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Monday, January 25, 2010

A Review of 2009, The Forum on Minority Issues

The Forum of Minority Issues was established by Human Rights Council resolution 6/15 of 28 September 2007 to provide a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. The Forum meets annually for two working days, discussion following a particular theme.

This year’s Forum convened on 12 and 13 November, focusing on "Minorities and Effective Political Participation" and around 3 core elements in particular: identification of challenges and problems facing minorities and states; identification of good practices in relation to minorities and political participation; consideration of opportunities, initiatives and solutions. The Forum considered current practices and ways to increase the effective participation of minorities in policy- and decision-making processes and institutions: national and local parliaments, “minority parliaments, advisory or consultative bodies. It also discussed possible institutions/bodies that could address obstacles to the participation of minorities in political life, such as a minorities ombudsperson or dedicated branch on minorities in the national human rights institution, a dedicated ministry, a dedicated parliamentary committee, parliamentary outreach to minority communities, and the media.

The independent expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, guided the work of the Forum. Ms. McDougall maintained that the right to effective participation recognizes the fact that the participation of minorities in various areas of life is essential for the development of a truly inclusive and just society. Effective participation should give minorities a stake in society. Creating the conditions for the effective participation of minorities should thus be considered by states to be an integral aspect of good governance. “The right to effective participation includes participation in political decision-making at both the local and national levels. In addition, persons belonging to minorities should be given the means to participate effectively in the public, cultural, religious, social and economic spheres of their societies". The human rights principle of non-discrimination is additionally crucial. Discrimination is a key cause of the widespread marginalization of minorities in societies worldwide. “Discrimination which inhibits the political participation of minorities may manifest itself in, among others: a type of electoral system which negatively affects minority representation, political parties which are adverse to minority issues and minority membership, widespread prejudice among the electorate which punishes parties willing to include minority candidate or voice minority issues, media which are hostile to minority concerns and participation". To this effect, the effectiveness of the political participation of minorities must constantly be measured at all levels of society in order to ensure that is real and meaningful.  

Participants heard from a broad range of independent experts, NGOs and Member States. Among these experts was Ms. Graciela J. Dixon, attorney and former Chief Justice of the Corte Suprema de Justicia de Panama, who spoke on Basic requirements for effective political participation and suggestions on concrete steps to advance minority political participation,and Mr. Joe Frans, former chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, who spoke on the report on the Black European Summit. In order to promote States accountability, Ms. Dixon recommended the establishment of a qualification system, ensuring political participation at all levels, to promote cooperation and development programs and ensure that States are following UN standards. States should also be urged to report on the policies and actions taken on minority political participation. In addition, Ms. Dixon recommended the establishment of an international observatory as well as a periodical to register the compliance of human rights principles. Moreover, to ensure minority political participation, she suggested an assessment by the Working Group on Minority Issues. Mr. Frans spoke about the growth of racist and populist parties, which have had an impact on mainstream political parties and therefore on parties in general. He contended that there is an ongoing triangular shift on policy by mainstream political parties in order to minimize the political space. This is having a negative impact on minority participation and representation in Europe. He asserted that there is a need to focus on real participation and to move toward an inclusive society. Mr. Frans recommended that States take active measures, and adopt a code of conduct as well as policy guidelines in dealing with extreme right parties.

The outcome of the Forum will be thematic recommendations that will be included in the report by the independent expert on minority issues to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its thirteenth session in March 2010


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