Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on minority issues

Hears Presentation of Reports by the Forum on Minority Issues, Social Forum, Special Procedure Mandate Holders, and on the Council’s Contribution to the Prevention of Human Rights

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes. It also heard the presentation of reports of the Forum on Minority Issues, the Social Forum, Special Procedure mandate holders, as well as the report on the contribution of the Human Rights Council to the prevention of human rights violations pursuant to Council resolution 38/18.

Presenting the report on his country visit to Spain, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, expressed his disappointment that his constructive dialogue with the Government of Spain had been curtailed, as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had not informed him that his draft report had to be translated into Spanish in order for the Spanish authorities to respond fully. Turning to his thematic report on education, language and the human rights of minorities, the Special Rapporteur stressed that one of the keys to the inclusion and development of minorities was the ability to access education in their own language, as well as the official language. Studies had shown that was the most cost effective way in the long-term of reducing school dropout rates, improving academic results, improving levels of literacy, and leading to greater community and family involvement.

Spain spoke as the concerned country, and El Defensor del Pueblo of Spain also took the floor.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers observed that the promotion and protection of the rights of minorities were essential for the political and social stability of the countries in which they lived. Unfortunately, throughout history discrimination and prejudice against minorities was at the root of many conflicts around the world. Speakers applauded the Special Rapporteur for having adopted a working definition and recommendation for a clear definition of minority because without it States made their own policies for political expediency rather than protecting the dignity and rights of minorities. The problem of the current approach was that minority groups had to compete for respect and equity, or campaign for it and in many cases they could not even resort to legal recourse. While preserving and developing one’s identity was vital, certain speakers noted that it was equally important to have a good proficiency of the State language as a social cohesion and integration factor, and to find the right balance between the need to ensure the knowledge of the State language and teaching in minority languages.

Speaking were Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), European Union, Pakistan, United Nations Children’s Fund, Estonia, Serbia, Iraq, Slovenia, Hungary, India, Ecuador, Croatia, Ireland, Montenegro, Myanmar, Azerbaijan, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Austria, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Albania, Paraguay, China, Nepal, Romania, Guyana, Cameroon, Armenia, Philippines, Marshall Islands, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Georgia.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Minority Rights Group, World Jewish Congress, International Organization for the Right to Education and Freedom of Education, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Réseau Européen pour l’Egalité des Langues, International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, Sikh Human Rights Group, Rights Livelihood Award Foundation, and Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association.

The following delegations spoke in right of reply in response to the statements made during the general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention : Pakistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Bangladesh, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Turkey, Japan and China.

The Council then heard the presentation of reports under its agenda item on human rights bodies and mechanisms.

Presenting the recommendations of the Forum on Minority Issues at its twelfth session, Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, explained that the Forum had discussed human rights and minority language education, the public policy objectives for the teaching of such languages, effective practices for the education of these languages, and issues contributing to the empowerment of minority women and girls. The Forum had provided over 50 recommendations on those broad topics.

Kadra Ahmed Hassan, Permanent Representative of Djibouti and Chair-Rapporteur of the 2019 Social Forum, recalled that the Social Forum had focused on the promotion and protection of the rights of children and youth through education. Gathering more than 650 participants, it had provided a platform for a strong multi-stakeholder dialogue, involving representatives from Governments, the United Nations and other inter-governmental organizations, civil society, youth representatives and leaders, children and academics.

Javaid Rehman, Member of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, presented the report of the Committee’s twenty-sixth annual meeting on behalf of its Chair Anita Ramasastry. The purpose of the report was to explain how the Special Procedures system contributed to the United Nations’ human rights mandate. The level of cooperation with States had been broadly positive, with an increase in the number of States issuing standing invitations to Special Procedures. However, variance existed and some States did not respond to communications.

Presenting the report on the contribution of the Human Rights Council to the prevention of human rights violations pursuant to Council resolution 38/18, Chair-Rapporteur Yvette Stevens noted that prevention was indeed at the heart of the mandate and activities of the Human Rights Council. The report had focused on actions to prevent human rights violations occurring in the first place, as well as early action to address violations before that escalated into conflict situations, while recognizing that prevention could also occur both during and after conflicts.

