Review of the 8th Session of the United Nations Working Group on Minorities

In: European Yearbook of Minority Issues Online
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  • 1 Researcher/Lecturer international law (Ph.D.: International Monitoring Mechanisms On the Protection of National Minorities: An Analysis of Aims, Strengths and Weaknesses) at the Department of European and International Public Law, Tilburg University, The Netherlands and the TM.C. Asser Institute, The Hague, The Netherlands, member of the Netherlands School of Human Rights Research.

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  • 1 The Declaration was approved by consensus in UN Resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992.

  • 2 UNWG is a subsidiary organ of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights from which it draws its five expert members. The five expert members represent the five geographic regions the UN uses to distribute seats on UN bodies. The current members of the Working Group are: Mr. Asbjorn Eide (Chair, Norway), Mr. Jose Bengoa (Chile), Mr. Vladimir Kartashkin (Russian Fed- eration), Mr. Soli Sorabjee (India) and Ms. Leila Zerrougui (Algeria). Since 1995, the Working Group has convened annually for one week in Geneva. 3 See the United Nations Guide for Minorities, 'The UN Working Group on Minorities', Pamphlet No. 2, published by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2001), at html/racism/01-minoritiesguide.html. The guide contains a series of pamphlets that provide information on how minorities might make use of human rights procedures existing within the UN system and those established by regional mechanisms in Africa, the Americas and Europe. 4 Each year Minority Rights Group International invites several representatives of NGOs to participate, a week before the UNWG session, in a one-week course in which lessons on minority rights, as well as on preparing presentations, are organized. Also because of this training, the quality of the interventions is very high. 5 Minority groups, their representatives, NGOs and scholars can participate in UNWG meetings without the consultative status granted by the UN Economic and Social Council.

  • 6 Seminars have been organized on the issues of intercultural and multicultural education and the role of the media in protecting minorities, see Pamphlet No. 2 of the L1V' Guide on minorities, at 3. Last year a regional seminar for and about minorities in South East Asia was held in Chiang Mai (Thailand) from 4 to 8 December, 2002. The report of this seminar will be presented at the 9th session. 7 The visit was made 7-10 September 2001; for the report, see E/C\.-t/Sub.2/AC/2002/2, April 2002. 8 Independent experts appointed by the Commission on Human Rights often address issues concerning minority rights. For example, in 1999, the report of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia and the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education both included sections on the rights of minorities. See Simon Chesterman, 'Minority Protection, Conflict Prevention and the URN System', revised version of a paper presented at a meeting convened by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust, 18 October 2001,1-20, at 5, available at www.ipacademyorg. 9 See Minority Rights Group Briefing Series, Minarities and Conflict Prevention: the Case far a Special Repre- sentative, March 2002, 2. MRG Briefings are available online at 10 See Gaetano Pentassuglia, Minarities in International Law: An Introductory Study, Minorities Issues Hand- book series (Council of Europe Publishing 2002), 200.

  • 11 See Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1995/24, para. 9, in which the Commission on Human Rights authorizes the Sub-Commission to establish the UNWG and subsequently enumerates these tasks. 12 For the list of participants, see annex 1 of the final report of the 8th session: E/CN.4/Sub.2/2002/19,14 June 2002. The final report gives a thorough overview of all interventions made and discussions held.

  • 13 See the final report, E/CN.4/Sub.2/2002/19,14 June 2002, at 5. 14 Ibid. 15 Unfortunately, it is not possible to summarize all interventions made. I have chosen to mention these two interventions explicitly because in these cases the government observers responded. For an overview of all interventions made, I refer to the final report of the 8th session. 16 In addition to Iraq and India, the observer for the UK reacted to a statement made by an NGO concerning the situation of the Welsh-speaking minority of Wales in the UK; the observer for Sri Lanka referred to the dangers of promoting group identity; the Greek observer reacted to the intervention of an N'GO relating to the alleged discrimination of Greek members of the Turkish Muslim minority; the observer for Yugoslavia drew attention to a recently adopted law on the protection of rights and freedoms of national minorities in Yugoslavia.

