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Minority rights in development aid policies

30 November 2000

Over the past two years MRG has begun to examine the relationship between minority rights and development. Clear links have emerged between minority status, inequality and poverty.The focus of this Issues Paper is on how major development aid donors incorporate minority rights into their development policies. It is one of a series of papers that began with Roger Riddell’s Issues Paper on Minorities, Minority Rights and Development. Two further papers are planned; one will focus on how to mainstream minority rights into development; the second will evaluate one specific development project in terms of its impact on local minority communities.

Some readers may find this paper too focused on policy and argue that it needs to concentrate on implementation. This is valid comment and one that we debated early on, prior to commissioning it. However, we felt that it was important to establish clearly the current policy situation amongst development donors before moving to the next stage. This will provide a foundation for exploring how good policy relates to good practice.

What is established is that a few donors do have an explicit commitment to minority rights. However, those commitments tend to arise from significant socio-political events such as the genocides in Rwanda and Guatemala. Whilst ensuring that minority communities benefit from development programmes is both a valid response to such tragic conflicts and a useful way of preventing future violent conflicts, the need for inclusion of minority communities in aid programmes should not be based on conflict-prevention alone. Social exclusion and abject poverty also demand international action. Many international standards exist which commit international bodies in their work, including international development assistance, to tackle discrimination and include minorities. These include Articles 4(5), 5 and 9 in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities and the non-discrimination provisions of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These UN norms should be reason enough for donors to act on the issue, regardless of whether there is conflict in a region or country.

The emerging human rights approach to development provides an opportunity for that commitment. As can be seen from the UNDP’s important and ground-breaking Human Development Report 2000, donors must begin to analyse inequality and discrimination against minority groups. I believe that, with such analysis, we have a better chance of reducing ethnic tension and making development interventions more sustainable.

Most development actors have signed up to try to achieve significant progress towards agreed UN international development targets by 2015. Based on our research and discussions with partners to date, it is clear that minorities are often some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in developing countries. By addressing their issues donors will work towards achieving those poverty targets.

Within our own organization we work closely with our partners in minority communities around the world. This enables us to draw conclusions based on evidence from those working at grassroots level and on the perceived needs of minority groups and their constituencies. In this way MRG can assist minority-based NGOs in developing countries to work with donors.

To support and encourage donors to consider these issues we are engaged in advocacy activities in national, regional and global fora. MRG has developed positive links with interested donors and would welcome any other development actors that wish to be involved. We also intend to raise these issues in the context of the World Conference Against Racism by hosting satellite meetings and promoting discussion on the links between poverty and social exclusion.

This Issues Paper serves as a record of current and past attempts to address minority rights in development policy. My hope is that development donors will be able to build on these earlier steps so that all development policies consider the rights and needs of minority communities.

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Katarina Tomaševski