Summaries of the Committee’s public meetings in English and French are available at the United Nations Office at Geneva News and Media page, while the webcast can be viewed at UN Web TV

The Council will next meet on Thursday, 12 March, at 9 a.m. to adopt the Universal Periodic Review outcomes of Italy, El Salvador, Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

Documentation

The Council has before it the **Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues **(A/HRC/43/47).

The Council has before it an **addendum **to the **Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues – Visit to Spain **(A/HRC/43/47/Add.1).

The Council has before it an **addendum **to the **Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues – Comments by Spain **(A/HRC/43/47/Add.2).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

FERNAND DE VARENNES, United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, presenting his reports, congratulated Spanish authorities on the enormous strides made to accommodate linguistic, religious and ethnic diversity in the country. He identified areas for improvement, in particular the need to address obstacles faced by migrants and people of African descent, as well as an apparent rise in xenophobic nationalism and hate speech. He recommended that Spain modify legislation to guarantee more directly the right to use minority co-official languages along with Castilian in criminal, civil and administrative functions. He also called for the development of a national Roma integration strategy.

The Special Rapporteur expressed his disappointment that his constructive dialogue with the Government of Spain had been curtailed, as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had not informed him that his draft report had to be translated into Spanish in order for them to respond fully.

Moving to his thematic report on education, language and the human rights of minorities, Mr. de Varennes stressed that one of the keys to the inclusion and development of minorities was the ability to access education in their own language, as well as the official language. Studies showed this was the most cost effective way in the long term of reducing school dropout rates, improving academic results, improving levels of literacy, and led to greater community and family involvement.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Spain, speaking as the concerned country, reiterated Spain’s repeated and demonstrated support for the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council because such instruments could be useful in helping States achieve their human rights commitments. Accuracy and appropriateness were key for their work. Spain was disappointed by the Special Rapporteur’s visit and regretted that all the effort put in his visit had made little contribution to improving the human rights situation in the country. The delegation opposed the limits placed firmly by the Special Rapporteur on the way he interpreted the situation on the ground, using a purely numerical concept of a minority. He had not analyzed the context or history of the country, or the self-governing political structures that recognized the country’s diversity. The narrow margins of the categories he proposed carried a very negative impact on freedoms of individuals. The result was a report littered with subjective assessment and arguments with inappropriate understanding of the Spanish law and jurisprudence. Especially unacceptable was the insinuation that the belonging to a supposed Catalan minority had influenced the sentencing pronounced by the Supreme Court of Spain on 14 October 2019. Since the democratic transition in Spain, regional representatives were present in both chambers of the Parliament, the delegation noted. The concept of minority proposed by the Special Rapporteur was unacceptable to Spain.

El Defensor del Pueblo of Spain disagreed with the concept of minority used by the Special Rapporteur, which did not exist in any international documents nor the United Nations. Such a term only applied to the Roma/Gypsy community in Spain, while there was also a Muslim minority in Melilla and Ceuta, as well as linguistic minorities in Cataluña, Pais Vasco, Navarra, Galicia, Valencia and Balearic Islands. However, the term “ethnic minority” could not be applied to them. In addition, those linguistic minorities did not suffer from social exclusion. On the other hand, the Roma did suffer from such marginalization, as the Special Rapporteur had correctly observed. The Muslim community in Melilla and Ceuta, who were Arabic-speaking Berbers, faced problems and the authorities were trying to tackle those.

Discussion

In the interactive dialogue, speakers outlined national policies to ensure the rights of national minorities. They noted the importance of respect for linguistic and religious minorities, and the need to treat minority languages as a human rights issue. Many welcomed the recommendations of last year’s United Nations Forum on Minority Issues. Several speakers raised the plight of Muslim minorities living in different parts of the world, deplored the discrimination they faced due to the rise of ethno nationalism, and asked the Special Rapporteur to sharpen his focus on these abuses in line with his mandate. Speakers noted that in today’s interconnected world there was a need to speak multiple languages, which led to pressure to abandon the use of minority languages, and meant more effort was needed at the State level to promote multilingualism. As such, they welcomed the central importance that the Special Rapporteur placed on the role of minority languages in education. Some speakers emphasized the importance of the active participation of minority groups in the socio-political life of their home States.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

