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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH EXPERT ON MINORITY ISSUES, BEGINS GENERAL DEBATE ON ITS SUBSIDIARY BODIES
Hears Presentation of Report by the Forum on Minority Issues and Studies by the Advisory Committee
12 March 2013

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on minority issues, and began a general debate on its subsidiary bodies, after hearing the presentation of the report of the Forum on Minority Issues and the presentation of the studies submitted by the Advisory Committee pursuant to Council mandates. 

Rita Izsak, Independent Expert on Minority Issues, stressed the importance of a national institutional and policy framework to provide concrete action on minority issues.  Historical factors such as colonialism had had an enormous impact on languages and had caused the marginalization of the use of indigenous and minority languages.  Half of the world’s estimated 6,000 languages were likely to die out by the end of the century.  For minority communities, the right to media in their language was especially important; at the same time, proficiency in the national or State language was necessary to participate in economic life and benefit from equality.

Bosnia and Herzegovina spoke as a concerned country.

In the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert, speakers asked what pragmatic measures should be taken in order to enhance the position of linguistic minorities.  One speaker said that this topic should be addressed by the next Minority Forum this year.  Some delegations said that fulfilling the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including their language rights, was an essential way to prevent tensions and a key element of conflict prevention.  Others noted that the issue of so-called collective rights risked creating unwanted tensions and harming the advancement of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities. 

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Ecuador, European Union, Greece, Ethiopia, Hungary, Nepal, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Bulgaria, China, United States, Chile, Republic of Moldova, Slovenia, Iran and Latvia.

Representatives from the World Environment and Resource Council, Centre for Environmental and Management Studies, and Ecumenical Federation of Constantinopolitans also made statements.

Estonia spoke in right of reply.

Ms. Izsak, introducing the report of the Forum on Minority Issues, said that the Fifth Annual Session of the Forum on Minority Issues had taken place in November 2012. The Forum reiterated the need for all actors to recognize and address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that members of minority groups might be subjected to, including on the basis of sex, age, gender identity, and disability.  The Forum appealed to all stakeholders to ensure that minorities were aware of their rights as enshrined in the Declaration and other human rights instruments and standards. 
The Vice-Chairperson of the Council drew attention to the four studies submitted by the Human Rights Advisory Committee pursuant to Council mandates: on the human rights of the urban poor, on terrorist hostage-taking, on traditional values of humankind, and on rural women and the right to food.  He said comments made by delegations on these reports would be transmitted to the Advisory Committee through the Secretariat.

Speaking during the general debate on the Council’s subsidiary bodies and mechanisms were Ireland on behalf of the European Union, Gabon on behalf of the African Group, Hungary, Austria, Venezuela, Japan, China, Algeria, Morocco, Norway, Russian Federation, Cuba, Denmark, Colombia, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Council of Europe.

Representatives from Canadian HIV AIDS Legal Network and International Service for Human Rights also made statements.

The Council will resume its work at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 March to conclude its general debate on the Council’s subsidiary bodies and mechanisms.  At noon, it will hold a panel discussion on the impact of corruption on human rights.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Independent Expert on minority issues (A/HRC/22/49); and an addendum to the report of the Independent Expert on minority issues concerning her mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (A/HRC/22/49/Add.1).

Presentation of the Report of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues

RITA IZSAK, Independent Expert on minority issues, stressed the importance of a national institutional and policy framework that could help to provide concrete action on minority issues.  One of the eight thematic priorities Ms. Izsak had identified was linguistic minority issues and the challenges facing States seeking to manage linguistic diversity.  Historical factors such as colonialism had an enormous impact on languages and had caused the marginalization of the use of indigenous and minority languages.  Half of the world’s estimated 6,000 languages were likely to die out by the end of the century.  Certain groups were vulnerable to factors beyond their control, and some countries had aggressively promoted a single national language as a means of reinforcing sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity.  Restrictions on minority languages in the field of education were particularly sensitive and could become the cause of grievances.  For minority communities, the right to media in their language was especially important.  At the same time, in order to participate fully in economic life and to benefit from equality, it was necessary for minorities to be proficient in the national or State language.

Concerning her visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in September 2012, Ms. Izsak said that the country should be commended for its existing legal framework for the protection of national minorities and religious freedom.  However, political divisions and the ethnicization of politics in the country blocked progress in several areas and perpetuated national, ethnic and linguistics divisions.  Education remained an issue of concern as a high degree of ethnic segregation persisted in the educational system, as exemplified by mono-ethnic schools.  The Roma constituted the largest recognized national minority and faced particular challenges, although progress had been made in the provision of housing units and encouraging school enrolment.  Religion was another prominent dividing line in society, accentuated by the conflict and subsequent segregation of communities into separate ethno-religious areas.  Challenges for religious minorities included discrimination and the targeting of places of worship.  The role of the Inter-Religious Council in mediating among communities should be strengthened.          

