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UN approves new watchdog on minorities

20 April 2005

A new United Nations special mechanism on minorities has been approved by consensus of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) at its 61st session in Geneva. A UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues will engage in dialogue with governments and minorities worldwide to promote and protect minority rights. The new post was welcomed by Minority Rights Group International (MRG), which has campaigned intensively for a new minorities watchdog, although the organisation criticized attempts by some states to weaken and undermine its mandate. MRG described the role as a valuable addition to the resources required to meet the challenge of widespread and ongoing minority rights violations.

The new mandate will play a key role in promoting long neglected minority rights issues within the UN system. Essential to its effectiveness will be the ability to enter into consultations with Governments and minorities in a constructive, problem-solving manner, in order to resolve issues of contention. MRG believes that an experienced and internationally renowned Independent Expert will provide enhanced channels within the UN system through which minority concerns can be specifically addressed. Some states including Egypt had opposed a strong mandate, but failed to seriously restrict the potential of the post in the face of widespread international support for its establishment.

Director of Minority Rights Group International, Mark Lattimer, stated: ‘Minorities around the world are abused and discriminated against, yet minority issues have remained virtually invisible in the UN system. The establishment of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, together with the post of UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide created last year, means that the UN is at last getting serious about the protection of minority rights.’

MRG points out that minorities comprise an estimated 30-40% of the world’s population, and that 70% of the world’s conflicts are of an ethnic or religious nature. However, the UN, since its inception, has consistently neglected the issue of minorities and currently only a Working Group on Minorities is devoted to minority issues. MRG believes that the WGM continues to fulfil a crucial role as a forum for representatives of minorities to present their concerns to the UN, and to engage in dialogue with their government and experts. MRG fully supports the vital work of this body, which will now sit for a three day session during the Sub-Commission on Human Rights and urges full attention to its work by both states and Sub-Commission Members.

The new post is created amid a wide-scale review and reform of the UN system with the goal of delivering results in the fields of human rights, development and security. MRG believes that significantly greater attention to the rights of minorities is key to the prevention of ethnic and religious conflict and essential progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).