Filed under: Human rights and rule of law

“Are minority rights different?” this is a typical question I am often asked by participants and peers whenever I raise the issue of the protection of minorities under international human rights law. My   first response is no, which is generally followed by a more lengthy response. Minority rights form part of human rights. Persons belonging to minorities are entitled to equal freedom of all human rights, which, in turn, make a fundamental contribution to human development. Minorities have different perspectives that enrich the analysis of development and help identify solutions to difficult challenges.

However the realities on the ground are somewhat different from the theory. Inclusion of minorities in national planning and development processes proves to be difficult. Politics (of all forms), and political considerations play a less than conducive role, to put it mildly. Often, minorities are demanded to demonstrate their loyalty to states without adequate or necessary reciprocity i.e., inclusion, tolerance and social protection.

UNDP’s 2011 Regional Human Development Report (focusing on social exclusion and an innovative methodology to measure it) notes that an estimated 35 percent of people in the region are excluded from society, ranging from 12 percent in the Former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia to 72 percent in Tajikistan. Furthermore, the report confirms the hypothesis that economic indicators of social exclusion only partly explain this phenomenon. Two other factors – lack of access to social services, and lack of access to civic and social networks – contribute equally to social exclusion. Insufficient opportunities for civic engagement are also important in explaining social exclusion. The severity of the problem for vulnerable groups and marginalised sections i.e., Roma and internally displaced persons (IDPs) increases when they face additional risks, such as disability.

There is an evident link between anti-discrimination policies and legal protection of marginalised communities. Securing equal treatment at the individual level; promoting equal opportunity for the members of all groups in the society; and finally, creating conditions for everyone to maintain his/her dignity and identity within a pluralistic society – all of these are necessary for making anti-discrimination policies and laws, and, the protection of minorities, robust. The economic recession in most all regions made the issue of minority rights central to the development agenda. This issue was raised recently at the regional Training Workshop on Minorities in Development’ we organised jointly with the Minority Rights Group,

Unfortunately, attention to minorities is not always evident in national development priorities, Millennium Development Goals reports and poverty reduction strategies. In addition, pluralism and tolerance are in short supply especially in the realm of policy making and service delivery for persons belonging to minorities. The international community (both multilateral and bilateral agencies) could help strengthen national development plans by drawing attention to the negative impact of excluding minorities and the benefits of working to include minorities. It is also important that national human rights institutions, national agencies and the international community also look at their internal policies and processes to ensure that their programmes benefit minorities.

Are we ready to change the paradigm? Let’s start the discussion

(From the Global Human Rights CoP 2011 in San Jose, Costa Rica. And, of course, you can tweet me your thoughts/reflections @mkabir2011)

  • Vahagn Muradian

    Excellent points! Unfortunately in the context of authoritarian rule and strong hold on power in many countries in the region, a genuine paradigm shift is possible only if the ruling elites face serious external or internal pressures. Human rights should not be theoretical, paying lip service to minority rights, as many institutions do, simply reflects fashionable intent. Much larger contextual incentives are needed to effect change.