Minorities and Human Rights

XIX Congress of the Socialist International, Berlin, 15-17 September 1992

I. Introduction: Minorities - a new challenge to international politics in the transition to the 21st century

Differences in culture, ethnic heritage and national ties are both assets and hazards in a world becoming technically smaller every day. After the cold war, both dynamics work at great speed, the necessity to do things jointly and the urge of peoples and minorities to separate or even create new boundaries. Most of the feuds and wars of the nineties - all of them catastrophes to millions of people - are linked to cultural, ethnic or religious tensions.

The SI has an obligation to meet this challenge and offer guidelines in a world marked so much by the necessity to establish global responsibility and by the same token to meet local or regional cultural or religious aspirations.

1. The SI included the protection of minorities in its Declarations of Principles in 1951 and 1989.

The 1951 Declaration acknowledges "government by the majority while safeguarding the rights of the minority" as an important form of democratic order, calls for equality "without regard to birth, sex, belief, language or race" and grants "groups with their own language the right to cultural autonomy". (I. 3.)

In the Declaration of Principles of 1989 these ideas are again taken up, and the statement added that: "full rights for individuals and for organised minority opinions" must be provided in order for a political system to be qualified as democratic. (Point 21, cf. also 14, 18, 19).

2. With this Declaration the SI again underlines: Minority rights represent a fundamental principle of free, democratic societies. Their protection is one of the basic principles of human rights. Member parties are called upon to have this discussion put on the agenda of the forthcoming International Conference on Human Rights in Vienna 1993. Women's human rights have to be discussed as a separate point on its agenda.

3. Safeguarding the rights of minorities means to observe the freedom of the individual as one of the core values of democracy. The SI principles maintain the central role of the freedom of the individual to be part of or to depart from a cultural or religious minority. This remains a matter of individual choice, which must under no circumstances lead to disadvantages. The SI firmly believes in the strict separation of state and religion and rejects attempts to use religion as a pretext to curtail human rights. The SI welcomes efforts to address the problems of the communal and ethnic concepts with regard to land and water titles.

4. Democracy means the temporarily legitimated rule of the majority, on condition that the basic rights of minorities are safeguarded and certain procedures are accepted. There are principles which may not be recast by majority decision, in particular the observation of human rights, pluralism and tolerance.

Members of minorities must accept these values if they wish their differences to be acknowledged by others.

5. The peaceful resolution of all conflicts, within a democratic order, is an important goal of the SI.

Even critical clashes between different interests and harsh conflicts must be recognised as confrontations with a democratic opponent - not battles with an enemy.

This important distinction must be made, in particular when discussing minority rights.

6. The SI supports the initiatives of the CSCE, the Council of Europe and the UN. In particular, we welcome the decision of the CSCE not to view dealings with minorities exclusively as a national affair.

We will work towards the implementation of the principles of minority protection already formulated.

We wish to participate intensively in the discussion on the further development of International Law, which has reached a new level - the point of intersection between the primarily individual human rights codified until now and the question of up to what point and how group rights (such as collective rights for minorities) could and should be anchored in international community relations. We welcome various attempts for strengthening mechanisms at the international level, as well as early warning systems on violations of the rights of minorities, for example, the new High Commissioner on National Minorities within the CSCE, the Moscow CSCE rapporteur-mechanism on the human dimension, and the current work for an inter-American convention for the protection of indigenous people.

II. Universal human rights and the rights of minorities

7. There is still today no comprehensive legally binding charter of minority rights, though attempts at one are being made under the aegis of the Council of Europe and the UN. To date there is basically only one legally binding article, Article 27 of the 1966 UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The main existing authoritative charter of minority rights is Chapter IV of the seminal Copenhagen Document of the CSCE Conference of the Human Dimension (1990), which, though not strictly speaking a legal document, is politically and morally binding on the CSCE participating states, now 52 in number, and the additional protocol of the American Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Document of Copenhagen, if read in conjunction with the CSCE Geneva Report and the relevant paragraphs in the momentous Charter of Paris for a New Europe and the recent CSCE Helsinki Documents, offers an impressive list of minority rights and the obligation of states to respect/promote minority identity.

8. In accordance with the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, which was signed by the Member States of the CSCE in November 1990, minority rights will have to be made compatible with the right of peoples to self-determination, as laid down in the United Nations Charter, the respect of territorial integrity of states, the non-modification of borders by the use of force, and non-intervention in the internal affairs of another state.

