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Hard thinking’ required for future of UN Working Group on Minorities

13 May 2003

As the ninth session of the United Nations Working Group on Minorities (WGM) opened on 12 May in Geneva, members of the Working Group and participants alike have called for all involved to do some ‘hard thinking’ regarding how to improve or supplement the effectiveness of what is the only UN mechanism to consider minority rights issues.

In his opening address to the Working Group Chair Asbjørn Eide, who will step down after this years sessions, took the opportunity to review some of the accomplishments, strengths and weaknesses of the Working Group. Significantly Mr. Eide also observed the reluctance of some governments to ‘engage themselves in a dialogue based on the problems presented by the minorities…’, a point of particular resonance given the number of empty governmental seats at this years opening sessions.

Established in 1995 by the Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, the mandate of the Working Group includes an examination and review of the promotion and practical realization of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, or Linguistic Minorities and possible solutions to problems involving minorities. Mr. Eide stressed the unusual flexibility offered by the Working Group mandate to include the vital input of minorities themselves, NGOs such as MRG and academics as well as governments. He highlighted the important contribution of the Working Group to many minority issues including integration and autonomy, minorities and development and conflict prevention. Pointing to the value of regional meetings carried out in the last two years, he also called for an increase in this regional approach to encourage non-European states to consider further the protection and promotion of minority rights.

Minority Rights Group International together with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have this year facilitated the training and attendance of twenty-one representatives of minority and indigenous communities from around the world. These participants will highlight issues including religious and communal tensions and violence in India, unrecognized villages in Israel, discrimination against Roma communities in Eastern Europe and Latin America and the widespread violations of the rights of the Batwa (Pygmies) in Central Africa.

Interventions delivered by MRG and our partners at the Working Group on Minorities can be found on the ‘international statements’ page of this site, or on the website of the OHCHR.