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The Future Role of the Working Group

11 July 2005

Working Group on Minorities, Eleventh Session 

Commission on Human Rights
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Working Group on Minorities
Eleventh Session, 30th May – 3rd June

Agenda Item 4, The Future Role of the Working Group

Thank you Mr Chairman.

I speak on behalf of the following non-governmental organisations:

  • Minority Rights Group International
  • Ahwaz Education and Human Rights, Iran
  • South Asia Forum for Human Rights, Nepal
  • Lumah Ma Dilaut Center for Living Traditions, Philippines
  • Christian Alliance for Peace and Development, Senegal
  • Iraqi Turkmen Advocating Committee, Iraq
  • Cimarron- National Movement for the Human Rights of Afro-Colombian Communities, Colombia
  • The Terik Council of Elders, Kenya
  • Human Rights Congress for Bangladeshi Minorities, Bangladesh
  • Pastoralist Forum of Ethiopia
  • Indigenous Information Network, Kenya
  • Meghlaya Peoples Human Rights Council, India
  • Unissons-nous pour la promotion des Batwa, Burundi
  • Aides Specialisees aux Eleves en Difficultes, Senegal
  • Action for Development, Ethiopia
  • Gudina Tumsa Foundation, Ethiopia
  • Dalit Social Forum, India
  • Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association
  • The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel
  • Centre for the protection of the Ogbogolo people, Nigeria
  • Kamana Kao Association, Botswana
  • Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria
  • SAIF, Kosovo
  • Association of Eviction Victims of Port Harcourt Waterfronts, Nigeria
  • Institute for Dispute Resolution, Nigeria
  • Association for research, the promotion and preservation of the socio-economic interests of disadvantaged people, Senegal
  • Potters-ministries, Senegal
  • EECMY – EGBS, Ethiopia
  • Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe, Germany
  • Towards A New Start, The Netherlands
  • Senegalese Youth Union for peace and progress, Senegal
  • Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, Egypt
  • Society of Democratic Reforms, Azerbaijan

Much has happened with regard to minorities at the United Nations since the tenth session of the Working Group in March last year. We welcome the decision of the 60th session of the Commission on Human Rights In April 2004 to set up a Voluntary Fund to facilitate the participation of minority representatives in the work of the Working Group. We encourage states to finalise its establishment at the General Assembly and to make contributions to the fund. We also welcome the first Minorities Fellowship Programme which has allowed 5 minority representatives to spend 3 months at the OHCHR learning the UN system from a minority perspective. The minorities matrix developed by the fellows is a welcome initiative and should be followed up and further developed into a tool for states, UN agencies and minorities themselves in analysing minority situations. The creation of the new mandate of Independent Expert on Minority Issues is another welcome development. Minority Rights Group and its partner NGOs have been calling for many years for a new mandate that can compliment the work of the Working Group.

The resolution on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities passed by the Commission on Human Rights at its 61st Session means more changes and potentially offers new opportunities for the promotion and protection of minority rights in the United Nations system. The changes to the Working Group on Minorities made by the Commission on Human Rights resolution require careful consideration and evaluation to look for potential opportunities to strengthen its work.

The Working Group on Minorities has, for eleven years, provided an unique forum for minority representatives at the UN. It provides the only forum for minority representatives to discuss issues of relevance to them and to engage in a constructive dialogue with states. This session of the Working Group has seen some very useful dialogue between minority representatives and states, both during the Working Group meetings and particularly outside the meeting. The Commission resolution changing the timing of the Working Group so that it will be held for three consecutive days during the session of the Sub-Commission potentially has a serious impact on these opportunities for dialogue. The Working Group should ensure that whatever happens, it remains a forum for dialogue through continuing to provide access to NGOs without consultative status with ECOSOC. It should also ensure that meetings of the Working Group are not held at the same time that the Sub-Commission is considering other issues. If meetings of the Sub-Commission and the Working Group are held at the same time, it could have a negative impact on the attendance of government representatives at the Working Group and may even leave members of the Working Group with a dilemma over which meeting to attend, given their responsibilities both as members of the Sub-Commission and as members of the Working Group. This would have serious negative repercussions on the ability of the Working Group to facilitate dialogue between governments and minorities.

