Promoting and Protecting Minority Rights

Promoting and Protecting Minority Rights

A Guide for Advocates You do not have access to this content

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31 Dec 2012
9789210562805 (PDF)

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Minorities make significant contributions to the richness and diversity of society, and States that recognize and promote minority rights are more likely to remain tolerant and stable. The United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations recognize that minority rights are essential to protect those who wish to preserve and develop values and practices which they share with other members of their community. This Guide offers information related to norms and mechanisms developed to protect the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities. It provides detailed information about procedures and forums in which minority issues may be raised within the United Nations system and in regional systems. It is hoped that this Guide will be useful in assisting minority advocates to make full and effective use of existing international mechanisms and, ultimately, to promote and protect the rights guaranteed under international instruments.
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  • Foreword
    I am delighted that this publication, Promoting and Protecting Minority Rights: A Guide for Minority Rights Advocates, comes before you as we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
    Today, issues related to the rights of persons belonging to minorities may be found in nearly every human rights instrument and forum. The United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations recognize that minority rights are essential to protect those who wish to preserve and develop values and practices which they share with other members of their community. They also recognize that members of minorities make significant contributions to the richness and diversity of society, and that States which take appropriate measures to recognize and promote minority rights are more likely to remain tolerant and stable.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Minority rights focus in the united nations

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    • Overview: Development of minority rights in international law
      The first significant attempt to identify internationally recognized minority rights was through a number of “minority treaties” adopted under the auspices of the League of Nations. With the creation of the United Nations, attention initially shifted to universal human rights and decolonization. However, the United Nations has gradually developed a number of norms, procedures and mechanisms concerned with minority issues, and the 1992 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities is the fundamental instrument that guides the activities of the United Nations in this field today.
    • The office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights
      The High Commissioner for Human Rights has the lead responsibility within the United Nations system for implementing the United Nations human rights programme. The High Commissioner plays an important role in promoting and protecting human rights through public statements, dialogue with Governments, liaison with United Nations and other bodies, and by ensuring that human rights, including minority rights, remain an integral part of the work of the United Nations. The High Commissioner can give voice to minorities facing discrimination. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner (OHCHR) services the main United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms, and ensures that minority issues are regularly placed on the international human rights agenda.
    • The human rights council and its subsidiary bodies
      The Human Rights Council is the most important intergovernmental human rights body in the United Nations. It provides a number of avenues through which various concerns, including minority rights, may be made known to United Nations experts and Government representatives. Among the relevant human rights mechanisms established by the Council is the Forum on Minority Issues, which meets annually to discuss particular thematic issues relevant to minorities; the universal periodic review, which considers the human rights situation in every State Member of the United Nations every four and a half years; and the complaint procedure, under which communications alleging a consistent pattern of gross violations of the human rights of minorities may be submitted to the Council for consideration.
    • The United Nations special procedures
      “Special procedures” is a term that covers a wide range of mechanisms of the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues. Special procedures have developed into one of the most effective ways of mobilizing the resources of the United Nations to respond to specific human rights concerns. In practice, special procedures are specific persons or working groups. Their mandates vary, as do their activities. This chapter focuses on the special procedures which are most relevant to minority issues, including the Independent Expert on minority issues; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; the Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights; and the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent.
    • Human rights treaty bodies
      The United Nations treaty-based human rights system includes procedures through which members of minorities can seek protection of their rights. This chapter describes eight major international human rights treaties which deal respectively with civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; racial discrimination; children’s rights; women’s rights; torture; the rights of persons with disabilities; and migrant workers’ rights. The first section outlines the system of State reporting common to all human rights treaties and suggests ways in which minorities and their representatives can raise their concerns before international treaty bodies. The second section describes the complaint mechanisms available under six of the treaties to individuals who believe that their rights have been violated.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Other relevant bodies in the United Nations system