Statement by the Concerned Country

Bosnia and Herzegovina, speaking as the concerned country, expressed appreciation for the comprehensive report, which would be taken into account.  The right to non-discrimination was provided under Article 2 of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The 2003 State Law on the Protection of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National Minorities included provisions for the protection of the cultural, religious, education, social, economic and political rights of national minorities.  The Council of National Minorities currently had 12 members from different minority groups and the current Chair was from the Roma community.  Bosnia and Herzegovina shared the view that there were some challenges in the effective participation of minorities in political life, especially when it came to the elections of members of the State Presidency or House of Peoples.  Bosnia and Herzegovina had joined the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative and the latest report on its implementation showed that there was a certain improvement.  The problem of the relatively low school-attendance rates among Roma children was partially due to traditional practices within their communities, such as early marriages and a neglect of the importance of education, especially for Roma girls.  The Roma Health Care Action Plan had been established with the core aim of ensuring access to health care for Roma people, raising awareness about health care and ensuring and implementing preventive measures aimed at improving the health of Roma people.  The implementation of the Action Plan on Roma Housing, adopted in July 2008, began in 2009.  Of the 1.5 million euro allocated in 2009 to the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees for activities under the Decade of Roma Inclusion, 1 million euro had been disbursed on Roma housing.  In total, 364 housing units were constructed or reconstructed between 2009 and 2011, while 210 Roma families were beneficiaries of infrastructural projects. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Minority Issues

Ecuador urged the international community to increase efforts to protect the rights of minorities.  The policy of “Unity in Diversity” was promoted to ensure development in the country and Ecuador continued to progressively implement rights.  Ecuador had also undertaken a number of affirmative action measures for groups who had been historically discriminated against, promoted an economy of solidarity, and gave particular priority to persons with disabilities.

European Union reiterated its deep commitment to achieving institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.  The protection of religious and language minorities was a key element of the creation of inclusive societies.  The language policies of the European Union aimed at protecting language diversity and promoting the knowledge of languages, because multilingual citizens were better able to benefit from the opportunities offered by an integrated Europe.

Greece said the 1923 Lausanne Treaty had established the status of the Muslim minority in Thrace and every Muslim citizen had the right to self-identification.  Persons belonging to minorities in Greece were Greek citizens of Turkish, Potomak and Roma origins; each group had its own spoken language, cultural traditions and heritage which were fully respected by the Greek State.  Members of minorities also needed to be proficient in Greek in order to better benefit from all opportunities in equality.

Ethiopia said that each of its minorities maintained their own customs and traditions.  Ethiopia considered minorities as a priority in its agenda and the Constitution provided broader protection and empowerment for minority groups.  Members of linguistic minorities had the right to speak their own language and to preserve and develop their own culture.  Ethiopia asked what pragmatic measures should be taken by States in order to enhance the position of linguistic minorities.

Hungary said that the problems faced by linguistic minorities had become a topical issue globally, and, bearing in mind that language was among the most important carriers of group identity, Hungary proposed that this became the topic of the next Minority Forum.  Hungary would be interested to know more about the plans of the Independent Expert regarding other priority areas, especially the protection of minority rights in conflict prevention.

Nepal said the report highlighted challenges confronting minority communities and States in managing diverse communities.  As a multicultural society with over 70 languages, Nepal had undertaken measures to protect rights of all groups without discrimination.  The Constitution allowed for participation in all structures on the basis of proportional inclusion, and children of each community were guaranteed the right for instruction in their mother tongue.

Russian Federation considered the protection of linguistic rights to be a priority.  People who faced restrictions concerning the use of their mother tongue also faced restrictions in the enjoyment of other rights, such as citizenship, education and justice.  Efforts in Estonia to reduce the elements and instruction in Russian language were a concern and could constitute a hindrance to access to higher and further education.  Ensuring the rights of linguistic minorities required a dialogue with all groups involved.

Switzerland was concerned by the way minority languages were regressing in the face of national and international languages and Switzerland rejected assimilation and exclusion.  States were beholden to respect and protect the rights of linguistic minorities and this was an obligation which would help prevent tensions and conflicts, as well as the edification of politically and socially stable societies.
 