FERNAND DE VARENNES, United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, in interim remarks, said there were different models for teaching minority languages in education systems, and noted that Australia and Canada had especially good practices for how the languages of minorities could be taught. He clarified that the theme of the regional forums on minority issues that he was launching would be : hate speech, social media and minorities. It was well known that social media was being used to propagate and instigate violence, however, less well appreciated was that data showed that three quarters of hate speech around the world was targeted at minorities. Furthermore, three quarters of stateless people around the world belonged to minority groups. This was why a new instrument was needed, to clarify the application of human rights to these groups. The Special Rapporteur reiterated his frustration at the misunderstanding regarding the need to translate his report into Spanish before the Government could respond to his findings, and regretted that he had not been able to engage in a more fruitful dialogue as a result.

Discussion

Speakers observed that the promotion and protection of the rights of minorities were essential for the political and social stability of the countries in which they lived. Unfortunately, throughout history, discrimination and prejudice against minorities was at the root of many conflicts around the world. Speakers thus asked the Special Rapporteur how the international community could ensure that the protection of the rights of minorities was adequately incorporated in the United Nations’ overall agenda for the prevention of conflicts and violations of human rights. They also asked the Special Rapporteur how the United Nations agencies and the private sector would work together to ensure that minority languages were supported in the labour market in order to promote decent work in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Some speakers appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to clarify the linguistic dimension of the education of minorities, which was often misunderstood. They expressed strong support for the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and called on States not to prevent minority rights defenders from meaningfully engaging with the Special Rapporteur and other stakeholders. They asked how civil society and the Council could work together to prevent the rise of hate speech against all minorities. Speakers applauded the Special Rapporteur for having adopted a working definition and recommendation for a clear definition of minority because without it States made their own policies for political expediency rather than protecting the dignity and rights of minorities. The problem of the current approach was that minority groups had to compete for respect and equity, or campaign for it and in many cases; they could not even resort to legal recourse.

Delegates noted that to be able to communicate in one’s own language was fundamental to human dignity, access to justice and freedom of expression. Speakers asked the Special Rapporteur how digital technologies could assist in the promotion and protection of the languages of minorities. While preserving and developing one’s identity was vital, certain speakers noted that it was equally important to have a good proficiency of the State language as a social cohesion and integration factor, and to find the right balance between the need to ensure the knowledge of the State language and teaching in minority languages. Some speakers drew the Special Rapporteur’s attention to violations of linguistic minorities’ rights in various parts of the world, including the deliberate exclusion of minorities from school curricula. Others regretted that certain groups presenting themselves as human rights defenders used education and language to violate the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

FERNAND DE VARENNES, United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, in concluding remarks, reflected that the majority of conflicts around the world today were ethnic conflicts, and therefore involved minorities. Addressing these conflicts necessarily meant it was important that minorities felt their grievances could be addressed in a peaceful way. This close link between minority rights and conflicts around the world meant peace and stability required justice, and justice required the full protection of the rights of minorities. This link would be further considered next year in the regional forums previously announced. Furthermore, teaching minorities in their own languages had to be done in a way that encouraged multilingualism. This was important for integration, human rights, and for economic development. The Special Rapporteur thanked the President of Cameroon for agreeing to his upcoming visit, and looked forward to agreeing on the dates for this.

Documentation

The Council has before it the **Recommendations of the Forum on Minority Issues at its twelfth session on the theme “Education, Language and the Human Rights of Minorities” – Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues **(A/HRC/43/62).

The Council has before it the **Report of the Forum on Minority Issues **(A/HRC/43/62).

The Council has before it the Report of the 2019 Social Forum (A/HRC/43/63).

The Council has before it the **Study on utilizing non-repatriated illicit funds with a view to supporting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals – Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee **(A/HRC/43/66).

The Council has before it The role of technical assistance and capacity-building in fostering mutually beneficial cooperation in promoting and protecting human rights – Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (A/HRC/43/31).

The Council has before it a corrigendum **to **The role of technical assistance and capacity-building in fostering mutually beneficial cooperation in promoting and protecting human rights – Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (A/HRC/43/31/Corr.1).

