All countries in the world include persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, enriching the diversity of their societies. Although a great variety of minority situations exist, common to all is the fact that, too often, minorities face multiple forms of discrimination resulting in marginalisation and exclusion. Achieving effective participation of minorities and ending their exclusion requires that we embrace diversity through the promotion and implementation of international human rights standards.

The protection of the rights of minorities is provided for under article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities is the document which sets essential standards and offers guidance to States in adopting appropriate legislative and other measures to secure  the rights of persons belonging to minorities.  Overall, States through their commitments under treaty law, and minorities themselves, or their representatives can influence the human rights monitoring and implementation procedures and work toward securing effective participation and inclusion.

The fundamental pillar of human rights and minority legal protection are the principles of non-discrimination and equality which constitute the basis of all core human rights treaties. They apply to everyone in relation to all human rights and freedoms and prohibit discrimination on the basis of a list of non-exhaustive categories such as race, colour, religion, language, nationality and ethnicity.  Through respect for these two  principles, the enjoyment of many human rights can be secured, including the right to effective participation in decision-making by minorities and in particular minority women.

Minority rights are being increasingly recognized as an integral part of the United Nation's work for the promotion and protection of human rights, sustainable human development, peace and security. OHCHR has a leading role within the UN system in this respect, as the Office has highlighted countering discrimination as one of its thematic priorities in the period from 2010 to 2013. OHCHR is also taking a lead in the Inter-Agency work on minority issues, in line with Article 9 of the Declaration, by ensuring that coordinated effort is made towards advancing and prioritising minority rights throughout the UN system.

Within the Office, the Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section and the Special Procedures Branch play an important role in furthering the rights of minorities worldwide, through the implementation of strategic activities, and by providing support to the Forum on Minority Issues and to the mandate of the Independent Expert on minority issues.

Forum and the Independent Expert

Established by the Human Rights Council resolution 6/15 (28 September 2007), the Forum on Minority Issues, provides a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. Its annual two-day session brings together several hundred experts, representatives of Governments, Non-Governmental organisations, persons belonging to minorities, and other stakeholders to examine specific thematic issues and focus on concrete measures and recommendations aimed at protecting minority rights. In its first three sessions, the Forum focused on the right to education by minorities, effective political participation and effective participation in economic life. The next session of the Forum will focus on guaranteeing the rights of minority women.

The Forum is guided by the Independent Expert on minority issues. This Special Procedures mandate was established by the Commission on Human Rights resolution 2005/79. The mandate of the Independent Expert was renewed by Human Rights Council Resolution 16/6 (2011), for a duration of three years. Ms Gay McDougall (US) was appointed as the first Independent Expert on minority issues in July 2005 and served two terms in this capacity. In August 2011, Ms Riza Izsák (Hungary) assumed her functions as the second holder of the mandate.

The Forum on Minority Issues replaced the Working Group on Minorities, which was the subsidiary organ of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The Working Group was established in 1995 and held 12 sessions until its mandate was discontinued in 2006.

Further details

This website provides information on OHCHR activities aimed at advancing minority rights, ensuring their promotion and protection, including information on United Nations legal standards and procedures.

Further details are available from:

Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH-1211 Geneva 10