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Discrimination still a barrier to effective political participation for minorities and indigenous peoples, says MRG on Human Rights Day

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As the world marks Human Rights Day, which in 2009 focuses on non-discrimination, minorities and indigenous peoples continue to face a multitude of barriers to effective participation, including in political processes, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

"all around the world, minorities are under-represented in government"The rights to equality and freedom from discrimination enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remain a distant goal for many of the marginalised communities with which MRG works.

“That people should have a say in how they are governed is at the heart of what we mean by democracy. But all around the world, minorities are under-represented in government and excluded from the democratic process”, says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director.

Language barriers, discriminatory rules, and sometimes physical threats, all prevent minorities from exercising their rights to vote or to stand for election. Even when elected some groups, such as Dalits in India, face degrading practices designed to exclude them from decision making.

“Women Dalit local politicians are often either forced to sit on the floor in council sessions or wash off their chairs at the end of the meeting. Caste makes you powerful, but your caste can also make you powerless”, says Manjula Pradeep of the Navsarjan Trust.

Extreme poverty also prevents many minorities from getting a chance to participate in society. Some communities, such as Batwa in Central Africa, have many members whose births were never registered and who lack identity papers, both essential preconditions to voter registration.

On the occasion of Human Rights Day 2009, MRG calls on governments to implement electoral systems to increase opportunities for minorities and indigenous peoples, and fulfill their right to meaningful political participation in societies based on tolerance and freedom from discrimination.

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