Last week I attended for the first time the UN Forum on Minority Issues. This is an annual meeting, now in its fifteenth year. I had previously attended sessions of its predecessor, the UN Working Group on Minorities, and was impressed by what I saw at the fifteenth session of the Forum. The current UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, and the Tom Lantos Institute have done a great job in initiating and running a number of regional forums, and certain common recommendations have emerged from these. It appears that support and demand for a legally binding international minority rights treaty is growing. At the Forum itself, panel contributions and the contributions from minority individuals, minority representatives and NGOs at the 15th session reminded us all of how much more needs to be done, and how limited the current framework is.
Below is the text of my intervention, delivered during the fourth session on REFORM (which starts 40 min into the video link). My particular thanks to Corinne Lennox, Anna-Mária Bíró and Farah Mihlar for the inspiring and productive discussions we had before and during the Forum. It is Corinne in the picture below, and who took the required selfie. It was also great to observe the strong interventions of the Minority Rights Group International delegation, which included a number of minority representatives, and to meet with other academics working in the field.
Corinne Lennox and I taking a selfie in the main room before the opening of the 15th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva
Dr Elizabeth Craig, European minority rights researcher, University of Sussex
Firstly, I would like to support the call made already in this Forum to the UN Secretary General to commission a high-level panel to review the limitations of the current minority rights framework and to make recommendations for reform. The framework needs up-dating and we need to start to develop a vision for a minority rights treaty to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The work of the panel should also include a review of the legally binding treaty that does already exist, the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and its limitations, to see what lessons can be learnt.
Secondly, from my work as a researcher on minority rights in post-conflict and deeply divided societies, it is clear that minority rights are often neglected in peace agreements, with only passing references to relevant instruments, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities. In Northern Ireland, my home country, progress on a range of minority rights issues has as a result been very slow and there continue to be significant challenges almost 25 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The trend towards the exclusion of minorities from relevant peace processes, as we saw also in SE Europe, needs to be challenged.
Thirdly, international bodies have for too long glossed over the issues and the challenges facing minority groups and individuals in war, conflict, and post-conflict situations and the impact on minority groups also across borders. Minority rights should be considered not just with a conflict prevention lens, but also from an empowerment perspective. To do this (e.g. in the context of war in Ukraine) we need accurate and authoritative analysis on minority situations on the ground, regionally appropriate identification of best practice and significant minority participation and recognition of intersectionality. In short, we need to do better.