40/64 Minority issues - Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues
Human Rights Council Fortieth session
25 February–22 March 2019
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development
Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues
In his report, prepared pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 25/5 and 34/6,
the Special Rapporteur on minority issues provides an overview of his activities since his
previous report (A/HRC/37/66). The report also contains a summary of his visit to
Botswana and an update on his first thematic report on statelessness as a minority issue and
the level of awareness-raising and visibility of minorities and their human rights.
United Nations A/HRC/40/64
I. Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 3
II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur ............................................................................................. 3
A. Country visits ........................................................................................................................ 4
B. Communications ................................................................................................................... 8
C. Conferences and awareness-raising activities ....................................................................... 8
III. Update on the Special Rapporteur’s first thematic report on statelessness as a minority issue ..... 12
IV. Focus on awareness-raising and visibility of minorities and their human rights ........................... 13
A. Forum on Minority Issues database ...................................................................................... 13
B. Outreach and social media activities ..................................................................................... 13
V. Update on the 2018 Forum on Minority Issues ............................................................................. 13
VI. Conclusions and recommendations ............................................................................................... 15
1. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues was established by the
Commission on Human Rights in its resolution 2005/79 of 21 April 2005. It was
subsequently extended by the Human Rights Council in successive resolutions, the most
recent being resolution 34/6, which extended the mandate under the same terms as provided
for in resolution 25/5.
2. The Special Rapporteur, Fernand de Varennes, was appointed by the Council on 26
June 2017 and assumed his functions on 1 August 2017. His term in office may be renewed
for two three-year periods.
3. The Special Rapporteur is honoured to be entrusted with the mandate and thanks the
Council for its trust in him. He also wishes to thank the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for its support in the implementation of the
4. The present report is the second submitted by the Special Rapporteur to the Human
Rights Council. In section II of the report, the Special Rapporteur provides an overview of
his activities in 2018, including an update on the Forum on Minority Issues. In section III,
he provides an update on the topic of statelessness as a minority issue, which was covered
in his first thematic report. In section IV, he highlights the significance of raising awareness
and the visibility of minority issues. In section V, he refers to the development of a new
tool to increase accessibility to and visibility of the recommendations and other
documentation emanating from the Forum on Minority Issues. The final section of the
report contains conclusions and insights on the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.
II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur
5. The Special Rapporteur wishes to draw the attention of the Council to the
information published on the mandate’s website, which provides general information on the
activities associated with the mandate, including communications, press statements, public
appearances, country visits and thematic reports.1
6. The first full year of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate has been focused on
increasing the visibility and raising awareness of minority issues, both within United
Nations institutions and more generally with members of the greater public and other
regional and international organizations, and of exploring new approaches in order to
improve the accessibility of the mandate’s activities such as the Forum on Minority Issues.
7. The human rights of minorities are not always sufficiently acknowledged or
prominent in many areas, including statelessness. This can be seen when, within the United
Nations, groups such as the Rohingya – a religious, ethnic and linguistic minority in
Myanmar – are at times described in its documents as a people, a group, or a community,
but not necessarily as a minority. Uncertainty as to what constitutes a minority for the
purposes of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic,
Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and to the significance in practical terms of such a
status, may partially explain these situations. For these reasons, many of the Special
Rapporteur’s activities have sought to redress, by actively and consistently highlighting the
prominence of minorities as particularly affected by statelessness, hate speech and other
areas of human rights concerns.
8. For these reasons, the Special Rapporteur has focused on the need for greater clarity
as to who are minorities and what are their human rights, as recognized in the Declaration
on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic
Minorities and other United Nations instruments, including, in particular, article 27 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 30 of the Convention on the
1 See www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/SRminorityissuesIndex.aspx.
Rights of the Child. He referred to the need for steps to address this lack of clarity in his
first speech to the General Assembly in October 2017.
