Working Paper on Discrimination On The Basis Of Work And Descent:Call for submissions
INFORMATION GIVEN BY MR PETER PROVE IN GENEVA:
In August 2000, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights passed a resolution on ‘Discrimination on the basis of work and descent’. In using the formulation ‘Discrimination on the basis of work and descent’, the Sub-Commission was referring to the central features of the phenomenon of caste-based discrimination. The Sub-Commission noted that discrimination of this type has historically been a feature of societies in different regions of the world and has affected a significant proportion overall of the world's population, acknowledged that some governments have taken constitutional, legislative and administrative measures to abolish practices of discrimination based on work and descent, but expressed its concern at the persistence of discrimination based on work and descent.
The Sub-Commission declared that discrimination based on work and descent is a form of discrimination prohibited by international human rights law. It requested governments concerned to ensure that all necessary constitutional, legislative and administrative measures, including appropriate forms of affirmative action, are in place to prohibit and redress discrimination on the basis of work and descent, and that such measures are respected and implemented by all State authorities at all levels, and to ensure that appropriate legal penalties and sanctions, including criminal sanctions, are prescribed for and applied to all persons or entities within their jurisdiction who may be found to have engaged in practices of discrimination on the basis of work and descent.
By this resolution, the Sub-Commission decided to entrust one of its members, Mr. Rajendra K. W. Goonesekere, a highly-respected Sri Lankan human rights lawyer, with the task of preparing a working paper on this topic (to be submitted to the next session of the Sub-Commission in August 2001), in order to:
1. Identify communities in which discrimination based on work and descent continues to be experienced in practice;
The issue of caste-based discrimination has hitherto received only very limited attention in the international human rights arena (largely because of blocking by the government of India). This resolution and the working paper it mandates provide a very rare opportunity for substantially raising the profile of this issue on the international human rights agenda, which is especially opportune in this period of preparation for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (to take place in Durban, South Africa, in August/September 2001).
It is crucially important to the success and credibility of Mr. Goonesekere’s efforts that he receive quality information and strong support from NGOs, because he will receive no financial support and very limited logistical support from the UN or anyone else for this work.
It is also very important that he receive information on caste-based discrimination from a variety of geographical sources, in order to demonstrate that addressing caste-based discrimination is not just a politically-motivated attack on India, but a genuine and under-recognized human rights issue affecting a number of different societies (for example, the Burakumin of Japan and various groups in west Africa, as well as the Dalits of several different countries in south Asia including India).
This memorandum is therefore intended to encourage groups representing the concerns of communities experiencing caste-based discrimination to enter into contact with Mr. Goonesekere, to provide him with relevant information and otherwise to support his work.
Where to contact Mr. Goonesekere
Mr Goonesekere can be contacted directly by fax or e-mail, as follows:
Mr. Goonesekere is being assisted in this work by another member of the Sub-Commission, Ms. Barbara Frey of the United States, to whom information could also be sent. Her fax and e-mail coordinates are as follows:
Fax: +(1 651) 225 0712
Alternatively, material could also be forwarded to Mr. Goonesekere via the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, at the following coordinates:
What sort of information to send ?
The information provided to Mr. Goonesekere should focus on the three main elements of his mandate, i.e.:
A submission to Mr. Goonesekere should ideally cover all three elements of this mandate, but in any event should at least be relevant to one of more of them.
The information provided should ideally be documented and able to be substantiated, rather than simply anecdotal. Where possible, references to sources, documentary or otherwise, should be provided. Any relevant documentary sources could be enclosed with the submission.
It would also be desirable for the circumstances referred to in such submissions as evidence of discrimination on the basis of work and descent to be linked to specific human rights (as codified in the UN human rights treaties) and to the violation of or failure to realize those rights.
Where constitutional, legislative or administrative measures have been taken (even if not implemented) by the relevant governmental authorities, copies of those constitutional provisions, legislation, or texts relating to those administrative measures should be provided (and if available in an English translation). An assessment of the effectiveness of those measures could also be provided.
Mr. Goonesekere has also asked for details of and coordinates for any official/governmental structures and/or entities dealing with issues of caste-based discrimination in the countries where such discrimination is experience. Whilst relevant information may be forwarded in any format, a proposed format for a submission to Mr. Goonesekere is set out below for the assistance to those wishing to use it.
Proposed format for submission of information
IDENTIFICATION OF THE COMMUNITY AFFECTED BY DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF WORK AND DESCENT, AND SUMMARY OF THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO SUCH DISCRIMINATION:
DESCRIPTION OF THE NATURE OF THE DISCRIMINATION (if possible, by reference to violation of specific internationally-recognized human rights):
DETAILS OF ANY LEGISLATIVE, ADMINISTRATIVE OR OTHER MEASURES TAKEN BY THE RELEVANT AUTHORITIES AGAINST DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF WORK AND DESCENT (with copies of such legislation or documents related to such measures – in English, if available, and including details of and coordinates for any relevant official/governmental structures or entities):
ASSESSMENT OF EFFECTIVENESS OF ANY SUCH MEASURES:
SUGGESTED ADDITIONAL MEASURES REQUIRED TO EFFECTIVELY ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF WORK AND DESCENT:
LIST OF DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED:
LIST OF OTHER SOURCES (documentary or otherwise):
Mr Goonesekere’s working paper will need to be completed and lodged with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by the end of May 2001. However, any material for his attention should be sent as soon as possible. The earlier he can complete and submit his paper, the more likely it is that the paper will have an impact on the preparatory processes for the World Conference Against Racism. This is an important collateral advantage to be gained from this working paper – support to parallel efforts to lodge the issue of caste-based discrimination firmly on the agenda of the World Conference Against Racism.
You are therefore strongly encouraged to try to provide any submission you wish to make to Mr. Goonesekere (and/or Ms. Frey) by the end of December 2000.
Peter N. Prove