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States must teach indigenous and minority children in their own language – UN expert

11 March 2020

GENEVA (11 March 2020) – Children of linguistic minorities must be taught in their own language where possible to achieve inclusive and quality education and to respect the human rights of all children, said a UN expert in his report presented today to the Human Rights Council.

“Education in a minority’s mother tongue, combined with quality teaching of the official language, is more cost-effective in the long term; reduces dropout rates; leads to noticeably better academic results, particularly for girls; improves levels of literacy and fluency in both the mother tongue and the official or majority language; and leads to greater family and community involvement,” said Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

In his report, the UN expert pointed out that numerous studies agree that an appropriate and proportionate use of minority languages in education can increase inclusion, communication and trust between members of minorities and State authorities.

“Children from indigenous or minority background will have better academic results and will stay in school longer when they are taught in a language with which they are most familiar – usually their own,” de Varennes said. “When this happens, especially when they stay longer in school, they will not only acquire a stronger basis and literacy in their own language, they will also be able to gain greater fluency in the official or majority language.”

Beyond these numerous benefits, the failure to use minority languages where this is reasonable could be discriminatory or in breach of States’ human rights obligations such as the right to education, the expert said. It would also be inconsistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for inclusive and quality education for all.

“Inclusive and quality education for members of linguistic minorities means, as far as it is practicable, education in their own language. Not using a minority language as medium of instruction where this is possible means providing an education that does not have the same value or effect,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur therefore called for the drafting of practical guidelines to provide concrete guidance on the implementation of the human rights of minorities and the use of their languages in the field of education.


Mr. Fernand de Varennes was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He 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.

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.

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

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Marina Narváez (+41 22 917 9286 / [email protected] )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9445 / [email protected])

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