In anticipation of global UN Forum, first Americas Regional Forum on minority issues gathers recommendations to protect marginalized and vulnerable groups

Washington, D.C.; May 12, 2021.- The first Americas Regional Forum on “Conflict prevention and the protection of the human rights of minorities” took place on April 27 and 28, 2021 with the participation of governmental leaders, regional and international institutions, United Nations bodies, and civil society organizations, including the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality). Race and Equality also provided logistical support to the forum.

The Forum, held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, was convoked by UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Fernand de Varennes and is one of four regional forums (Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas) gathering information for a thematic report that the Rapporteur will present during the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2022.

The ideas and recommendations raised during the Forum will also be discussed at the 14th UN Forum on Minority Issues, to be held in Geneva in December 2021.

Topics of discussion

Throughout the Forum, participants discussed the importance of protecting the human rights of minorities in initiatives to prevent, mitigate, and end conflict. Discussants identified the legal, institutional, and political challenges to recognizing and protecting the human rights of minorities, especially in contexts where long-standing injustices and grievances pose a risk of armed conflict. The fact that the rights of minorities are often closely related to a conflict’s structural causes, but that minority group’s demands are often ignored in conflict prevention initiatives, was an important finding.

The Forum’s first thematic session, moderated by Race and Equality’s Executive Director Carlos Quesada, discussed “Substantive root causes of contemporary conflicts involving minorities.” Quesada began his remarks by mentioning that two human rights treaties in the Inter-American system – the Inter-American Convention against racism and the Inter-American convention against all forms of discrimination and intolerance – complement the American Convention on Human Rights’ protections of the human rights of minorities. He also remarked that both conventions came into being thanks to advocacy and pressure from civil society.

Lottie Cunningham, founder and president of the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast (CEJUDHCAN), stated that “structural racism is the ideology that maintains ethnic hierarchy, based on a belief that inequalities between indigenous or Afro-descendant communities and the rest of the population is natural and normal, rather than being the result of society’s unjust structures.”

Cunningham called for UN agencies to educate states, private businesses, and civil society on the impacts of environmental racism; increased awareness-raising about the collective human rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, especially related to the impacts of private business on their territorial rights; and electoral mechanisms to guarantee full participation of minorities in public life, in keeping with their traditional practices.

Marino Córdoba, president of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), emphasized that Colombia’s international treaty obligations require it to protect the human rights of minorities, but that the extent to which these obligations are being met is questionable, with social leaders belonging to minority groups suffering the deadly impacts of armed conflict without guarantees of truth and justice.

Córdoba called on the international community to insist that Colombia fulfill its obligations to protect and promote its people’s fundamental rights. He also recommended greater investment in conflict prevention, particularly greater efforts to prevent Afro-descendant groups from feeling that their traditions, culture, religion, and language are at risk.

The second session, titled “Normative framework: the human rights of minorities and conflict prevention,” featured María Luisa Acosta, coordinator of the Center for Legal Aid for Indigenous Peoples (CALPI) in Nicaragua. Acosta pointed out that indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples face heightened risks of violence, displacement, and dispossession and that states are obligated to protect the rights of all people without discrimination. She continued that when a state fails to do so, the international community plays a vital role, emphasizing the importance of in-country visits from Special Rapporteurs, including the Rapporteurs on minority issues or on indigenous peoples, and the work of the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly.

The third session discussed obstacles to fulfilling the rights of minorities and preventing conflicts from harming these rights. The fourth and fifth session discussed strategies for addressing the weaknesses of existing human rights mechanisms in this regard.

During the third session, UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz praised the inclusive language adopted across the UN as an important tool for conflict prevention. He also stressed the need for an improved and broadened understanding of gender to understand the particular impacts of armed conflict on LGBTI+ populations. Madrigal emphasized that LGBTI+ people face constant violence before, during, and after armed conflicts, due in part to gender stereotypes firmly ingrained in societies. Given this reality, he expressed concern at the low levels of LGBTI+ participation in transitional justice and peacebuilding initiatives. He expressed his hope that the Colombian commission undertakes a specific analysis of the violence suffered by LGBTI+ communities in the country’s armed conflict.

The forum ended with a series of recommendations that drew on the information submitted before the forum, the panels, and attendees’ questions and comments. The recommendations were grouped into twelve categories: 1) Education on human rights, 2) Fighting intersectional inequality and discrimination, 3) Recognizing and accommodating ethno-cultural diversity, 4) Guaranteeing effective participation in public life, politics, the economy, and culture, 5) Educating the public about minorities, 6) Environmental issues, 7) Health issues, 8) Religion, 9) Access to justice, 10) Ending violence, 11) Data collection, y 12) Conflict prevention.

The recommendations generated by the Forum and the other Regional Forums will be distributed and serve as references for the 14th UN Forum on Minority Issues. The Special Rapporteur on minority issues will also use them to prepare guidelines and resources on conflict and minorities.

As was emphasized throughout the Forum, the rights of minorities are human rights and states have an obligation to protect and promote these rights at both the individual and collective levels. The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities should be implemented alongside states’ other international human rights obligations and without any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, language, religion, political beliefs, socioeconomic status, or other condition.

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