Austria believed that the principles of non-discrimination, equality, participation and consultation should be equally respected.  It also shared the assessment that fulfilling the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including their language rights, constituted an essential mean to prevent tensions from emerging and a key element of conflict prevention.  Could the Independent Expert provide more information on future work in this regard?

Romania shared the concern about the alarming rhythm of disappearance of minorities’ languages.  This ongoing trend had been noted in relation to four dialects of the Romanian language, two of which would probably disappear in the next two or three decades.  The issue of so-called collective rights risked creating unwanted tensions and harming the advancement of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities.

Venezuela said that the Independent Expert had devoted her report to the issue of linguistic minorities and highlighted that there were obstacles in all regions.  The preamble of its Constitution enshrined Venezuela as a democratic society.  The underlying principles of the Constitution said that the official language of Venezuela was Spanish, but that the languages of indigenous peoples were official in their mother tongue communities.

Sri Lanka was aware of how racial and other ideologies could be manipulated by extremist elements seeking to foster fascist and separatist agendas and to engender hatred and intolerance, which threatened the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States.  Despite many positive developments, challenges remained and Sri Lanka would continue to strive for the realization of an integrally pluralistic society.

Bulgaria said that the Bulgarian Constitution, its national legislation and international commitments in the field of human rights were the guarantees of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues was a coordination and consultative body which assisted the Government in formulating policy regarding the integration of minority groups.

China agreed that all national minorities had the right to use their languages and all Governments must undertake legislative and administrative measures to protect this right.  The Independent Expert should continue to collect best practices related to the protection of national and linguistic minorities.  Minority languages in China were used in political and public life and bilingual signs were used in its autonomous regions.
 
United States was interested to know how information on positive practices to promote the rights of linguistic minorities would be used.  In the United States laws and programmes recognised the need to provide accommodation for persons with limited English proficiency and the Justice Department required that departments evaluated their services in this respect.  It was then required that systems were in place to ensure that such individuals could have meaningful access.

Chile believed that language constituted a key element for expressing group identity as well as accessing labour markets.  Ethnic groups in Chile had their own languages though, with many people living in cities, they were in danger of dying out.  It was one of Chile’s key objectives to protect its linguistic heritage and the State agreed that bilingual schooling from an early age was important in this regard.  A programme for teaching indigenous languages in schools was in place as well as linguistic academies.
Republic of Moldova said it was implementing the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the protection of linguistic minorities and attached great importance to the United Nations Declaration on the same topic, as the rights of linguistic minorities were essential for good governance.  Under these frameworks persons had the right to receive education in their mother tongue.  The Republic of Moldova was concerned about children in the Transnistrian region who were not receiving schooling in the Latin alphabet.

Slovenia said that for visibility, as well as public recognition of linguistic minorities, topographical indications that had been used in minority languages for centuries were of extreme importance.  Attention was drawn to the Ljubljana Guidelines on the Integration of Diverse Societies launched by the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in November 2012.

Iran said that historical factors such as colonialism had had a huge global impact on native languages; which had resulted in the marginalisation of indigenous and minority languages, as well as a rapid decline in their use.  Which practical remedies were available to make colonial and hegemonic powers accountable for past tragedies, especially with regard to the imposition of their languages?

Latvia valued the particular attention given in the report to the existence of minorities languages and agreed that an effective solution for their decline was needed.  What prospective steps could be taken in a global and regional context to address these issues?   Latvia paid particular attention to restrictions on minority languages in the field of education.

World Environment and Resource Council said that minorities should have their rightful place in Bangladesh and that it was a tragedy that fundamentalists, who claimed to be ardent followers of Islam, failed to respect that principle and violated the rights of Hindus in the country.  There were other oil-rich nations where minorities lived like second-class citizens and could not enjoy their human rights.     

Centre for Environmental and Management Studies said that the progress of any nation was dependent upon the most effective use of the resources available to it.  Human beings were the most valuable asset in any country and ideologies that sought to discriminate against minority groups were placing obstacles in the way of the development process. 

Ecumenical Federation of Constantinopolitans said that the legal status of the Greek-Orthodox minority of Istanbul was protected by the Lausanne Treaty.  Nevertheless, this minority group had been suffering from severe human rights violations, including enforced illegal deportations imposed by Turkey, which had resulted in the shrinkage of the community’s population.  The Greek-Orthodox community of Istanbul had been banished from its homeland.

