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About minorities and human rights

OHCHR and minorities

Minorities exist in every country of the world, enriching the diversity of their societies. 

Minority identity is understood to involve subjective and objective elements. The self-identification of the person concerned is taken to be determinative. 

UN definitions—set out primarily in a 1992 Declaration—focus on four categories: national, ethnic, religious and linguistic.  It is commonly understood that in many cases, these are not hard-and-fast categories, but rather potentially overlapping ones. 

Minorities are understood to enjoy equally all of the human rights of the nine core human rights treaties. Core elements of UN frameworks on the rights of minorities involve, in particular, protection of existence as minorities; non-discrimination; the enjoyment of their own culture, religion, and language; effective participation in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life; effective participation in decision-making; the maintenance of their own associations; and the maintenance of contacts and relations across frontiers. 

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. 

Normative 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. 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.  

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, color, religion, language, nationality and ethnicity or working descent. 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.

These rights are also addressed in several modules of the #Faith4Rights toolkit, a peer-to-peer learning methodology that explores the relationship between religious beliefs and human rights. 

See also:

Combating intolerance based on religion or belief

“Faith for Rights” framework