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International standards

The Independent Expert is guided in her mandate by international standards relating to the rights of minorities.

The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

UN Human Rights Treaties

General UN human rights treaties also provide important standards for the protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities. It should be recalled that the rights guaranteed in all UN human rights conventions apply equally to members of minority groups. There are eight human rights treaties that have established committees to follow the implementation of their work:

ICCPR - International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Human Rights Committee)
ICESCR - International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)
ICERD - International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination)
CRC - Convention on the Rights of the Child (Committee on the Rights of the Child)
CAT - Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or punishment (Committee against Torture)
CEDAW - Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women)
ICRMW - International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their families (Committee on Migrant Workers)
CRPD - Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities (Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)

Two of these UN treaties contain minority-specific provisions:

Article 27 of ICCPR is the most widely accepted legally binding provision on minorities and provides the basis and inspiration for the UN Declaration on Minorities. Article 27 reads:

In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.

Article 30 of CRC provides a similar standard for minority children:

In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

Given the wide ratification of the ICCPR and the CRC, every state in the world has a legally-binding obligation to protect minority rights based on its voluntary commitments under international law.

The work of treaty monitoring bodies including the Human Rights Committee (HRC), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also provide valuable sources of expertise.

Regional human and minority rights standards

In addition, the work of the Independent Expert refers to and benefits from other existing regional human and minority rights standards and mechanisms. These include but are not limited to:

The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR)

The American Convention on Human Rights

The Arab Charter on Human Rights

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

The European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages

European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR)

The EU Racial Equality Directive

Based on the above international standards relating to minority rights, and information received from a variety of sources, the Independent Expert identifies four broad areas of concern relating to minorities around the world:

- protecting a minority’s existence and survival, including through protection of their physical integrity and the prevention of genocide;

- protecting and promoting cultural and social identity of minority groups and the right of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups to affirm and protect their collective identity and to reject forced assimilation;

- ensuring effective non-discrimination and equality, including ending structural or systemic discrimination and the promotion of affirmative action when required; and

- ensuring effective participation of members of minorities in public life, especially with regard to decisions that affect them.

The Independent Expert notes the collective nature of minority rights. This holds importance for the promotion and protection of minority identity and visibility, for the informed collective participation of these groups in decisions that affect their rights and resources, and for securing collective claims to linguistically and culturally appropriate education, land and other shared assets.