IPMS organised an expert seminar “Enhancing the effectiveness of international, regional and national human rights mechanisms in protecting and promoting the rights of religious minorities”.
The expert seminar, which took place on 22 and 23 May 2012 in Vienna, organized by OHCHR in cooperation with the Government of Austria was the first in a series of consultations commemorating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
The expert seminar brought together over 60 participants, comprising of government representatives, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, high-level experts from relevant regional organizations (OSCE HCNM, COE, EU), as well as NGO representatives and distinguished academics, such as Professor Emeritus Asbjørn Eide, a former member of the Sub-Commission Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and contributor in the drafting of the UN Minorities Declaration.
The discussions demonstrated that the focus on the promotion and protection of the rights of religious minorities is long overdue and extremely important globally. The participants explored the inter-connections that exist between minority rights and other human rights standards pertaining to religious minorities and the work of UN and regional mechanisms in addition to national initiatives.
The focus of the Vienna expert seminar finds justification in findings, recommendations and conclusions issued by Human rights treaty bodies, special procedures mandate holders including the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the Independent Expert on minority issues, and other UN and regional mechanisms. They all reveal trends in hostility, discriminatory attitudes, even violence directed toward religious minorities in all parts of the world. These minority rights violations are of direct relevance to the weak implementation of the Declaration, which provides guidance for the protection of “national and ethnic, religious and linguistic” minorities.
Although these four categories can in some cases overlap, in the minority rights context it is the national, ethnic and linguistic minorities that have often been the main focus of consideration when it comes to the implementation of international minority rights standards. At the same time, rights of persons belonging to religious minorities have been approached largely from the point of view of non-discrimination and freedom of religion. In order to overcome this gap, the seminar participants discussed in depth whether and how bringing minority rights mechanisms further to the fore when tackling discrimination and human rights violations faced by religious minorities could advance their protection. They also identified good practices in this regard and explored ways of targeting the discrimination of persons belonging to religious minorities more effectively.