13 March 2012

The Human Rights Council at a midday meeting today held a panel discussion to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

Kyung-wha Kang, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, opening the panel discussion, said that the violation of minority rights constituted a wide-scale problem, which affected all regions of the world with multiple manifestations ranging from attacks on religious minorities to the systematic exclusion of minorities from decision making in economic and public life. It had contributed to statelessness and other serious human rights challenges around the world. The protection of minority rights was a key factor in the prevention of conflicts and atrocities as well as in peace-building. 
The panellists were Rita Izsak, United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues; Soyata Maiga, Member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa; Joshua Castellino, Professor of Law – Head of the Law Department, Middlesex University; and Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority Rights Group International, moderated the discussion.

Mr. Lattimer said that the history of human rights had unfortunately been a history of gross human rights violations of communities based on their identity or religion. The protection of minorities and the implementation of the rights evoked in the Declaration were more needed than ever. The Declaration provided authorities with standards on minority rights; however, its visibility was limited.

Ms. Izsak said members of minority groups continued to be discriminated against and excluded from many aspects of society. Governments should evaluate their legislation and policies to make sure they were consistent with the Declaration as well as gather and study disaggregated data on the situation of minorities.

Ms. Maiga said that over the last 20 years the position of minorities in Africa had remained weak due to social exclusion. There was a need for greater cooperation among the bodies established by international instruments including a reference in the guidelines on periodic reports to the Declaration so that States would have to take stock of the application of the Declaration and its level of knowledge among citizens.

Mr. Castellino said minority communities were often the best indicators of the state of human rights in a country because they belonged to the most vulnerable in the society. The Council should support the Minority Rights Forum and engage national human rights institutions in the dissemination of the Declaration.

Mr. Martinez said the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities was important for peace and security. The Declaration had attracted less attention due to its non-binding nature and because its adoption coincided with International Labour Organization Declaration 169 on indigenous peoples’ rights as well as the widespread constitutionalism of diversity, which in some regions had become high profile, in Latin America for example.

In the discussion, speakers said that Muslims were stigmatized as well as negatively profiled in some Western countries and asked the panellists to elaborate on how minority groups could overcome this discrimination? The Minority Issues Forum had contributed to the enhancement of the visibility of minority rights. How could the Council best use the outcome of this discussion? Some speakers were concerned about the increase in neo-Nazi attacks against Roma and gypsies. Could the panellists elaborate on what measures should be taken to counter the rise of neo-Nazi attacks.

The recent wave of expulsions of Roma and the deportation of migrants and asylum seekers from some European countries violated minority rights. Speakers condemned attacks against religious communities of any religion and belief, including Christian minorities. It was unfortunate that in the twenty-first century some of the most advanced countries in the world had expelled minority groups from their territories. Minority groups were often among the poorest of the poor and forgotten in development programmes, not least in the Millennium Development Goals which were targeted at a macro level. Building the rule of law was key to protecting minority groups.

Speaking in the panel discussion were the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Austria, Italy, China, Russian Federation, Hungary, Kuwait, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Angola, United States, Iran, Azerbaijan, Nepal, Slovenia, Ethiopia, Honduras, Romania, Greece, Ecuador, Norway, Latvia, Sri Lanka, Morocco, and India.

Non-governmental organizations which took the floor included Badil Resource Centre, and National Association of the Advancement of Coloured People.

During its afternoon meeting, the Council will conclude its general debate on human rights situations that require the attention of the Council. Time permitting, it will then start its interactive dialogue with Ms. Izsak, the Independent Expert on Minority Issues.

For more information, see the UNOG website

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: J Salik and the World Minorities Aliance | The Pakistan Forum
  2. Trackback: J Salik and the World Minorities Alliance | The Pakistan Forum
  3. Trackback: [From the web] The Minority Rights Declaration at 20 -OHCHR « Human Rights Online Philippines

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