  • 17 At the 9th session (12-16 May 2003) this issue was again discussed. Representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights gave a presentation on the progress of a fact sheet they are prepar- ing regarding Minorities and National Human Rights Institutions. 18 See Pamphlet No. 2 of the United Nations Guide on Minorities, 2 and 3. 19 Reference was made to the report of the International Seminar on Autonomist and Integrative Approaches to Minority Protection, held on 3 and 4 April 2002 in Copenhagen at the invitation of the Danish Centre for Human Rights. For the report, see E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.5/2002/WP.l. 1. 20 Two working papers were available: the report of the International Seminar on Cooperation for the Better Protection of the Rights of Minorities (E/CN.4/2002/92), held in Durban during the World Conference, and a working paper by Minority Rights Group on 'Minority Rights and Development: Overcoming Exclusion, Discrimination and Poverty' (E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.S/2002/WP6). 21 See note 18. 22 See the final report, 11. 23 Ibid. 24 La Ceiba, 21 to 24 March 2002, see E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.S/2002/5. 25 Montreal, 27 to 30 December 2001, see E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.S/2002/WP2. 26 Gabarone, 18 to 22 February, see E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.5/2002/4.

  • 27 See the final report, 5. 28 See the final report, 9. 29 Ibid., 10. 30 Ibid.

  • 31 Ibid., 13. 32 Ibid. 33 See also the statement made by the observer for Switzerland who stressed the importance of devising legally binding instruments in relation to minority rights, see the final report, 13. 34 Ibid. 35 See in this context G. Pentassuglia, 'Far from showing a lack of applicable standards, the current interna- tional scenario witnesses a proliferation of provisions relating to the protection of minorities, couched in a plurality of forms and reflecting varying degrees of legal significance', `On the Models of Minority Rights Supervision in Europe and How They Affect a Changing Concept of Sovereignty', European Yearbook on Minority Issues, 2001/2 (2003), 30-65, at 30. 36 Statement made by Marc Weller of the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI). ECMI is currently engaged in a project advancing the interpretation of the European Framework Convention through an analy- sis of implementation practice and through the means of a scholarly commentary based on this analysis.

  • 37 Statement made by Tom Hadden of the Human Rights Centre at Queen's University, Belfast. This rec- ommendation was drawn from discussions held during the International Seminar on Autonomist and Integrative Approaches to Minority Protection, held in Copenhagen on 3 and 4 April 2002. According to Hadden, the development of the proposed Guidelines of Best Practice could be realized by appointing a small drafting group led by the Chairman of the Working Group with a mandate to produce an initial draft for the 9th Session in 2003, drawing on the work of the various regional seminars and the example of the Hague, Oslo and Lund Recommendations. 38 The Guiding Principles contain provisions of existing international and humanitarian law and were drafted by Francis Deng (Special Representative on Internally Displaced Persons) and a team of legal experts. The Principles have been presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998, but have not been for- mally endorsed by the Commission. However, they have 'acquired widespread international standing, moral authority and acceptance'. From the statement made by Cecilia Thompson of ISEC. 39 'First, the Guiding Principles provide a framework for understanding the problem of internal displacement. Second, the Guiding Principles are a tool for empowerment of internally displaced persons. Third, the Guiding Principles are a monitoring tool for measuring conditions of internal displacement at the national level and the situation of Internally Displaced Persons. Fourth, the Guiding Principles can serve as an advocacy tool, and fifth, they provide a framework for developing protection strategies at national and local levels.' [From the statement by Cecilia Thompson] 40 See Conclusion 1 of the final report. Another task mentioned in this conclusion is 'to study in greater depth the development and minority issue'.