A. Country visits
9. In pursuance of his mandate to promote the implementation of the Declaration on
the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities
and to identify best practices in every region, the Special Rapporteur looks forward to
continuing a dialogue with Cameroon, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nepal, South Africa, South
Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu, to whom he has made requests
10. The Special Rapporteur wishes to thank the States that accepted visits by previous
mandate holders for their good offices and cooperation, and encourages other States,
including those to which requests for visits have been made, to engage positively with the
mandate. Country visits have helped in addressing fundamental issues pertaining to
minorities and in creating effective communication channels to bring together the means to
improve technical cooperation and respond to the need to capitalize on existing and
evolving positive practices. In addition to country visits, the Special Rapporteur will ensure
continuous and consistent exchanges with Member States on all matters relevant to the
11. In all of his missions, the Special Rapporteur focuses on the importance of
addressing discrimination, exclusion and other violations of human rights involving
particularly vulnerable minorities, such as Roma, of doubly or triply marginalized minority
women, and issues pertaining to deaf and hearing-impaired persons who, as users of sign
language, are members of linguistic minorities. During his country visits, the Special
Rapporteur emphasizes the need to have consultations with members of those marginalized
groups and communities.
12. The Special Rapporteur undertook an official mission to Slovenia from 5 to 13 April
2018 (A/HRC/40/64/Add.1). He also conducted a mission to Botswana from 12 to 24
August 2018 (A/HRC/40/64/Add.2).
13. Despite being sometimes viewed as largely mono-ethnic, Botswana is diverse in
ethnic and linguistic terms, though perhaps less so in relation to the religious make-up and
compared with some of its neighbours. Ethnolinguistic communities, for example, can be
divided into five broad groups: Tswana, Basarwa, Bakgalagadi, Wayeyi and Hambukushu.
Officially, some 28 languages are acknowledged in the country, while the Tswana are
comprised of eight subgroups or tribes – Bakgatla, Bakwena, Balete, Bangwaketse,
Bangwato, Barolong, Batawana and Batlokwa – which use mutually intelligible language
varieties collectively known as Setswana. Together they may constitute a demographic
majority, though this is sometimes contested. Some stress the perceived unreliability of the
disaggregated data in the last population census in 2011, which asked for language spoken
by all family members at home, rather than an individual’s mother tongue, in the
determination of ethnicity or language identification. The figures in this last census
indicated 77.3 per cent of the population spoke Setswana at home, 7.4 per cent used
Kalanga, 3.4 per cent Kgalagadi, 2 per cent Shona, 1.7 per cent Tshwa, 1.6 per cent
Mbukushu and 1 per cent Ndebele. Members of the deaf community who use sign language
are present in Botswana and are considered to be members of a linguistic minority for the
purposes of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. There is, however, an absence of recent
disaggregated data on the situation of minorities and on matters such as ethnicity, religion
14. The Basarwa, also known as the San, appear to be among the countries most
marginalized minorities. They include several groups and are, conservatively, estimated to
number some 60,000 people, and are usually considered to be the indigenous peoples of
Southern Africa. Botswana voted in favour of adopting the United Nations Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
15. Among the positive developments noted in his report are the efforts to address the
disadvantages faced by remote-area populations and marginalized groups who are often
persons who belong to minorities, such as the Basarwa, including a five-year informal plan
of affirmative action with regard to the recruitment of persons belonging to minorities in
the army, police and prison systems, and the Remote Area Development Programme.
Revisions to this programme have come to accept a community-led development approach
that aims to promote participatory processes and community participation in issues
affecting their own development, and the need for affirmative measures for the benefit of
communities, including, inter alia, minority communities that have faced intractable
disadvantages, either for logistical reasons, or because of long-standing historical prejudice
and subjugation by the dominant groups. These measures cover matters such as improved
access to education, health, employment and economic development opportunities.
Minorities in these remote areas tend to benefit from the programme.
16. Additionally, religious minorities do not seem to face any major obstacles or
discrimination in terms of accessing education, and it is noteworthy that reports of hate
speech or incitement targeting them or other minorities appear to be practically non-existent.
17. The Government’s policy plan entitled “Vision 2036: Achieving Prosperity for All”
was also commendable as it contained a statement that all ethnic groups would have equal
recognition and representation at the Ntlo ya Dikgosi (“House of Chiefs”). In a section
dealing with what is described as the fourth pillar, involving the constitution and human
rights, the Vision aims for Botswana being among the top countries protecting human rights.
