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UN expert calls for urgent action to safeguard progress made in minority rights protection

GENEVA (15 March 2017) – A United Nations expert has called for swift guarantees to safeguard achievements and advances in the field of minority rights protection.

In her final address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva as Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye expressed concern about an alarming increase in hate speech, xenophobic rhetoric and incitement to hatred against minorities worldwide, alongside a rise in extremism and far-right political parties.

“In this critical time, we need unequivocal political will, as well as strengthened legislative and institutional frameworks, to help create conditions for cohesive societies where there is unity in diversity,” Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye said. 

“Democracy requires good and inclusive governance which allows for the pluralism necessary to enable all population groups to preserve and develop their identity on the basis of dignity and rights for all.”

The Special Rapporteur emphasized the importance of accurate data and statistics on minorities for policy making, and called for dedicated institutions in charge of minority rights and relations to be established. The aim, she said, would be to close the gaps between the often ambitious policies, legislation, action plans and programmes on minorities and the reality, in which often the actual implementation is lacking.

Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye pointed out that there were minorities in particularly precarious situations because States refused to recognize them as minorities or even as citizens. “The existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority in a given State does not depend on decisions of the government but needs to be established by objective criteria,” she stressed. “Moreover, out of 10 million people deprived of a nationality globally, many, if not most of them belong to minorities. Swift measures are needed to end statelessness so it will not be a further source of stigmatization for minorities,” she added.

Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye urged more efforts to integrate migrants into societies new to them saying: “Feelings of alienation and lack of belonging experienced by migrants on the one hand, and citizens being afraid and feeling threatened on the other, should be met with concerted bridge-building efforts - to enable new minorities to integrate into the social fabric.”

The Special Rapporteur reminded the Council that 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities as well as the 10th anniversary of the UN Forum on Minority Issues. These occasions, she said, provided an excellent opportunity to discuss not just progress made so far but also the challenges remaining. Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye called on the UN and its Member States to consider possible measures to strengthen existing mechanisms to fulfil the promises made to minorities.

Reflecting on her six-year tenure, the Special Rapporteur concluded: “I was often struck by the general lack of knowledge and understanding by the public about the daily struggles of disadvantaged minorities which was often compounded by denial or negligence on the part of officials. 

“Strenuous efforts are needed to enhance awareness-raising, communication, trust-building, inclusion and power-sharing measures to forge a sense of belonging for the different population groups which is a prerequisite for sustainable development, peace and stability of our societies. We must never lose sight of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declares that we are all born free and equal in dignity and rights, and we are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The Special Rapporteur also presented her country reports on Iraq, the Republic of Moldova and Sri Lanka.

She thanked all who have supported and collaborated with the mandate during her tenure including minority communities, Member States, United Nations agencies, civil society organizations, academic and research organizations, and other stakeholders.

ENDS

Ms. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye (Hungary) was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council and assumed her functions on 1st August 2011. She was renewed as Special Rapporteur on minority issues in 2014. She is the second mandate holder, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

(*) The full report is available here

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