United Nations Press Release
Commission on Human Rights
26 March 2001
A series of non-governmental organzations (NGOs) spoke before the Commission on Human Rights this evening on issues of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, lamenting that such problems continued around the world and offering suggestions and in some cases criticism of the upcoming World Conference against Racism.
AISHYA PRAKASH, of Lutheran World Federation [in a joint statment with the Asian Legal Resource Centre] [addition by ALRC], said that already in 1996, while commenting on India’s report, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) had made it clear that the term “descent” mentioned in article 1 of the Internation Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination did not solely refer to race. The Committee affirmed that the situation of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes fell within the scope of the Convention. As recently as last Tuesday, CERD made the same observations regarding the situation of Burakumin people in Japan It was also noteworthy that in the context of the preparations for the World Conference against Racism, the African Regional Seminar of Experts on the Prevention of Ethnic and Racial Conflicts in Africa called for an in-depth study of the question of castes.
These initiatives reflected a growing understanding of the wider global significance of discrimination based on caste or descent, as a sub-category of racial discrimination. This understanding was distilled in the resolution on “Discrimination on the Basis of Work and Descent”, passed by the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights during its year 2000 session. Caste-based discrimination, wherever it was found, was a form of discrimination based on occupation and descent, and was covered by the definition of racial discrimination in the International Convention. This and similar forms of discrimination were among the most ancient forms of social exclusion based on birth. It was a social construct, like any other form of discrimination, and could be changed. It was also a form of discrimination which was experienced in many different countries, and in a number of different sub-regions. As such, it deserved sufficient international attention, which it had failed to receive.