In another section, it refers to the recognition of the cultural heritage and identity that
Botswana must maintain and promote in order to achieve an inclusive and equal
opportunity nation, as well as to enable all its communities to freely live, practice and
celebrate their diverse cultures, including their languages. The Special Rapporteur noted
that, in 2012, during the second cycle of the universal periodic review, the Government
indicated that it appreciated the importance of mother tongue education and that it would
explore strategies for this purpose, including by introducing teacher aides at the primary
school level. It has also been brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur that the
Government has committed to ratifying soon the Convention on the Rights of Persons with
18. There are nevertheless areas of concern that have been expressed by a number of
minorities and civil society organizations. One of the prominent issues still to be addressed
is the absence of a more comprehensive human rights framework, such as a bill of rights,
and a review of the Constitution, so that the country becomes more aligned with the
obligations enshrined in the core international human rights treaties. The Special
Rapporteur pointed out that vulnerable or marginalized individuals and communities,
including particularly minorities, are those most likely to be affected by the absence of a
more comprehensive approach to the recognition and protection of human rights. The
Special Rapporteur urged for the future human rights mandate of the Office of the
Ombudsman to comply with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for
the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles), and that it continue its
positive engagement and efforts in this regard, including through technical assistance by the
United Nations and consultations with national human rights institutions from other
19. More generally, concerns expressed included the refusal to use minority languages
in education or public media, access to essential and other public services in areas inhabited
by minorities, the representation of minorities in political and other State institutions and in
the symbolic and other structures of the State deemed to be more reflective of the Tswana
majority, and indeed to discriminate against non-Tswana minorities.
20. The Special Rapporteur also highlighted in his report the refusal to allow the
licensing of community radios that could broadcast in minority languages and the
prohibition of the teaching of a minority language in a private school, as well as the more
generalized reluctance to teach in languages other than English and Setswana, which could
be deemed discriminatory and inconsistent with the approaches identified as good practices
in a publication of the former Special Rapporteur, “Language rights of linguistic minorities:
a practical guide for implementation”.2 While Botswana has made great strides to increase
access to education and the quality of its education system, minorities living in remote areas
still face significant difficulties in accessing education. The system of hostel
accommodation put in place to bring children from these communities to live far from their
families in areas closer to schools was signalled out as having in many cases negative, even
tragic, consequences on the lives of many of these children. He was described in vivid
terms children being thrown into an alien world, feeling abandoned by their own mothers
and fathers, with many becoming despondent and running away, or doing very poorly at
school. He was also told the stories of some who eventually benefited and were able to
pursue secondary, and even tertiary, studies. Nevertheless, he was advised that overall
minorities appeared to be disproportionally represented among those who were sent to
hostels in different regions of the country.
21. The Special Rapporteur concluded that the practice amounts to institutionalization of
remote-area minority children, and particularly the Basarwa, and that it should be reviewed
and alternative approaches studied so as to minimize the separation of young children away
from their parents, in the light of the devastating effects this can have. His report contains
22. The Special Rapporteur invited Botswanan educational authorities to review their
policies of excluding the teaching of and in minority languages in both public and private
schools, so as to be better aligned with the goal of achieving an inclusive and equal
opportunity nation, as well as to enable all its communities to freely live, practice and
celebrate their diverse cultures, including their languages, and with its stated agreement in
2012, during the universal periodic review, of the importance of mother tongue education.
23. Grave concerns were raised as to the continued prominence, and even pre-eminence,
of Tswana chiefs over non-Tswana minorities, in the central and unique constitutional and
political feature of its chieftaincy system (kgotla), and the position and authority of the
House of Chiefs. The intricacies of this defining characteristic of Botswana are outlined in
24. Broadly speaking, the House of Chiefs is a three-tier system with, at its top, the
chiefs (kgosi) of the eight areas belonging to the Tswana tribes and the four former Crown
lands, five persons appointed by the President, and a maximum of 20 other chiefs selected
by regional electoral colleges for five-year terms. The recognized chiefs of the eight
Tswana tribes rule over other tribes whose chiefs are not recognized, and they recommend
to the Government the appointment of subchiefs, senior chiefs’ representatives and
25. Some changes, such as the Bogosi Act, adopted following litigation brought by
members of the Wayeyi community and the resulting 2001 High Court judgment, which
found section 2 of the Chieftainship Act to be discriminatory and unconstitutional, have led
to improvements, such as the formal recognition of the Wayeyi as a tribe in 2016 and of
their Chief in 2017. However, the High Court had ordered recognition of the equal
protection and treatment of all tribes under the Act. Under the current three-tiered
arrangement, the chiefs of the eight Tswana tribes retain a permanent and automatic quota.