The Council has before it the Overview of consultations on the contribution of the Human Rights Council to the prevention of human rights violations – Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (A/HRC/43/37).

The Council has before it the**Annual report of the Special Procedures **(A/HRC/43/64). The advance unedited version can be found at : A/HRC/43/64

The Council has before it an annex to theAnnual report of the Special Procedures- Facts and figures with regard to the special procedures in 2019 (A/HRC/43/64/Add.1).

The Council has before it **Conclusions and recommendations of special procedures – Report of the Secretary-General **(A/HRC/43/65).

The Council has before it **Communications report of Special Procedures **(A/HRC/43/77).

Presentation of Reports under the Agenda Item on Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

FERNAND DE VARENNES, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, presented a report on the recommendations of the twelfth session of the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues, held on 28 and 29 November 2019, which saw the involvement of over 1,000 participants from governments, United Nations bodies and non-governmental organizations. Three regional forums additionally provided expert input, establishing that linguistic education was central to the maintenance of minority ethnic cultures. The Forum had discussed human rights and minority language education, the public policy objectives for the teaching of such languages, effective practices for the education of these languages, and issues contributing to the empowerment of minority women and girls. The Forum had provided over 50 recommendations on these broad topics. The recommendations recognized the important role that the United Nations, civil society organizations and representatives of minority groups could play in ensuring the right to education for all.

KADRA AHMED HASSAN, Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Chair-Rapporteur of the 2019 Social Forum, recalled that the Social Forum had taken place on 1 and 2 October 2019, had focused on the promotion and protection of the rights of children and youth through education. The Social Forum had assembled more than 650 participants and it had provided a platform for a strong multi-stakeholder dialogue, involving representatives from Governments, the United Nations and other inter-governmental organizations, civil society, youth representatives and leaders, children and academics. Ms. Ahmed Hassan presented some of the main recommendations that had emerged from the Forum. The Social Forum had recommended that all stakeholders respect, protect and fulfill all human rights of children and youth, especially education, in line with international human rights law and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The right to education must be enshrined in national laws, policies and strategies, and implemented concretely at the national and local levels. Furthermore, participants had emphasized that States should invest in universal, quality, inclusive education at all levels, particularly during conflict and emergencies. All stakeholders should strengthen child and youth participation by giving them a voice and engaging with them, Ms. Ahmed Hassan concluded.

JAVAID REHMAN, Member of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, presented the report of the Coordination Committee’s twenty-sixth annual meeting on behalf of its Chair Anita Ramasastry. The purpose of the report was to explain how the Special Procedures system contributed to the United Nations’ human rights mandate. The level of cooperation with States had been broadly positive, with an increase in the number of States issuing standing invitations to Special Procedures. However, variance existed and some States did not respond to communications. An enhanced system of monitoring the status of country visits had been launched in 2020, and a webpage had been launched compiling examples of how the implementation of recommendations of mandate holders could lead to positive results. Despite these positive developments, 2019 had been a challenging year for the Special Procedures, with a global retrenchment against the values of international human rights law. Financial constraints, as well as threats to the work of mandate holders hampered their work and should be condemned. The upcoming meeting of the Committee in May offered another opportunity for States to engage with it.

YVETTE STEVENS, Chair-Rapporteur, presenting the report on the contribution of the Human Rights Council to the prevention of human rights violations pursuant to Council resolution 38/18, noted that prevention was indeed at the heart of the mandate and activities of the Human Rights Council. The report had focused on actions to prevent human rights violations occurring in the first place, as well as early action to address violations before that escalated into conflict situations, while recognizing that prevention could also occur both during and after conflicts. Ms. Stevens reminded that by identifying structural gaps existing in Member States and providing advice and recommendations to Governments, the Council and its various mechanisms contributed to long-term prevention. They also served as alert mechanisms. It was critical that Council mechanisms rethought the way in which they operated and reflected on the preventive impact they had had in the past, in order to assess which actions to replicate and what should be improved, Ms. Stevens explained. For its part, the Council should require all its mechanisms to adopt a long-term approach to prevention, which would entail the development of incremental responses adapted to each context, with set objectives and more tailored, results-based and time-bound advice and recommendations.

Source: UN Human Rights Council

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