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OHCHR’s work on minority rights

OHCHR and minorities

We work to advance the protection and empowerment of minorities and help them to realize their human rights. Our objectives are:

  • To develop and promote standards, policies, guidelines and solution-orientated research and analysis in relation to indigenous peoples and minorities; 
  • To contribute to all stages of country engagement including needs assessment, design and implementation in relation to indigenous peoples and minorities, in particular in relation to the recommendations of the Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and Universal Periodic Review;  
  • To strengthen partnerships with United Nations and regional organizations and civil society through inter-agency cooperation and human rights training for indigenous peoples and minorities, through grants administrated by the Voluntary Fund on Indigenous Populations to enable indigenous representatives to participate in UN meetings and processes; and
  • To work to ensure indigenous and minority issues are addressed in UN bodies and human rights mechanisms in particular the Human Rights Council, the Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures mandate holders through pro-active cooperation.

Support to states and stakeholders during the COVID crisis

In 2021, the UN High Commissioner flagged that “in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, an upsurge in hate speech and discrimination targeted at Jews, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is and minority groups has been observed.” 

United Nations international human rights mechanisms have called upon States to place the protection of minorities high on their agenda during this pandemic, and to strengthen the mechanisms for dialogue to ensure the effective participation of minorities in decisions that affect them. 

Promotion of diversity, dialogue, and meaningful inclusion and participation of minorities are enshrined in article 4 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and are essential to safeguard and promote development, peace and security.

In this challenging global environment, OHCHR has continued to extend support to States, authorities and other relevant actors to ensure that their efforts to build back better are contributing to the full implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and are aligned with their obligations related to minority rights. Such support has included issuing guidance material on COVID-19 and minorities.

Redesign of the Fellowship Programmes

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 OHCHR had to redesign its Minorities Fellowship Programme and Indigenous Fellowship Programme, which otherwise are held annually in Geneva, into a country-based programme. The result: 34 former fellows posted as “senior fellows” in OHCHR country and regional offices, UN country teams and UN peacekeeping operations, in 29 locations in all regions. 

The main objective was to allow the most successful former fellows to receive on-the-job training and to build their capacity to develop advocacy and leadership skills. At the same time, OHCHR and other United Nations entities benefited from the senior fellows’ expertise, knowledge and experience, which helped to expand diversity and ensure greater inclusion within United Nations structures.