We are also concerned at possible negative implications of the reduction in the time allocated to the Working Group from 5 days to 3 days. This year’s session has seen minority representatives allocated 10 minutes to present their issues to the Working Group. As the Chair explained at the beginning of the session, 10 minutes is necessary because it provides sufficient time to explain in a clear manner the often very complicated issues relating to the implementation of the UNDM that affect minority communities. This session has also seen increased participation by governments and increased dialogue between them and minority representatives from their states, a dialogue which we wholeheartedly welcome. A reduction in the number of days that the Working Group can meet would reduce the time allocated to minority representatives to explain their issues and the time available for governments to present their responses thus jeopardising the ability of the Working Group to fulfil its mandate to act as a forum for dialogue. The financial savings made by reducing the duration of the Working Group by 2 days are minimal in comparison to the potential benefits of constructive dialogue between minorities and governments. The excuse of financial constraints should not be used to weaken the opportunities that minorities have for dialogue with governments within the UN system.

A three-day Working Group would need to redesign its agenda in order to ensure completion of its important work in the available time. In addition to hearing from minority representatives and providing space for dialogue with governments, the Working Group could prioritise one focused thematic discussion per year. Time constraints would not allow for more than one theme per year. The outcome of these discussions should be a set of recommendations or a general comment prepared by the Working Group on that theme. One possibility would be for the Working Group to examine in depth, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) each year. Another priority should be an interactive dialogue with minority representatives on what the UN as a whole should be doing on minority issues. This dialogue should also aim to produce recommendations.

A weakness of the WGM has been its lack of mandate to take up directly with governments the issues of minority representatives attending its sessions. The initiative of the Working Group of forwarding information presented by minorities to governments who do not attend the session is a step toward addressing this problem. It is not, however, a substitute for dialogue between governments and minorities and it does not fully address the problem that the Working Group cannot directly act on the situations presented to it. We welcome the creation of the mandate of Independent Expert on Minority Issues. Close cooperation between the Working Group and the new Independent Expert would be way to begin to address this gap in minority protection. The Working Group would continue to provide the only opportunity for minority representatives to present their situations and concerns to the United Nations and the Independent Expert would be able to take up some of these situations when fulfilling his or her mandate ‘to promote the implementation of the Declaration… including through consultations with governments’.

It is important that the consultations the Independent Expert has with governments includes visits to countries. Visits will enable the Independent Expert to understand fully the implementation of the Declaration in that country through meetings with governments and through ‘taking into account the views of non-governmental organisations’. The Independent Expert should also be able to receive communications from minorities and take these up with governments in his or her consultations with those governments. In order to ensure an effective mandate, it is vital that the Independent Expert is adequately resourced and is provided with a full time assistant in the OHCHR.

In the context of the UN reform process, it is important to ensure that minorities continue to have a forum at the UN. It is also crucial to ensure that within the OHCHR there is a well resourced and staffed minorities team and that minority issues are mainstreamed throughout the work of the UN, including its work on conflict prevention and on development as well as human rights. UN agencies should effectively address the situation of minorities within their respective mandates, in line with Articles 5 and 9 of the minorities declaration. The Working Group could actively facilitate this engagement by UN agencies through encouraging their participation in the meetings of the Working Group and through forwarding the information presented by minority representatives to the relevant organs of the UN. For example, to OHCHR country teams, UNDP country offices or relevant Special Procedures and treaty bodies.

Recommendations to the Working Group on Minorities

To urge governments to approve the establishment of a Voluntary Fund for minorities at the General Assembly and to make contributions to the fund.

