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Commission should establish new high-level post on minority issues – joint intervention of MRG and IMADR at the UN Commission on Human Rights

16 April 2005

Proposal for the establishment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Minorities

United Nations

61st Session of the Commission on Human Rights
Item 14(b): Minorities

Joint intervention by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)

Thank you Mr Chair,

I speak on behalf of Minority Rights Group International, and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR).

The member states of the Commission are currently discussing a draft resolution on minorities, which proposes the creation of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Minorities.

It is estimated that between 20-40% of the world’s population comprise minorities, and that 70% of the world’s conflicts are of an ethnic or religious nature. And yet, the United Nations, since its inception, has consistently neglected the issue of minorities. It currently has only one mechanism devoted to the issue, the Working Group on Minorities. This body fulfils a crucial role in contributing to UN policy on minorities, and in allowing representatives of minorities to have a voice within the UN system and engage in dialogue with their government. However, it sits on the lowest rung of the UN hierarchy and has no mandate to take up specific concerns of minorities and propose constructive solutions to governments. The Special Representative would go a long way towards addressing this gap. She or he would be able to engage with representatives of governments and minorities, in a constructive, problem-solving manner, in order to resolve issues of contention between them. To do this effectively, it is essential that she or he be able to interact with minority representatives directly, and be adequately resourced.

More effective mechanisms on minority rights would help the UN prevent ethnic and religious conflicts, which cost it billions of dollars. It is therefore unfortunate that a number of states, in the interest of saving a few thousand dollars, are proposing to reduce the session of the Working Group on Minorities by 2 days, and to hold it as a sessional working group with the Sub-Commission [on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights]. It is also essential that minority representatives have access to the Working Group, and that the Working Group maintains its permanent status.

The Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change specifically recommended that the UN draw on the experience of regional organisations to further develop its own frameworks for minority rights.[1] It is crucial that the United Nations finally wakes up to the fact that it is short-sighted to expect the mainstream human rights mechanisms, which have little or no minority rights expertise, to address this extremely complex and multi-faceted issue. These two mechanisms would have very different and highly complementary mandates. The members of the Commission are rightly concerned to ensure that the resources of the UN are used efficiently; they should therefore ensure that both mechanisms have sufficiently robust mandates to ensure that they can carry out their tasks effectively.

Thank you Mr Chair.


1 “A more secure world: Our shared responsibility” – Report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, United Nations 2004