Human Rights and Minorities
What are the Human Rights of Minorities?
Human Rights are universal, and civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights belong to all human beings,
including members of minority groups. Members of minorities are entitled to the realization of all human rights and
fundamental freedoms on equal terms with others in society, without discrimination of any kind. Minorities -- both
the individuals belonging to minorities and the minorities as groups -- also enjoy certain human rights specifically
linked to their minority status, including their right to maintain and enjoy their culture, religion, and language
free from discrimination.
The Human Rights at Issue
The human rights of minorities are explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International
Covenants, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of
the Child, the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic
Minorities and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and Declarations. They include the
following indivisible, interdependent and interrelated human rights:
The human right of members of minorities to freedom from any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based
on race, colour, national or ethnic origin, language, religion, birth, or any other status, which has the purpose or
effect of impairing the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms
The human right of members of minorities to freedom from discrimination in all areas and levels of education,
employment, access to health care, housing, and social services.
The human right of each member of a minority to equal recognition as a person before the law, to equality before the
courts, and to equal protection of the law.
The human right of all members of minorities to participate effectively in cultural, religious, social, economic and
The human right of members of minorities to freedom of association.
The human right of minorities to exist.
The human right of minorities to enjoy and develop their own culture and language.
The human right of minorities to establish and maintain their own schools and other training and educational
institutions, and to teach and receive training in their own languages.
The human right of members of minorities to participate in shaping decisions and policies concerning their group and
community, at the local, national and international levels.
The human right of minorities to autonomy in matters internal to the group, including in the fields of culture and
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Rights of Minorities
What provisions of human rights law guarantee the Human Rights of Minorities?
Includes excerpts from:
- "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.... Everyone is entitled to ... rights ... without
distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social
origin, property, birth or other status.... All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination
to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination ... and against any
incitement to ... discrimination.... Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal
- --Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles
1, 2, 7, and 23
- "States Parties...undertake to guarantee that ... rights ... will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as
to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or
other status.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... Fair wages and equal remuneration for
work of equal value without distinction of any kind.... Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted.... Education
... shall be made equally accessible to all."
- --International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, Articles 2, 7, and 13
- "Each State Party ... undertakes to ... ensure ... rights ... without distinction of any kind.... All persons shall
be equal before the courts.... Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race,
colour, sex, language,
religion, national or social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by
his status as a minor.... All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the
equal protection of the law.... The law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and
effective protection against discrimination on any ground..... In those States in which ethnic, religious or
linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the
other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their
- --International Covenant on Civil and Political
Articles 2, 14, 24, 26, and 27
- "The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide ... is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent
and to punish.... [Genocide] means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a
national, ethnical, racial or religious group...: Killing members of the groups; causing serious bodily or mental harm
to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its
physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly
transferring children of the group to another group."
- --Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
Crime of Genocide, Articles 1 and 2
- "States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue ... a policy of eliminating racial
discrimination in all its forms.... Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act ... of racial discrimination....;
Each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend,
rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial
discrimination...; Each State Party shall prohibit and bring to an end ... racial discrimination by any persons, group
or organization.... States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and
to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality
before the law, notably in the enjoyment of ... political rights ... civil rights ... economic, social and cultural
rights, in particular: the right to work, ... to just and favourable conditions or work, to protection against
unemployment, to equal pay for equal work...; the right to housing; ... to public health, medical care, social
security and social services; the right to education and training.... States Parties shall assure ... effective
protection and remedies ... against any acts of racial discrimination.... "
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination, Articles 2, 5, and 6
- "States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... to each child ... without discrimination of any kind
irrespective of the child=s or his or her parent=s or legal guardian=s race,
colour, sex, language, religion,
political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. States
Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination
or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child=s parents, legal
guardians, or family members.... States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and
shall ensure that the child has access to information.... States Parties shall ... Encourage the mass media to have
particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous....
States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and ... shall ... make primary education compulsory and
available free to all; ... make [secondary education] available and accessible to every child...; make higher
education accessible to all.... States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to ... the
development of respect for the child=s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values.... In those
States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to
such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her
group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own
- --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2,
17, 28, 29 and 30
- "... States Parties ... undertake: To ... discontinue any ... practices which involve discrimination in education....
It is essential to recognize the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities,
including the maintenance of schools and ... the use or the teaching of their own language...."
- --Convention against Discrimination in
Articles 3 and 5
- "Governments shall have the responsibility for ... Ensuring that [indigenous] peoples benefit on an equal footing from
the rights and opportunities which national laws and regulations grant to other members of the population....
Indigenous and tribal peoples shall enjoy ... human rights ... without ... discrimination.... Governments shall ...
