London, 6 June 2011
On 24 May 2011, as reported in a joint press release by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the National Dalit Commission, the Parliament of Nepal passed the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Crime and Punishment) Act (the Act), two years after the bill was originally placed before it.
ERT welcomes this new legislation which is reported to prohibit caste-based discrimination and untouchability practices in both public and private spheres, and increases punishments for public officials found to be responsible for such acts. Further, the Act requires perpetrators of caste-based discrimination to provide compensation to victims, and criminalises incitement to caste-based discrimination. The Act is a long overdue response to a widespread pattern of discrimination in Nepal, where Dalits, who are estimated to represent between 15 and 25% of Nepal’s population, face extreme discrimination and disadvantage.
The Act is particularly welcome in the light of Nepal’s obligations as a State Party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, according to which it must prohibit discrimination based on descent, which includes caste-based discrimination, and ensure effective remedies. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its General Comment 29 (Descent) has recommended that State Parties review existing legislation outlawing discrimination based on descent and take strict measures against any incitement to discrimination or violence against descent-based communities. ERT therefore welcomes the strengthening of pre-existing protections to cover both public and private acts of discrimination, and provision for victims to seek redress.
ERT notes that despite protections offered by Nepal’s Interim Constitution, the criminalisation of caste-based discrimination, and the declaration by Parliament in 2006 that Nepal is an “untouchability free State”, discrimination against Dalits in Nepal has continued to be widely reported. A joint publication of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the National Dalit Commission in 2010 reports that Dalits are denied access to vital resources, such as public water taps, as well as temples, restaurants and other public places and that occupational segregation persists. In their July 2010 submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Nepal, the Nepal NGO Coalition reported that Dalits are frequently denied access to public places including wells and continue to be victims of violence aimed at preventing inter-caste marriage. A 2008 report by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) highlights that Dalits are underrepresented at every level of government, and hold no positions of leadership in professional organisations, civil society organisations and the media.
Therefore, whilst welcoming reports of the new Act passed by the Nepalese Parliament, ERT notes that such legislation must be adequately implemented if it is to ensure meaningful impact. As recognised by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its General Comment 29 (Descent), the enactment of the legislation should be accompanied by a series of measures to achieve substantive equality for those facing descent-based discrimination, including awareness-raising amongst the population as a whole, and training of public officials who will be responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Act.
Speaking about the passing of the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Crime and Punishment) Act in Nepal, ERT’s Executive Director, Dimitrina Petrova said:
“We congratulate the Nepalese Parliament for taking this historic step towards the eradication of caste-based discrimination, which is prevalent not only in Nepal but throughout South Asia. We urge Nepal to ensure the adequate implementation of the Act, and hope that this development will encourage other states to adopt similar legislation to address the prevalence of caste-based discrimination within their own societies.”
For the Joint Press Release by OHCHR-Nepal and the National Dalit Commission, click here
For the 2010 Joint Publication of OHCHR-Nepal and the National Dalit Commission, click here
For the Nepal NGO Coalition Submission to the Universal Periodic Review on Nepal, click here
For the International Dalit Solidarity Network report, click here