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The need for an open forum for minorities at the United Nations

16 February 2007

Statement at U.N. Human Rights Council Inter-sessional working group 
Human Rights Council

Inter-sessional Working Group on Institution-Building (implementation of General Assembly Resolution 60/251 Para 6)

Joint Statement by Minority Rights Group International and the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism

Thank you Mr Chairperson for giving me the floor. I speak on behalf of Minority Rights Group International and the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism.

This morning we are discussing the future role and format of expert advice in the Human Rights Council. I would like to point to one very important but often overlooked aspect of how that expert advice has been provided in the past.

In order to make appropriate decisions, it is important that the Human Rights Council hears a variety of voices, and non-governmental organisations can help to ensure that those voices are heard. NGOs have played an important role in the work of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, providing expertise on a wide variety of specific topics. It is important that that space for NGOs is not lost.

The Sub-Commission also established a number of subsidiary bodies that were successful in bringing more diverse voices to the United Nations. The Working Groups on Minorities, Indigenous Peoples and Slavery, and the Social Forum, provided a forum to hear from NGOs speaking on behalf of special groups. These included NGOs that do not have ECOSOC status.

While the ECOSOC status system is an important one in ensuring legitimacy and quality of NGO input, these working groups showed that in specific cases, where there is a need to hear the voices of people from certain special groups, it is useful to have fora where non-ECOSOC NGOs can participate. In particular, they have increased participation of national-level NGOs from developing countries.

Having worked extensively with one of these bodies, the Working Group on Minorities, I can testify that this group has made an important contribution to United Nations human rights work, which is not widely understood. It provided a space for dialogue between representatives of minorities and their governments, and a forum for those minority representatives to present their views on what the United Nations can do to address minority issues constructively. It has also been a body where constructive ways for governments to address minority issues can be discussed. For these reasons we strongly believe that, whatever the form expert advice takes within the structures, it is essential for minorities, like other special groups, to continue to have such a forum at the United Nations. At the same time we recognise that it is possible to improve on the working methods of these groups, and to strengthen the link with the parent body, the Human Rights Council. One possible format would be to create a forum in which minority representatives, states and the Independent Expert on Minority Issues would participate, thus ensuring complementarity with that mechanism.

Thank you Mr Chairperson.