Concluding Remarks

RITA IZSAK, Independent Expert on Minority Issues, in concluding remarks, agreed with Bosnia Herzegovina that the upcoming census was important, as the makeup of the population had changed considerably.  Engagement with communities was important to encourage them to register in this census, as was the recruitment of Roma census officials to encourage people to list themselves as members of the minority.  Relationships and working relationships with authorities were of crucial importance.  Ms. Izsak gave examples of bilingual education which built identity and prevented children from feeling alienated while also transmitting knowledge about their history and language.  The enjoyment of minority rights did have a community aspect and could only be enjoyed in the context of a community.  On the topic of cooperation, Ms. Izsak would send a questionnaire on good practices to Member States, non-governmental organizations and other groups.  Ms. Izsak encouraged actors to complete and return this questionnaire if they had national examples of good practices and results; responses would be compiled and published later this year.  She would continue to cooperate with groups such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and they would also submit content for this publication.  In relation to conflict prevention, Ms. Izsak said that work to protect minority rights was already a path towards this goal, though she had also reached out to the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.  Ms. Izsak had also been in touch with universities in order to work with students and had run a number of social media platforms to connect with these and other young persons.

Right of Reply

Estonia, speaking in a right of reply, referred to the preparations for the transition of Russian language schools to partial instruction in Estonian.  These preparations had started in 1997 and aimed at ensuring the quality of education in the country; and private schools could freely choose the language of instruction.  A step-by-step transition to instruction in Estonia was underway, as per the law, and 60 per cent of the curriculum would be taught in Estonian by 2020.  

Documentation

The Council has before it the Recommendations of the Forum on Minority Issues at its fifth session: implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: identifying positive practices and opportunities (27 and 28 November 2012) (A/HRC/22/60)

The Council has before it the Final study of the Advisory Committee on the promotion of human rights of the urban poor: strategies and best practices (A/HRC/22/61).

The Council has before it the Interim report of the Advisory Committee on human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking - Note by the secretariat (A/HRC/22/70).

The Council has before it a report on the Study of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind (A/HRC/22/71).

The Council has before it the Final study of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on rural women and the right to food (A/HRC/22/72).

Presentation of the Report of Forum of Minority Issues

RITA IZSAK, Independent Expert on Minority Issues, introducing the report of the Forum on Minority Issues, said that the Fifth Annual Session of the Forum on Minority Issues had taken place in November 2012.  Its aim was to provide a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.  The Forum reiterated the need for all actors to recognize and address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that members of minority groups might be subjected to, including on the basis of sex, age, gender identity, and disability.  The Forum appealed to all stakeholders to ensure that minorities were aware of their rights as enshrined in the Declaration and other human rights instruments and standards.  Participants further highlighted the importance of intercultural and interfaith dialogue and the need for all relevant actors to collaborate in order to create mechanisms that would encourage such dialogue at national, regional, and international levels.

Ms. Iszak underlined the central role played by a vibrant civil society and by human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of minority rights and in ensuring accountability.  Recognizing the importance of a strong national human rights institution for ensuring the promotion and protection of all human rights within each State, the Forum recommended that States should establish or strengthen independent national human rights institutions and ombudsman’s offices with mandates which included attention to minority issues.  The Forum considered the role of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes in ensuring the promotion and protection of minority rights, and recommended that minority rights should be mainstreamed throughout the United Nations system.  

Presentation of the Studies Prepared by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee

The Vice-Chairperson of the Council drew attention to the four studies submitted by the Human Rights Advisory Committee pursuant to Council mandates: on the human rights of the urban poor, on terrorist hostage-taking, on traditional values of humankind, and on rural women and the right to food.  He said comments made by delegations on these reports would be transmitted to the Advisory Committee through the Secretariat.

General Debate on Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stressed that all new initiatives aimed at maximizing the efficacy and efficiency of the treaty bodies should ensure their continued independence and be consistent with the treaties themselves.  The European Union expressed its support to the Forum on Minority Issues and said that the success of the first session of the Forum on Business and Human Rights, held in December 2012, demonstrated a growing interest in this issue.

Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, thanked the Human Rights Advisory Committee for its report on terrorist hostage-taking, which constituted a human rights violation.  Given the scale of this phenomenon, the Advisory Committee should stress arguments which might lead the international community to establish mechanisms to counter hostage-taking and the payment of ransom to terrorists; and to advocate for the elaboration of an international instrument criminalizing the payment of ransoms.

Hungary, speaking on behalf of a cross-regional group of States, said that the international community was committed to combating and preventing cases of reprisals against those cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Member States should create the necessary climate to ensure that intimidation and reprisals did not occur.  At the same time, reprisals should be systematically addressed in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review, treaty bodies and special procedures.

