GLOBAL CONFERENCE ON DEFENDING DALIT RIGHTS
“A Fight for Establishing Justice, Dignity and Humanity”
March 19-21, 2015, Washington, DC
- Background on the Global Conference
Dalits from around the world have been victimized; discriminated against in social, political, economic, education and religious areas of life; and excluded from mainstream development on the basis of their caste or work and descent. Such discrimination is widely practiced in South Asia, but is also practiced in other parts of the world, including diaspora communities. The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, and the US Department of State have confirmed in several reports that Caste-based Discrimination (CBD) is widespread, resulting in political exclusion, hate crimes, and a culture of impunity when offenses against Dalit men and women are committed.
It is estimated that 260 million people are directly affected by CBD around the world. Typically, this discrimination results in the denial of basic human rights based on socially and culturally rooted structures and norms that define the fundamental identity of a person based upon their status at birth. Such discrimination is especially harsh for women and children born within low-caste communities. In South Asia, those called “Dalits” are by far the largest group to suffer caste-based discrimination. While caste discrimination is widely practiced in such nations as India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, it can also be found in other parts of the world including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Japan, Yemen, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal and Somalia. Ongoing migration from these countries has led to the rise of CBD within countries such as the UK and the US.
The International Commission for Dalit Rights (ICDR) along with a group of organizations and universitiesare planning to organize a three-day Global Conference on Defending Dalit Rights entitled “A Fight for Establishing Justice, Dignity and Humanity.” The conference is a Post-Global March against Caste-based Discrimination.
On June 21, 2014, the ICDR in collaboration with Dalit and Amebedakarite Organizations from the USA, Canada, UK, Europe, India, Nepal, Pakistan and other South Asian Countries organized a one-day Global March against Caste-based Discrimination to bring awareness to the issues faced by millions of caste-affected individuals worldwide. Participants urged the US Congress to pass a binding resolution against Caste or Work and Descent-based Discrimination and the White House to endorse a draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent established by the UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/11/CRP.3).
The main objectives of the Global March were to advocate for: 1) endorsement by the White House of the Draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent established by the UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/11/CRP.3) and 2) Passage by the US Congress of a binding resolution against caste-based discrimination that mandates action by US government agencies in South Asia (House Concurrent Resolution 139 of 2007).
The ICDR initiated the idea for a global conference to be hosted and sponsored along Diaspora groups, universities, civil and human rights organizations. In addition, a possible post-march activity to recognize the International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Global Conference will provide an opportunity for leaders around the world to submit solutions to challenges faced by Dalit men and women. Building on the accomplishments from the Global March and responding to the overwhelmingly positive feedback received after the global march, the ICDR and its partners decided to host the Global Conference on Defending Dalit Rights in DC. As an international organization, the ICDR aims to combat caste or work and descent-based discrimination, injustice and inequalities. The organization campaigns for establishment of Dalits’ rights as a priority issue in the contemporary world.
The Global Conference on Defending Dalit Rights entitled “A Fight for Establishing Justice, Equality, Dignity and Humanity” will be held March 19-21, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The members of the Global Conference Organizing Committee will lead and coordinate the conference and its activities. The ICDR serves as a secretariat for conference and will coordinate activities for partners, sponsors, Dalit and amebedakarite organizations, relevant to Dalits and international community. The Global Conference Organizing Committee (GCOC) is comprised of Dalit leaders, policy-advocates, academics, development actors, civil and human rights defenders, and ICDR management.
3. Thematic Plenary Sessions:
The conference will begin with an opening session and end by proclaiming the Washington DC Dalit Declaration. Conference sessions will be organized around five thematic areas; they are:
a) Binding Legislation against Caste and All Forms of Discrimination:
The objective of sessions within this theme is to educate, discuss and develop an advocacy plan to gain passage by the US Congress for a binding resolution or law that requires action against CBD. It would be based on the Congresswomen Eleanor Homes Norton’s (D-DC) proposed resolution against Caste discrimination (HR 566) and House of Representatives’ historic 2007 resolution calling on the US government to address the problem of untouchability in India.
b) International Mechanisms and Obligations against Caste-based Discrimination and Inequality:
The goals related to this theme are to build understanding of international mechanisms and obligations against caste-based discrimination. Another is to develop an advocacy plan that leads to endorsement by the US government of measures contributing to the elimination of discrimination based on caste/work globally and within US-based diaspora communities through provision of financial and legal assistance.
c) Best Practices and Challenges: Empowering Dalit Civil Society:
Major objectives of session for this theme are to exchange best practices of the current Dalit movements and major challenges. In addition, a goal is to establish and strengthen links among local and international organizations fighting against caste, work, and descent-based discrimination.
d) Caste Freedom Index, universal measurement and advocacy framework:
Sessions for this theme will examine the strengths and challenges of the Caste Freedom Index, a unique universal measurement and advocacy framework that increases the capacity of caste-affected countries to eliminate caste or work and descent-based discrimination. The ICDR has introduced and began development of the Caste Freedom Index (CFI). The index will provide insights to the plight of the Dalits, enabling Dalit rights activists and governmental and non-governmental actors to prioritize the most pressing issues. It will guide policy, advocacy and community development efforts. The CFI will provide critical data related to the degree of caste, work, and descent-based discrimination and violence. It will also provide information required by the UN and the US Congress to pass a binding resolution that requires action against caste-based discrimination in all affected geographic areas.
e) Gender Equality and Power of Dalit Women:
The major objectives of sessions within this theme are to discuss gender inequality, violence and discrimination against Dalit women and girls- from gender and caste violence to trafficking. Presenters will identify opportunities to strengthen the power of Dalit Women by linking organizations dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment with those dedicated to fighting against caste, work, and descent-based discrimination.
Conference Inaugural Program: The Conference will officially begin with remarks from a well-recognized guest. This event will provide an overview of the conference, its activities, and expected outcomes.
- Strategic Framework and Action Plan Session: The objective of the session is to design a CBD global strategic framework and action plan and to draft the Washington Declaration on Dalit Rights. These workshops will develop: i) A comprehensive CBD global strategic framework and action plan to advance the Post-2015 Development Agenda and ii) A strategy and an action plan for the Caste Freedom Index that provides support for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent.
- Concluding Session with Global Declaration: The concluding session will endorse the drafted strategic frameworks, action plans and proclaim the Washington DC Dalit Declaration.
4. Conference Framework:
Each thematic committee will be responsible for planning the session(s) and identifying the keynote speakers, panelists and commentators. The thematic committee will also seek co-sponsors of their session. Each plenary session will have five speakers, some commentators and key note speaker. Each session will have three hours, including one hour for questions/comments and responses. The plenary sessions should fit as outlined above. The conference language should be English.