participation In order to contribute to the running of a democratic state, citizens must be offered the chance to participate. This includes the rights to vote, to stand for elections, to have political parties registered, and, particularly in the case of indigenous groups, the right to be consulted about decisions that affect them.  As public policy is generally shaped by majority political parties, minority groups can often be discriminated against when it comes to decision-making.  By not allowing minority groups any say on national matters, governments prevent them from partaking and from feeling a sense of co-ownership.

International instruments guarantee the rights to vote and to stand in elections, which are essential in a democratic society.  However, members of minority groups can be forbidden from participating in the electoral process. This is the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina, when a recent case found that prohibiting Jews and Roma from standing in the national election prevented their effective participation.  The banning of political parties also prevents effective participation.  Whilst states may attempt to justify such measures based on national security, the realities can be that a minority party is being discriminated against for not agreeing with majority rule.

For minorities and especially indigenous groups, the lack of consultation on decisions affecting them can severely hamper their participation.  For example, governments must consult with them on decisions that concern their land, and must have consideration for their customary traditions.  Although consultation may occur, it is often far from effective and involves very little input on behalf of the indigenous community.  It may be in a language the community is unfamiliar with, those consulted may not be a representative group from the community, or the community may not be given a chance to raise their concerns about the government’s proposals. Even more alarming are situations in which no consultation is held at all.

Instruments protecting the right to consultation

International instruments:

Regional instruments:

Relevant jurisprudence:

Regional cases:

Photo: Street Theatre. Credit: Minority Rights Group.

Filed Under: Law
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