Jan 28, 2016

UNPO Contributes to UN Report on Caste-based Discrimination, Highlighting Haratin Plight

On 28 January 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Ms Rita Izsák-Ndiaye transmitted a report to the Human Rights Council giving an overview of the her activities in 2015, as well as a thematic analysis of minorities and discrimination they face based on cast and similar systems. UNPO contributed to the report by providing information and expertise on the topic, especially in regard to the Haratin people in Mauritania.


Caste-based discrimination is a global plague affecting over 250 million people. Societies based on castes and other systems of inherited status differentiate between ‘high’ and ‘low’-status people, considering the latter as inferior human beings. Implications of this system are that ‘low’-status individuals are often deprived of their basic human rights, including economic, political, social, civil and cultural rights. Furthermore, endemic levels of poverty, created and perpetuated by caste systems, are often to be found in these societies.

The report gives different examples of peoples from various geographical regions, including groups living in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In this regard, the document draws attention to the case of Mauritania, where people are divided along ethnic and caste lines as well as along professional backgrounds. For instance, the Haratines who UNPO represents, suffer from all sorts of discrimination and are often subject to slavery practices. While constituting 40 to 60% of the total Mauritanian population, they are not adequately represented at the political level, counting only 7,5% of Members of Parliament. In socio-economic terms, it is extremely difficult for Haratines to escape the illegal but established practice of slavery – involving 50% of the group, of which 90% are women – and the negative repercussions of being associated to the “slave caste”. Moreover, only 20% of Haratine children complete primary school, which makes it even more difficult for them to modify their social status. Women are the ones most affected by the existence of caste-systems and are extremely vulnerable to episodes of violence both in public and private life, such as sexual assault and rape.

The issue of descent and caste-based discrimination has been in the UN spotlight for two decades and various committees, sub-committees and councils have addressed the question, for instance through the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Currently, the United Nations Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent are to be endorsed by the Human Rights Council. At the national level, caste-based discrimination is often not legally recognised therefore giving no chance of rescue to the affected communities. Civil society organisations and initiatives are crucial actors in the fight against human rights abuses. In Mauritania, the Initiative pour la resurgence du mouvement abolitionniste en Mauritanie (IRA) was created in 2008 and is now a valuable partner and Member of UNPO.

To read the recommendations given by the Special Rapporteur, click here.