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    • The United Nations development programme
      The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the global development network of the United Nations, whose goal it is to assist countries in acquiring knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. UNDP works on the ground in 177 countries and territories, collaborating with Governments and people to find their own solutions to global and national development challenges. This chapter describes how the work of UNDP affects members of minorities and suggests several ways in which minorities might increase their participation in and better influence development processes and outcomes.
    • The United Nations high commissioner for refugees
      Many of the world’s refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and stateless persons are members of minority groups who have specific protection needs and often cannot rely on their own State for protection. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and to find durable solutions which protect them. The United Nations General Assembly has also requested UNHCR to work for the prevention and reduction of statelessness and the protection of stateless persons. In all its activities, UNHCR promotes an age-, gender- and diversity-sensitive approach and pays particular attention to groups with specific needs, seeking to promote the equal rights of disenfranchised groups, among others.
    • The United Nations children’s fund
      The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works to secure the rights of minority children and women by undertaking a wide range of activities in five focus areas: young child survival and development; basic education and gender equality; children and HIV/AIDS; child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse; and policy advocacy and partnerships for children’s rights.
    • The international labour organization
      The complaints procedures developed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for the protection of human rights may be used directly only by a Government, workers’ or employers’ association, or by a delegate to the International Labour Conference. However, many of the ILO non-discrimination norms and its promotional, oversight and technical assistance activities may be of interest to minorities. This chapter outlines some of the relevant ILO standards and initiatives.
    • The United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organization
      The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) undertakes a wide range of studies, projects, technical assistance activities and other initiatives that may be relevant to minorities in protecting their culture, religion and education and preventing discrimination. Of particular significance is the work of UNESCO in promoting education, protecting tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and combating racism and all forms of discrimination and intolerance. Members of minorities are able to submit complaints under a confidential UNESCO procedure, alleging that rights falling within the mandate of UNESCO on education, science, culture and communication have been violated.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Regional systems

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    • The human rights system of the African Union
      The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a regional instrument designed to reflect the history, values, traditions and development of peoples in Africa. The Charter combines African values with international norms not only by promoting internationally recognized individual rights, but also by proclaiming collective rights and individual duties. This chapter outlines the rights contained in the Charter that are of particular interest to minorities and describes the work of the Charter’s primary oversight body, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. While there is no minority-specific institution within the African human rights system, the Commission has adopted a very broad approach to minority issues. The work of the Commission is complemented by a transitional African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is to be replaced by the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
    • The council of Europe
      Three Council of Europe treaties, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (also known as the European Convention on Human Rights), the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, provide multiple opportunities for persons belonging to minorities to raise individual cases of discrimination (under the European Convention on Human Rights) and broader minority issues (under the other two treaties). The Council of Europe’s non-treaty mechanisms provide additional avenues for bringing minority issues to the attention of Governments and the public. The Council has also established specific bodies dealing with racism and intolerance, and with Roma and Travellers.
    • The organization for security and co-operation in Europe
      The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has played an important role in the development of normative and institutional instruments for the promotion and protection of minority rights. The Copenhagen Document on the Human Dimension contains one of the most comprehensive sets of international minority rights standards, and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities is the only permanent international body for the prevention of inter-ethnic conflict within and between States. Other OSCE bodies are also relevant for the protection of minority rights. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) conducts extensive human rights activities in the field of human rights education, monitoring and the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination. It has a department dedicated to improving the lives of Roma and Sinti. OSCE field operations also engage in work which is relevant for minority groups, for example, through building Government and civil society capacity for good governance, economic participation and human rights.
    • The European Union
      The Treaty on European Union states explicitly that the rights of persons belonging to minorities are among the values upon which the Union is founded and which it is explicitly committed to promote inside the Union and in its relations with the wider world. This chapter identifies specific European Union (EU) initiatives regarding the rights of persons belonging to minorities and explains how minority issues may be addressed in EU activities which promote human rights in general. The European Union has put in place a legal framework to fight discrimination, racism and xenophobia and contributes financially to programmes which support activities aimed at combating these on the ground. The European Union raises minority issues in its political dialogues with third countries and cooperates actively at United Nations forums to promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to minorities. In addition, the European Union uses a wide range of financial and technical cooperation instruments, including bilateral cooperation with Governments and direct support to civil society, to promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
    • The inter-American human rights system
      All 35 members of the Organization of American States fall within the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has the authority to prepare reports on the human rights situation in any country in the Americas. It may also receive and consider complaints that a State party has violated the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights or, with regard to those States which have not yet become a party, under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The American Convention on Human Rights creates an Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is competent to issue binding judgements and to provide reparations when the Convention has been violated. This chapter describes the circumstances under which minorities can use the Commission and the Court to secure protection for their rights.
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