  • 41 Forty-seventh session of the General Assembly, agenda items 97(b) and 97(c), 24 November 1992, 4. 42 See Pentassuglia, Minorities in International Law...,114. 43 See also G. Alfredsson and A. de Zayas: 'The value and effectiveness of international standards ... depends on the supervisory mechanisms set up to monitor state performance' ('Minority Rights Protection by the United Nations', 14 (1-2) Human Rights Law,journal �1993�,1-9, at 4). And: '... the international standards are fairly well advanced. They provide for equality and dignity, non-discrimination and affirmative action. They may need further elaboration in certain instances, but the greatest opportunities lie in more frequent and more effective use of existing implementation procedures' (Ibid., at 8). 44 See, for example, the statement made by Zelim Skurbaty of the Danish Center for Human Rights in which he recommends 'to create a post of the Special Representative on Minority Issues within the UN system, which would be a global counterpart of the OSCE High Commissioner for Minority Rights', 30 May 2002, Geneva. Subsequently, see the statement made by the ECMI Director, Marc Weller, who also 'supports the

  • initiative in favour of a Special Representative of the Us Secretary General on Minority Issues', whereby he makes a comparison with the highly relevant work of the Special Representative on Internal Displace- ment and, again, the OSCE HCNM,. Statements of similar wording were made bv Tom Hadden of the Human Rights Centre at Queetis University Belfast, Cecilia Thompson of the ICES, Colombo, Sri Lanka and representatives ofNGOs (MRG presented a joint statement on behalf of 23 NGOs in which the same proposal was made, see E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.5/2002/WP.7. 45 MRG Briefing,1. 1. 46 IPA, 'Sharing Best Practices on Conflict Prevention: The LTN, Regional and Subregional Organizations, National and Local Actors', Workshop Report, 8-10 April 2002, Alexandria, rapporteur: S.J. Lodge, 6. 47 'Re-states' since it was already recommended at the 7th session, see 'Report of the Working Group on Minorities on its seventh session', E/CN-4/Sub.2/2001/22, para. 150 and Recommendation 16, which states that the Commission on Human Rights should 'consider the possibility, of recommending the appointment of a Special Representative on Minorities'. 48 It goes beyond the scope of this article to discuss these issues here. For more information, see R.M. Letschert, 'Towards the establishment of a UN Special Representative on Minority Issues - Drawing upon the experiences of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities', 13 (4) Helsinki Monitor (2002), 326-37 and Chesterman, 'Minority Protection .... 14-6.

  • 49 MRG has formed a coalition of NGOs to call for the UN to create a special mechanism on minorities. The coalition at present is made up of Minority Rights Group International, The International Federa- tion of Human Rights Leagues, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, and Baha'i International Community. For more information, see the MRG website at http: // 50 See Conclusions 4 and 5 of the Report of the Working Group on Minorities on its Eighth Session, E/ CN.4/Sub.2/2002/19 and Corr.l, para. 73, page 16, at nsf/0/ f$6cd6ab2abaea4ac1256c01005072c5/$FILE/G0214023.pdf. 51 Ibid., Conclusion 8.

  • 52 This will however be difficult to realize. When the issue of country visits was discussed at the 8th ses- sion, some government observers emphasized that country visits should not become monitoring activities because the Working Group has no formal authorization for monitoring, see the final report, 14. 53 Information obtained from the Working Group's Secretariat. See also conclusion 9 of the final report. The 9th session will be held in Geneva from 12 to 16 mary. 54 Like John Packer mentions 'there would seem to be scope to at least attempt to adapt this experience [of the HCNM] and approach elsewhere in the world to the benefit of many', J. Packer,'The Role and Work of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities as an Instrument of Con9ict Prevention', in IPA. 'Sharing Best Practices on Conflict Prevention: The UN, Regional and Subregional Organizations, National and Local Actors', Policy Paper, 14, at

  • 55 By now, the Working Group has held its 9th session from 12 to 16 May 2003. The discussions focused espe- cially on the preparation of a Code of Conduct or regional guidelines and the future role of the Working Group. The outcome of these discussions will be discussed in the next issue of the Yearbook.

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