Nepal constitution must protect Dalits: US rights group

April 22nd, 2008 - 10:39 pm ICT by admin  

New York, April 22 (IANS) Nepal’s new constitution must recognise and protect the fundamental human rights of Dalits, victims of extreme discrimination for centuries, says a new report by a US rights group released here Tuesday on the heels of Nepal’s constituent assembly elections April 10. The report, “Recasting Justice: Securing Dalit Rights in Nepal’s New Constitution” by the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ), analyses Nepal’s Interim Constitution and suggests how the new constitution may be drafted to honour the country’s international human rights obligations to secure the rights of Dalits.

The 89-page report was released by CHRGJ, which works within the New York University School of Law on international human rights issues.

“The caste system is an affront to human dignity and inimical to the right to equality under international law,” said Smita Narula, faculty director at CHRGJ.

“Nepal’s new constitution must strike at the heart of this inhumane system, or risk perpetuating the very injustices that fuelled its conflicts of the past,” she added.

The report focuses on Nepal’s international human rights treaty obligations, which include ensuring non-discriminatory access to citizenship; the right to equality and non-discrimination; civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; women’s rights and the right to a remedy for human rights violations.

Nepal has to date fallen far short of meeting these obligations, as is shown by the reality of the Nepalese Dalit experience, the report says.

While commending the Interim Constitution for taking steps toward human rights, the report points out significant gaps that remain in the protection of Dalit rights.

Dalits comprise up to 25 percent of Nepal’s population, yet own only one percent of Nepal’s wealth and arable land. Upper caste community members typically force them to live in segregated communities, forbid them from entering public spaces, deny them access to food, water, and land, and coerce them into caste-based occupations considered too “impure” for higher castes. Dalit women and girls bear the dual brunt of caste and gender discrimination, the report says.

Among its key recommendations, CHRGJ has called on the Constituent Assembly to ensure that Nepal’s new constitution facilitates political representation and meaningful participation of Dalits and other marginalised communities in decision-making bodies, including the Constituent Assembly.

The report says that the new constitution should ensure non-discriminatory access to citizenship, prohibit private acts of discrimination and the use of religion to encroach upon fundamental rights. Right to freely choose or accept employment should be ensured and the right to constitutional remedy should be extended to non-citizens.

CHRGJ produced the report in close cooperation with Dalit advocates and members of the legal community in Nepal and drew on the expertise of Nepalese academics and international constitutional scholars.

The report’s findings and recommendations have been endorsed by the International Dalit Solidarity Network, an NGO in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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