. Meaningful work in the areas of legislation, the judiciary and education must be accompanied by strong political will to put an end to this form of discrimination.

CERD’s contribution under Agenda Item No. 6 of the Provisional Agenda for the Preparatory Committee Meeting and the Durban Review Conference has also emphasized the need to interpret ICERD in a broadest possible way so that it is able to address multiple and contemporary forms of racism. CERD notes also that “in order to assist States in understanding the scope of discrimination covered by ICERD, the Committee has adopted three important general recommendations since 2001 on contemporary manifestations of racism … xenophobia and related intolerance and requests their submission for consideration to the Durban Review Conference”, going on to specifically mention General Recommendation 29 on descent-based discrimination.

Madam Chairperson:

This statement clearly indicates that, in CERD’s view, both descent-based discrimination and their general recommendation on this topic should be included in the agenda for the Durban Review Conference, under Objective 2 of the Conference, as a valid ground for their inclusion under Durban follow-up mechanisms as well as for other UN human rights mechanisms.