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Minority Rights and Training 1997-2000

30 April 1997

Report of an International MRG Seminar held on 10-11 April 1997 in Gatwick, United Kingdom

Minority Rights Group (MRG)’s strategy emphasizes that one of our principal activities is to move beyond standard-setting and to seek ways to enable minority communities to voice their own concerns via advice, information and training. We convened this seminar as part of this strategy because of the number of training requests we were receiving from organizations or individuals with whom we were working or were in contact. Over the last two years, MRG has started to provide training and, more importantly, to help others provide training; as we became known for this, more and more organizations and individuals have approached us for help. Not only did we not have sufficient resources to work with all of these people, but we were unaware of many other training providers in this area to whom we could refer people.

As an organization that has recently started training work, we felt that we should establish how far other organizations were providing relevant training and bring together a group of people to consider the priorities from among the training requests we were receiving. As can be seen from the full list of participants printed at the end ofthis seminar report, a wide range of individuals, including members of minority communities, activists, advocates, relief professionals and trainers accepted our invitation to meet and discuss these issues over two days in April 1997.

The field of minority rights and training may seem specialized, but it can cover many different aspects and audiences. It is a common assumption that it is only minorities who need training on minority rights or minority issues. This is incorrect. The need to make members of majorities aware of minority rights and attitudes that improve cooperation between communities is equally important -if not more so. Given the numbers involved in majority communities, key groups need to be identified to have any impact. MRG was aware of some training programmes involving groups such as government officials, the judiciary, lawyers or the police. We therefore decided to consider one area where we could find no existing training provision, but where we suspected (as a result of previous research) that a training need might exist: the training ofrelief professionals working in areas of conflict. Thus we designed the seminar so that most of the time was spent in two working groups: one to consider the training needs and potential training opportunities for members of minority communities, and the other looking at the need for and possibilities oftraining relief professionals.

MRG researched and produced background papers for each of the working groups. For Workshop A on training for members of minority communities, we used our networks to contact a number of organizations that we hoped might be providing training relevant to members of minority communities. As a result ofthis research, we had planned to produce a directory of available training relevant to minority rights which we could disseminate through our networks to ensure that minorities could get the training that they felt they needed. However, of the 60 organizations that we contacted, 29 were not involved in any training or were unable to give any details; 27 were providing human rights or conflict resolution training but either did not include any aspect of minority rights (or did so only as a small part of a much larger and more wide-ranging course). Only four organizations provided training tailored to minority issues and in some of these cases, the training was targeted at or only available to specific audiences such as government officials or the police. Furthermore, it took an MRG intern over six weeks of phoning and faxing to complete this exercise. Most members of minority communities would not have the resources to spend so long searching for suitable training and, since most of the training available only dealt with minority rights as one element of a wider training subject, it was difficult to gauge how relevant any one training course may be to a potential trainee’s needs. The results ofthis process (although by no means conclusive) tend to indicate that MRG is not duplicating the work of others in its training provision on this specific area and that it will be difficult to identify others readv to provide training tailored to the needs ofminority communities in the short term. The background paper for the workshop on the training of minority communities set out the results of this research and some key questions that the workshop could consider.

In terms of training for majorities, MRG chose the training of relief professionals for Workshop B because we suspected that a training need (or knowledge or awareness need) existed. In 1996, MRG contributed four case studies concerning minority or indigenous communities to the UNICEF Machel Study on the Impact ofArmed Conflict on Children (MRG will shortly publish these studies as a report). The research for two of these studies -the Roma in the former Yugoslavia and minorities in Somalia -indicated that minority communities who were not directly involved in the fighting could be overlooked in relief and reconstruction efforts. We wanted to test this further with a group of relief professionals and to determine whether this represented a training need or whether there were other factors preventing relief workers from considering and reaching minorities. The background paper set out some of the evidence we had gathered in our limited research and posed some questions for the workshop to consider.

Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.

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