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Criminal justice: Minorities face discrimination at every turn, UN expert says

How criminal justice fails minorities

28 October 2015

NEW YORK (28 October 2015) – “Globally, minorities continue to face discrimination within the administration of criminal justice, whether as accused, victims or witnesses,’’ the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, has said today.

In her fourth report* to the UN General Assembly, Ms. Izsák assessed the situation of the human rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in the various stages of the criminal justice process, from before arrest through to sentencing.

For many, their first encounter with the criminal justice system are the police, and the Special Rapporteur strongly condemned the practice of racial profiling.

“The disproportionate targeting by law enforcement officers of individuals for identity checks, stop and search or other forms of coercive or privacy invasive police powers which are related purely to identity-based minority group characteristics, continues to take place around the world,” Ms. Izsák said.

Ms. Izsák also highlighted the secondary insidious impact of such practices. “Police practices that impact on certain minority groups excessively have another negative effect, as they reinforce the sentiment among the members of those groups that they are not an integral part of society, but rather marginal or problematic populations,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur’s report also considered at other areas of concern for minorities in the administration of criminal justice, including:
·    excessive and sometimes lethal use of force, torture or other ill treatment by police, including in detention;
·    the overrepresentation of minorities in pre-trial detention, and longer periods of stay in pre-trial detention; 
·    discrimination against minorities during judicial procedures;
·    biases influencing not only on the outcome of a criminal trial itself, but also on sentencing for accused minorities.

“Research indicates that minorities often face a greater likelihood of a prison sentence rather than conditional release, greater likelihood of longer terms of imprisonment or a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, as well as greater likelihood of imposition of the death penalty,” Ms Izsák said.

“Although remedying the discrimination that minorities face in criminal justice system is not an easy task, it is paramount that States address the underrepresentation of minorities in law enforcement agencies, including judiciaries, prosecution services and legal professions,” the independent expert urged.
“A general prohibition on discrimination has proven to be insufficient. More needs to be done to achieve an actual increase in the recruitment, retention and progression of minorities, including at the most senior levels. Targeted measures such as quota systems as well as affirmative action policies may help in this regard,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur’s report has also guided her decision to dedicate the eighth session of the Forum on Minority Issues** on the question of minorities in the criminal justice system.

“I look forward to further discussing these complex and important issues during this multi-stakeholder forum which will take place in Geneva from 24 – 25 November 2015,” she said. 

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report:

(**) For more information on the Eighth session of the Forum on Minority Issues on "Minorities in the Criminal Justice System”:


Ms. Rita Izsák (Hungary) was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and subsequently her mandate was renewed as Special Rapporteur on minority issues in March 2014. She is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.  Learn more, visit:

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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities:

UN Human Rights, country page – Brazil:

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Jacqui Zalcberg ([email protected] /+41 22 917 9271) or write to  [email protected].

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