Establish means by which [indigenous] peoples can freely participate ... at all levels of decision-making in ...
institutions and ... bodies responsible for policies and programmes which concern them.... The peoples ... shall have
the right to decide their own priorities for ... development as it affects their lives ... and the lands they occupy
... and to exercise control ... over their ... development...."
- --ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, (No.
169), Articles 2, 3, 6, and 7
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Rights of Minorities
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Rights of Minorities?
Includes excerpts from:
- "States shall protect the existence and the ... ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities
within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.... Persons
belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities ... have the right to enjoy their own culture, to
profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without
interference or any form of discrimination.... Persons belonging to minorities have the right to participate
effectively in decisions ... concerning the minority to which they belong or the regions in which they live....
Persons belonging to minorities have the right to establish and maintain, without any discrimination, free and
peaceful contacts with other members of their group and with ... citizens of other States to whom they are related by
... ethnic, religious or linguistic ties.... Persons belonging to minorities may exercise their rights ...
individually as well as in community with other members of their group, without any discrimination.... States shall
... ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and
fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law. States shall take measures to
create favourable conditions to enable persons belonging to minorities to express their characteristics and to develop
their culture, language, religion, traditions and customs..... States should take appropriate measures so that ...
persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in
their mother tongue. States should, where appropriate, take measures in the field of education, in order to encourage
knowledge of the history, traditions, language and culture of the minorities existing within their territory.....
States should consider appropriate measures so that persons belonging to minorities may participate fully in the
economic progress and development in their country."
- --Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to
National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities, Articles 1, 2, 3, and 4
- "No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds of
religion or other belief.... All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the
grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights ... in all fields of civil,
economic, political, social and cultural life...."
- --Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of
Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Articles 2 and 4
- "Respect for human rights ... without distinction of any kind is a fundamental rule of international human rights law.
The ... elimination of all forms of racism and racial discrimination ... and related intolerance is a priority task
for the international community.... The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the obligation of States to ensure
that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all human rights ... without any
discrimination and in full equality before the law.... The persons belonging to minorities have the right to enjoy
their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion and to use their own language in private and in public,
freely and without interference or any form of discrimination.... The World Conference ... urges States and the
international community to promote and protect the rights or persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and
linguistic minorities.... Measures to be taken ... should include facilitation of their full participation in all
aspects of the political, economic, social, religious and cultural life of society and in the economic progress and
development in their country.... "
- --Vienna Declaration, Part I,
paras. 15 and 19;
II, paras. 26 and 27
- "We commit ourselves to promoting social integration by fostering societies that are stable, safe and just and that
are based on ... non-discrimination, tolerance, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, ... and participation
of all people.... To this end ... we will ... Formulate or strengthen policies and strategies geared to the
elimination of discrimination in all its forms and the achievement of social integration based on equality and respect
for human dignity.... Promote access for all to education, information, technology ... as essential means for
enhancing ... participation in civil, political, economic, social and cultural life.... Recognize and respect
cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic,
religious or linguistic minorities, and take measures to facilitate their full participation in all aspects ... of
- --Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 4
- "Eliminating discrimination and promoting tolerance and mutual respect for ... diversity ... requires ... Enacting and
implementing ... laws ... to combat racism, racial discrimination, religious intolerance in all its various forms,
xenophobia and all forms of discrimination in all walks of life in societies.... Taking specific measures ... to
remove long-standing legal and social barriers to employment, education, productive resources and public services;...
Governments should promote equality and social justice by: Ensuring that all people are equal before the law; Carrying
out a regular review of public policy, including health and education policies, and public spending from a social ...
equality and equity perspective...; Expanding and improving access to basic services with the aim of ensuring
universal coverage...; Promoting full access to preventive and curative health care to improve the quality of life,
especially by the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups...."
- --Copenhagen Programme of Action,
paras. 73 and 74
- "We are determined to ... ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights ... for all women and girls who face multiple
barriers to their empowerment and advancement because of such factors as their race, age, language, ethnicity,
culture, religion, or disability, or because they are indigenous people...."
- --Beijing Declaration,
- "Actions to be taken: ... Give priority to promoting and protecting the full and equal enjoyment by women and men of
all human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction of any kind as to race,
colour, sex, language, religion,
political or other opinions, national or social origins, property, birth or other status."
- --Beijing Platform for Action,
- "As human beings are at the centre of our concern for sustainable development, they are the basis for our actions in
implementing the Habitat Agenda.... We shall intensify our efforts to eradicate ... discrimination, to promote and
protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all...."
- --Istanbul Declaration,
- "Equitable human settlements are those in which all people, without discrimination of any kind as to race,
sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, have
equal access to housing, infrastructure, health services, adequate food and water, education.... We ... commit
ourselves to ... Eradicating and ensuring legal protection from discrimination in access to shelter and basic
services, without distinction of any kind...."
- --Habitat Agenda, paras. 27 and 40
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights
Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;