9. The right to self-determination of peoples has always been a basic concern of the social democratic movement. It has been the basis of the independence struggle of many liberation movements in the twentieth century. The Socialist International is aware that a balance must be found between the three principles so often in conflict: the sovereignty of nations, the rights of minorities, and the basic rights of the individual. Parliamentary and social democracy are the internal means, international ties and institutions should be the external means to achieve this balance.

10. Minority problems can be intensified by social and material inequality, turning battles for economic distribution into ethnic and cultural conflicts. If it were possible to stem structural disadvantages and gross deficiencies, many possible conflicts between different groups could be averted.

11. The Socialist International does not aim to give the political reality of minorities a final definition, but the message must be clear: it is none other than non-discrimination, tolerance, and the protection of minority cultural, ethnic, and religious groups on the part of majorities or other minorities.

12. Minorities are characterised as representing a smaller portion of the population, having non-dominant status and in some respect differing from the total population: there are national, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious minorities and international minorities (such as the Sinti and the Roma). They can either be scattered or live relatively close together in one region.

13. The livelihood of many indigenous peoples, whose traditional way of life stands in contrast to the social norm of their surroundings, is often threatened by change and industrialisation.

Second or third generation immigrants, who wish to remain in the country which their parents entered as migrant workers, often exist in a quandary between the cultures of their families and the society in which they have grown up.

Girls are adversely affected because of patriarchal, religious and traditional attitudes of parents and others which restrict their personal freedoms.

14. The SI urges the international community to ratify and implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol to this Covenant in order to improve the international legal protection of minorities by Articles 13 and 26, and especially Article 27 of this Covenant.

15. In principle, in accordance with the UN Pact on civil and political rights, members of minorities have the right, individually or as a group, to freely express, preserve and further develop their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identities, free from all attempts to assimilate them against their will.

They must be able to exercise their human rights and basic liberties without any discrimination and in full equality in the eyes of the law.

It is unacceptable that violations of individuals' human rights are inflicted under the pretext of tradition by minority groups (eg wife-battering, forced marriages, sexual mutilation of girls).

16. The prohibition of any form of expulsion or forced resettlement is an indispensable prerequisite, as stated in the recent CSCE Helsinki Document signed by the CSCE participating states and in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The SI will encourage any move for a United Nations "Convention against any form of expulsion of minorities".

17. Minority protection requires active political steps: public programmes in fields like education, professional training; special measures to protect individuals, property and institutions of threatened minorities. In certain cases affirmative actions, such as minimum representation in elected bodies, can help to compensate for political discrimination. The freedom to organise politically must be guaranteed on the basis of the rule of law.

18. The rights of minorities to political participation can be legally or constitutionally guaranteed in many ways. Provisions in election laws can ensure that members of minorities or their organisations are represented in important political bodies. They must always be given the opportunity to organise themselves in political alliances or parties.

In a country where a minority is sizeable and forms the large majority by living compactly in a fairly distinct and integrated region, possibilities for self-administration may be considered so long as they do not jeopardise the rights of other minorities or of members of the majority.

19. Language is a key element in multilingual societies. The right to use their own language, names of people and places in private and public communication must be guaranteed. By the same token members of cultural and religious minorities should never be cut off from learning and using the official language of the majority culture. Other forms of cultural identification and expression, not only in the areas of the arts (literature, music, dance, drama and film) but also in the means of communication and religious expression (newspaper, books, radio and TV) must be open to minorities.

20. Members of minorities or their organisations must be given the legal or constitutional assurance of being able to institute proceedings in international courts of law.

III. Outlook

21. Internal peace among different ethnic or religious groups must become part of the new international order. Member states of supranational institutions have to accept this. States who want to establish any form of special relations to their kin groups in other states have to comply equally with the principle of sovereignty of that state and the requirements of international peace.

22. Democracy thrives on discourse. The integration of society, of the majority and minorities, can only be achieved through political dialogue whereby both sides must respect the basic principles of pluralistic democracy and the constitutional state.

23. The balance between central administration and regional authorities is a key element for future reform strategies. Political participation will become more and more linked to a deliberate policy of decentralisation.

24. The Socialist International, to which social democratic and socialist parties from all continents belong because they pursue common political goals, has set itself the task of regularly and formally dealing with problems concerning the rights and protection of minorities. Therefore, Council should consider establishing a group to compile information on issues and experiences and submit a report to every SI congress.

25. This Declaration will serve as the basic platform of the member parties of the Socialist International on all matters regarding the rights of minorities. Member parties agree to observe the principles laid down in this Declaration.