Minorities rights in Europe and Central Asia were discussed in Vienna

ADC Memorial participated in the Europe-Central Asia Regional Forum on Minority Issues, “Review, Rethink, Reform: 30th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities 1992-2022” that was held on May 2-3 at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna, Austria.

The welcoming speeches were presented by Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Secretary General of the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of Austria; Kairat Abdrakhmanov, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities; Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, United Nations; Arno Kompatscher, Governor of the Automonous Province of Bolzano/Bozen – South Tyrol and Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

The main objective of the forum was to formulate concrete recommendations for the improvement of the regional and global minority protection regimes.

Most of participants agreed that in 30 years not much progress in minorities rights protection has been achieved in Europe and Central Asia, the situation of Roma (and Roma-like groups) in the region remains difficult in many countries, the waves of migration and refugee-seeking raise problems of vulnerable groups, while some minorities (like Pamiri in Tajikistan) face discrimination and exclusion in their own homelands.

To improve minorities rights protection new international mechanisms and national policies are needed. The Forum came up with a number of important recommendations.

The first and the most global proposal became the idea to negotiate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (UNDM) into a comprehensive, legally-binding treaty on minority rights.

This would not only help to protect minorities on a global level but could end counterproductive arguments about some groups whose rights are denied, although they speak minority languages and practice a religion different from the majority, however, their identity as an ethnic group is denied.

Another global initiative sounds like: A permanent forum for minorities should be created to improve the capacity of the UN to effectively address problems facing minorities. In line with the precedent of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the UN Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, a new forum should be composed of representatives of minority groups, taking into account diversity, regional balance and gender parity, to serve in their personal capacity as experts.

There are some highly actual recommendations to the states of our region: States should end the securitization of minority issues, and not violate the human rights of minorities, including the prohibition of discrimination and the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, under the pretext of national security concerns, such as anti-sedition, counter-terrorism, or pandemic prevention measures. State actors and public officials should refrain from describing minorities as a potential threat to national security.

It is followed by another one calling to strengthen protection of those who protect minorities: States should end all reprisals, including assassination, defamation, prosecution, or intimidation, against human and minority rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and others working to promote and protect the human rights of minorities.

A number of recommendations call to improve the anti-discrimination laws and policies, to combat the hate speech and prevent conflicts, to support education in minorities’ languages and to improve the participation of minorities’ representatives in the political decisions on all levels.

Last but no least there is an interesting initiative of establishing a European Languages Commissioner or Ombudsperson to ensure that the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is fully implemented, and to monitor language rights in each Member State.

The insights and conclusions of the Forum will feed into the thematic work of the Special Rapporteur for his report to the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2023. Let’s hope it is going to bring change to the international framework of minorities protection and to the regional and national practices.

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