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Subject: THE AMBEDKAR CENTRE FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE
The voice of India's 250 million indigenous peoples - Dalits.
ACJP is a non-profit human rights organization in support of India's
Dalits (CONTACT PERSON - YOGESH VARHADE , PRESIDENT)
ONTARIO REGISTRATION # 931114
A UN body has strongly criticized the Indian government for continuing human rights violations against India's 250 million untouchables. A Toronto rights activist has hailed the move as perhaps the most significant development and an important first step for the August body.
"For the first time in its over forty-year history, a UN Committee has seen it necessary to censure the Indian Government over its treatment of untouchables," says Yogesh Varhade who heads the Toronto-based Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace and who is this year's recipient of the Los .Angeles.-based Lift Every Voice's* Human Rights Award even though he adds he " feels the Committee has not gone far enough."
Varhade was invited to be present as an observer (5-23 Aug 1996) as well as present case studies of atrocities on India's untouchables and tribals when the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) within the Geneva-based UN Centre for Human Rights deliberated the reports presented by the Indian Government as part of its obligation under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Varhade is an accredited participant of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations at Geneva where he has been presenting evidence on the conditions of India' untouchables and campaigning for the last six years urging that the UN recognize untouchability as a crime against humanity and pressure the Indian government to dismantle the system of untouchability. While Varhade says it was great to get over 1,000 NGOs worldwide at the UN Vienna Human Rights Summit in June 1993 to declare a resolution urging the UN to act, the UN had till now refused to officially comment on the issue, he says.
But that changed this year, he says, when the Committee in response to the report which it saw as seriously flawed, condemned the Indian government for among other things, failing to "prevent acts of discrimination " towards untouchables and failing to "punish those found responsible and provide just and adequate reparation to the victims."
The Committee has also criticized the Indian government for continuing to deny that the situation of the untouchables falls within the scope of the convention and "its great concern that there was no inclination on the side of the State party to reconsider its position."
This denial is not an academic question says Varhade. On account of its denial, the Indian Government, though a signatory to the Convention, continues to refuse to make a declaration allowing for victims of discrimination to appeal directly to the UN Committee which has powers to make the Indian government accountable for corrective measures.
The seriousness of the concern can be gauged by the fact says Varhade that "the Indian government's own statistics shows that two untouchables are assaulted in India every hour. Every day three untouchable women and children are raped, two untouchable are murdered and two untouchables houses are torched. For more realistic figures multiply these numbers by ten. One estimate puts the atrocities at over 500,000 a year," says Varhade. "But what is even more shocking still is that the perpetrators rarely get punished. One government report showed that out of 2,718 police cases only 94 convictions were obtained for a success rate of 3.5%".
The Committee has also taken the government to task for its failure to prohibit organizations which incite and promote racial discrimination. The report has concluded that "this is the most serious in view of widespread violence against certain minorities actively sponsored by extremist organizations that have not been declared illegal."
The Committee has pointed out that despite Constitutional provisions, "widespread discrimination against those people and the relative impunity of those who abuse them, points to the limited effects of those measures. The Committee is particularly concerned at reports that (untouchables) are often prevented from using public wells or from entering cafes or restaurants and that their children are sometimes separated from other children in schools, in violation of article 5 (c) of the Convention."
While these are some of the harsh words that the Committee has directed against the Indian government, Varhade says, he is concerned that though the UN Committee has recommended to the Indian government that it "ensures wide publicity" to both its own reports as well as the committees concluding observations, he sees little hope that the Indian government will do that. Mainly because, he says according to a UN press release, an Indian CERD Committee expert "disassociated herself from the observations, saying they were unbalanced."
Varhade says that he is also upset that under pressure from India, the Committee deleted a paragraph that recommended "a visit to India of Mr Glele-Ahanhanzo, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in accordance with his mandate under the Human Rights Commission."
* The L.A.-based Lift Every Voice is an educational NGO with internship programs available to many disadvantaged students worldwide and it has also been working with the UN assistant secretary general who heads the UN Human Rights Division. Varhade was presented the award for his work within the UN along with such notable activists like the Nigerian Ken Saro Wiwa executed by the military junta.
For further information the following may be contacted:
Copies of UN press releases and concluding draft of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination can be made available on request.
List of office bearers:
Ambedkar Centre for Justice & Peace (ACJP) P.O. Box 846, Station P, Toronto
Ontario, CANADA M5S 2Z2
Fax: (416) 531-2817 Phone: (416) 533-66810
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