To ensure that Working Group meetings are not held at the same time as meetings of the Sub-Commission in order to maximise participation by governments and Working Group members, possibly through holding the meetings of the Working Group during the week before the Sub-Commission.

To ensure continued access to the Working Group for NGOs without consultative status with ECOSOC.

To cooperate closely with the Independent Expert so that the situations raised by minorities at the Working Group can be taken up by the Independent Expert.

To encourage and facilitate the work of UN agencies on minority issues, in line with Article 9 of the Declaration, through actively providing relevant UN agencies and mechanisms with information raised by minority representatives at the Working Group.

To consider analysing the interventions of minority representatives in order to identify recurring patterns of violations and phenomena common to a number of situations and to make general recommendations on possible solutions to such problems.

In the event of the duration of the Working Group being reduced to 3 days, to carefully consider its agenda to ensure that it a) continues to provide a forum for minority representatives to raise issues at the international level and to hold dialogue with governments and which facilitates interaction between minorities and the Independent Expert, starting with, and attempting to respond to their interventions. b) holds a focused thematic discussion on one theme per session and produces a set of recommendations on that theme and c) holds interactive dialogue with minority representatives on the UN’s work on minority issues.

Recommendations to Governments

To reconsider the reduction in duration of the Working Group as set out in Commission on Human Rights resolution 2005/79, and return it to a 5 day forum, ensuring that it does not meet in parallel to the Sub-Commission when the resolutions on the rights of persons belonging to minorities is considered by ECOSOC.

To make contributions to the Voluntary Fund.

To ensure that, within the UN reform process, minority representatives continue to have an open forum within the UN where they can bring situations and problems to the attention of the international community.

To participate in the sessions of the Working Group on Minorities with a view to sharing information about possible solutions to situations involving minorities, promoting mutual understanding and engaging in constructive dialogue.

To ensure that the new Independent Expert on Minority Issues is well resourced and able to carry our country visits and receive communications within his or her mandate for consultations with governments.

To ensure that in all strategies for achieving the MDGs, that the rights of minorities are respected and fulfilled. Country reports on the MDGs should include an analysis of the situation of minorities, including baseline data and specific targets and should ensure the participation of minorities, including minority women, non-discrimination and the protection of identity.

To share with Development Ministries, ideas and recommendations coming out of the Working Group’s discussions, in order to strengthen the work of these ministries on minorities.

To reaffirm at the Millennium +5 summit, the importance of human rights and minority rights.

Recommendations to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

To ensure within the UN reform process that the rights of minorites are mainstreamed and that there is a well resourced, well staffed minorities team, including a full time assistant to the Independent Expert.

To continue to run the Minorities Fellowship Programme.

To consult with all relevant stakeholders on the future development of the Minorities Matrix initiative, possibly through holding an expert seminar on the subject.

To issue a press release prior to the sessions and hold a press briefing during the sessions to promote the work of the Working Group. Enhancing the profile of the Working Group would be an important step in encouraging increased participation by governments and minority representatives, thus contributing to further dialogue.

To ensure that the new unit to be created in the OHCHR on the MDGs includes minority rights in all rights based approaches to achieving the MDGs.

Recommendations to NGOs and civil society

To further promote, nationally and regionally, the Declaration on Minorities, the work of the Working Group on Minorities and the new Independent Expert on Minority Issues.

To engage with national MDGs campaigns and strategies and ensure that consideration is given to respect for minority rights.

To forge stronger links in order to build an international minorities movement that can lobby for minority rights at the national, regional and international level.

To conclude, we would like to note that minority representatives come to this Working Group, some at personal risk to their safety, with the expectation that their participation in this forum will contribute to finding solutions that will improve their situations. It is crucial that the Working Group develops its work, in coordination with an effective, complementary Independent Expert in order to strengthen the overall ability of the UN system to meet these expectations.

Thank you Mr Chairman.