Forum on Minority Issues

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Third Annual Forum on Minority Issues

The third annual International Forum on Minority was held between 14 and 15 December 2010. This year's discussions focus on minorities' effective participation in economic life. The Forum is a platform for dialogue and cooperation on matters of national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. The outcome of discussions will suggest concrete proposals for governments, civil society organizations, trade unions and national human rights institutions.

The 3rd annual session of the Forum on Minority Issues, chaired by Gita Sen (India) focused on minorities' effective participation in economic life. The thematic works presented were as following: Overview of Recent Global Initiatives regarding the rights of minorities to effective participation in economic life, Sustainable Livelihoods, Work and Social Security, Discrimination and Positive measures/affirmative action, Meaningful and effective participation in economic and development policy-making and finally, Concrete steps to advance and build capacity of minorities to participate effectively in economic life. Under every thematic issue, several experts offered a short presentation of various topics and afterwards, individual minorities could voice their problems and recommendations to the Council, giving the meeting a lively and open debate.

The president of the Human Rights Council (HRC), Mr. Sihasak Phuangketkeow, started by mentioning that minority rights cannot be discussed without the involvement of minorities, who are the people concerned. Therefore, the annual meeting on minority issues was highly welcomed and valued as an opportunity to give a voice to the millions of minorities around the world. Mrs. Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, continued by stating that while society benefits when minorities participate in the economic life they are often excluded due to prejudice, discriminatory attitudes, stigmatization and scape-goating. Only by recognizing the problems minorities face, can change become a reality, and a supportive legal and judicial framework be developed.

Many of the recommendations presented by various minority groups during the two-day meeting were surprisingly similar regardless of their location. For example, they urged for recognition and the legalization of their rights, especially over their land, and linguistic and cultural rights at the national level. They would like to see greater involvement with the decision-making process and in the economic life by equal access to employment, banking and credit. Many asked for their governments to do more for their development, such as providing micro-economic schemes, infrastructure to markets, social protection plans, educational support and technical assistance. By helping the minorities to help themselves, by providing grants for higher education and skill training to start private businesses, the minority communities can be empowered and feel integrated in society. Nevertheless, the most important aspect is to ensure accessibility and availability of the plans provided by the state for minority communities. Only by making them feel welcomed in their own states and societies can minorities feel truly safe economically, socially and culturally. Thus, states must eliminate stereotypes and remove barriers, which negatively affect minority groups in order to foster inclusive and tolerant societies.

The troubles and challenges described were also very similar, independent of location of the minorities. The Roma people living in Europe, Arab Bedouins living in Israel, Kurds living in Iraq, Iran and Syria, Afro-descendents, minority groups in Africa, religious minorities in the Middle East, Indigenous Peoples of South America and low casts in India and Bangladesh all face similar troubles and attitudes. From the individuals who took they floor, all described their poor living conditions in marginalized areas, which lack infrastructure, services and opportunities. Moreover, they face discrimination, distrust, exclusion and in many cases open violence due to a stigmatized identity. Many minorities explain that without the necessary identification papers, ownership of land or educational transcripts, they cannot take an active part in their own societies. The land they have owned for generations have often been stolen and as "land is life" for many minority groups, depression and poverty have followed as a consequence.

In other cases, their villages are not recognized by the state making them victim to eviction and demolition threats. Basic resources such as water, proper sanitation, garbage collection, education and health care are often not provided for within these communities. Other problems described were the lack of employment offered to minority groups. In many cases, individuals from a specific minority are only allowed to hold low paid humiliating tasks and semi-skilled work. In addition, all forms of social and economic protections are unavailable within the informal sector. Thus, they are often abused and overworked when they are able to obtain a job but most often their stigmatized identity makes them unemployed. Furthermore, they often have limited access to knowledge and information, due to linguistic differences from the majority population, and are often overlooked when it comes to decision-making. In fact, it is often the policies and legal framework of the state that discriminate against minorities, making them excluded from political dialogues and economic planning.

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