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31 May 2001

WCC delegation joins NGO protest against exclusion of Dalits
from UN World Conference on Racism

cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-14, of 30 May 2001
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-13, of 18 May 2001
cf. WCC Press Feature, Feat-01-04, of 18 April 2001

"Almost three years of lobbying seem to have failed to place the issue of discrimination against Dalit people in India on the agenda on the United Nations (UN) World Conference Against Racism", regrets Marilia Schüller, programme executive for combatting racism of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The objection against its inclusion at the UN conference to be held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August - 1 September has been led by the Indian government, Schüller concludes.

On Wednesday, 30 May, members of a WCC delegation to a preparatory meeting (prepcom) for the UN World Conference, currently being held in Geneva, joined other non-governmental organisations demonstrating in front of the UN building in solidarity with the Dalit people, the so-called "untouchables" of India.

Justice for the Dalits has long been championed by the WCC. The Council considers that, in its context, casteism is the same as racism. Victims of caste discrimination are forced to live in segregated housing and neighbourhoods, suffer exclusion due to prohibitions on inter-dining and inter-marriage, untouchability, discrimination and denial of equal opportunity in public life.

The WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), which holds consultative status with the UN, asserts that "Governments of countries where caste discrimination is widespread should put in place all necessary constitutional, legislative and administrative measures, including appropriate forms of affirmative action, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste-bound occupation and descent, and put in place effective legal standards at state and local levels."

But despite considerable efforts, including a Global Conference Against Caste Discrimination held in New Delhi last March with WCC involvement, governments in the UN prepcom have declined to discuss the issue in Geneva and almost certainly in Durban.

There are indications that well over 100 Dalit representatives will nevertheless join the non-governmental (NGO) Forum associated with the UN World Conference. The WCC delegation to that forum will also include Dalit representatives from the churches in India.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.