Austria said that the Forum had provided, once again, an important platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to persons belonging to minorities.  The recommendations made during the Forum should be taken into account by all relevant actors.  Austria would appreciate more information on future topics to be discussed by the Forum and in what way recommendations would be integrated into country visits.  

Venezuela said it had actively participated from the beginning in the work of the Forum, and wished to draw attention to the problems generated by urban poverty.  It was important to adopt measures in order to alleviate the situation of poor groups living in urban areas.  Venezuela highlighted that a better understanding of the values of humanity could contribute to the protection and promotion of human rights.

Japan encouraged all countries to cooperate with human rights bodies and mechanisms, which constituted an integral element of the promotion and protection of human rights in international fora.  Japan said that it was regrettable that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had failed to implement any of the recommendations which had received during the 2009 Universal Periodic Review.   

China thanked the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee for the thematic studies submitted to the Human Rights Council and expressed its support for the preparation of thematic studies as required by the Council.  China valued the role played by the Council’s special mechanisms and hoped that their work would follow the code of conduct and would operate on the basis of the principles of universality, impartiality and non-discrimination.

Algeria said that hostage-taking by terrorist groups was ever-more relevant as it affected an increasing number of States.  Kidnapping for ransom funding the activities of terrorist groups undermined peace, security and development and, as such, was an issue of international concern.  Because of the lack of an international legal framework, the Advisory Committee should come up with arguments to convince the international community to develop such a framework to criminalize the payment of ransoms.
Morocco said it had made efforts to promote religious and linguistic diversity and its cultural heritage.  Morocco was putting in place policies to ensure that regional and national concerns were met; and these focused on the preservation of important elements of its cultural heritage and identity.  The Moroccan State guaranteed education in the two official languages, as well as in several other minority languages.

Norway said that Governments should be held accountable and civil society’s efforts had to be supported in relation to the human rights of minorities.  There problem was not a lack of international standards, but a lack of implementation.  Minorities’ faith and beliefs were under pressure around the world and persecution and attacks such as in the recent events in Pakistan were of concern.  Every opportunity to combat right-wing extremism in Europe had to be taken. 

Russian Federation said that traditional values could be used effectively as an instrument to promote human rights, as they were based first and foremost on positive moral standards that were common to humanity.  Human rights were not applied everywhere in the same way.  In order to overcome stereotypes, links between human rights and traditional values should be established.

Cuba said that the Council was going through an intense phase of the work of the Advisory Committee and welcomed the presentation of its studies on women in rural areas and on the right to food, which were topics subject to follow up and priorities for Cuba’s domestic and foreign policy.  Measures had to be adopted to do away with discrimination against women, including women in rural areas and other women, in both the private and public spheres.

Denmark said that the crucial role of treaty bodies in protecting human rights was acknowledged, but the daunting truth was that they were suffering from their own success and did not operate as they should.  Treaty bodies should count with the support of States and they should not shy away from ensuring sustainable and adequate financing and the demand for quality membership.  Denmark would continue to work with all other Member States for a successful continuation of this process.

Colombia said that the Forum on Minorities, which took place in November 2012, had provided a good opportunity to exchange information and experiences related to the protection of minorities’ rights and hoped that this would continue, particularly, concerning the implementation of recommendations and obligations contained in the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. 

Organization of Islamic Cooperation said that 2012 had been marked by inter-community violence, such as in the Rakhine State in Myanmar.  The situation of the Rohingya minority was of particular concern as their right to citizenship in their own country had been withdrawn.  Myanmar should cease its policy of exclusion, ensure equality throughout its territory, and protect minorities from threats to their identity and existence.

Council of Europe said that the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner was an independent and impartial institution established in 1999.  There were similarities between the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner and the United Nations Special Procedures and, in this context, there was ample room for enhanced cooperation concerning to European countries and thematic areas of mutual interest.

Canadian HIV AIDS Legal Network, in a joint statement, said that traditional values in the case of Egypt had intertwined to create a particularly precarious situation for women human rights defenders.  The State politicized its conception of traditional values and punished women active in the defence of human rights by claiming that they were breaking morally reprehensible religious taboos.

International Service for Human Rights said that if the Human Rights Council was serious about ending intimidation and reprisals it should take several steps, including the appointment of a United Nations-wide focal point to coordinate the United Nations’ overall response to reprisals and intervene at senior political levels in alleged cases of reprisals. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC13/030E