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Hundreds of minority groups across Africa in need of strengthened attention and protection

BANJUL (11 April 2013) – The United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, today warned that hundreds of minority groups across Africa are in dire need of strengthened attention and protection, and called on all African States and the international community to act urgently.

“The semantic debate on who are the minorities and who are the indigenous peoples in Africa must not prevent stakeholders from addressing the extremely vulnerable situation of hundreds of minority communities across the African region,” Ms. Izsák said during the 53rd session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Banjul, The Gambia.

“It would be of crucial importance that the African Commission looks into available options to dedicate specific attention to minority issues and ensure that relevant concerns are addressed in a more systematic way,” the expert stressed. In her view, “in addition to ethnic and national minority groups that might come to mind first, linguistic and religious minorities are also entitled to enjoy protection under the UN Declaration on Minorities.”

“Fulfilling the rights of minorities is an essential means to prevent tensions from emerging and is a key element of good governance,” Ms. Izsák said, recalling that in several African countries hundreds of diverse groups live together. “The ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity must be recognized as enriching the society and its historical heritage and be protected and promoted to the full extent possible.”

The UN Independent Expert welcomed the fact that the Geneva-based Human Rights Council has so far issued 70 recommendations to African States regarding minority issues in up to 30 countries. The majority of those recommendations have been accepted by the concerned Member States. “The key question,” emphasized the expert, “now relates to who will assist Member States in fulfilling their obligations and who will hold them accountable?”

This is the first visit of the minority expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to a session of the African Commission, as a follow-up to a concrete recommendation* stemming from the UN Forum on Minority Issues.

Ms. Izsák, who is using this opportunity to seek formal and informal engagement with various human rights actors in the region, held a consultation meeting with the ACHPR Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities. She noted with appreciation the Group’s openness to engage in further dialogue and cooperation concerning minority issues.

The UN Independent Expert also addressed the NGO Forum and advised African civil society representatives about the opportunities for cooperation with her mandate. Additionally, she informed participants about the work of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which she is charged with organising and guiding, and encouraged NGO representatives to participate in future sessions. Last year’s Forum was chaired by ACHPR Commissioner Soyata Maïga.

The Independent Expert described her participation at the African Commission’s 53rd session as a first step towards a closer collaboration with the African human rights system. “I am confident that dialogue will be continued in order to achieve strengthened attention and efforts to protecting and promoting the rights of minorities across Africa,” she said.

Rita Izsák was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and took up her functions on 01 August 2011. As Independent Expert, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Under her UN mandate, the Independent Expert is required to promote implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which marks its 20th anniversary in 2012. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/IExpert/Pages/IEminorityissuesIndex.aspx

(*) Latest recommendations of the Forum on Minority Issues - Implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/AHRC2260_English.pdf

Check the Special Rapporteur’s latest report on the rights of linguistic minorities:

For further information and media requests, please contact Ms. Kim Turcotte (+41 22 917 9697 / kturcotte@ohchr.org) or write to minorityissues@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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