Many others tribes are either unrecognized, unrepresented or need to have their chiefs
elected periodically – if they can – as members of the House of Chiefs. A number of
minority representatives have stated that they feel excluded, disadvantaged politically and
that they are not able to enjoy the same advantages and benefits as tribes who are
automatically represented, including in terms of recognition and respect for their identity.
This system continues to create tensions in Botswanan society, in particular the more
prominent role, rights and privileges of the chiefs of the eight Tswana tribes, which could
still be considered discriminatory, as were previously parts of the Chieftainship Act in 1999.
Many tribes remain completely unrecognized under the current legislation, and even those
who have been recognized since the adoption of the Bogosi Act are not automatically
2 See www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/LanguageRights.aspx.
treated the same as the paramount chiefs of the eight Tswana tribes. Some receive no salary
(the chiefs of the eight Tswana tribes do) and in practice may not be able to impose their
authority on neighbouring subchiefs, thus meaning in concrete terms that the recognition is
in some cases more theoretical than real.
26. Other laws still only recognize Tswana tribes and tribal structures and not those of
minority tribes. For example, the Tribal Land Act of 1968, which deals with tribal land
rights in Botswana, names tribal territories after the major Tswana tribes only and
designates their chiefs as the custodians of these territories.
27. There are tensions surrounding the claimed predominance of the eight Tswana tribes
in nominations in the current kgotla and chieftaincy system, which serve as the custodians
of the culture of the people but also importantly address some 80 per cent of criminal and
other matters in their communities. While the kgotla system provides for direct public
participation and consultation at the local level, it seems that the adjudication system based
on the kgosi may also result, at least in some cases, to the dominant tribe imposing its
customary law on minority tribes in a tribal territory in civil matters.
28. There are also gender issues that arise from the kgotla and chieftaincy system, since
women in minority communities – as well as the Tswana – do not seem to occupy many
positions as kgosi. The principle of non-discrimination suggests that the future review of
the whole kgotla and chieftaincy system necessarily consider how best to ensure the rights
of political participation of women, including minority women, in a non-discriminatory
29. Overall, the Special Rapporteur is of the view that the current kgotla and chieftaincy
system is neither consistent with the human rights obligations of Botswana nor conducive
to long-term peace and stability in the country.
30. Land laws, still largely reflecting the colonial land tenure system set up by the
British that specifically recognized Tswana interests in land over minority tribes in the
country, are another continuing source of friction. Members of minority communities often
perceive that they are being discriminated against because they do not receive the same
recognition as the Tswana, particularly in the absence of a clear mechanism for demarking
and recognizing traditional or historical land use or addressing long-standing grievances.
Such an absence at least gives the impression that the system is not ethnically neutral nor
susceptible to favouritism, particularly since it is claimed that Tswana customary law tends
to dominate in these matters.
31. The Special Rapporteur expressed concern that the situation of the Basarwa and
Bakgalagadi living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve or those resettled in Kaudwane
and New Xade, because of a continuing restrictive – and inaccurate – interpretation of the
2006 High Court judgment in Roy Sesana and Others v. Attorney General, are still subject
to a limited right of return to the reserve, with access to water and State services also still
unresolved, as are traditional hunting, grazing and foraging issues.
32. Tensions over the use of land by minority communities and wildlife management are
also a particular feature of Botswana. The Special Rapporteur learned of minority
communities in Kasane, as well as communities enclaved by the Chobe National Park and
forest reserves, who feel poorly served in terms of the implementation of policies and
programmes that should normally ensure equal access to State services, such as education
and health, so that no one is left behind. Minority communities, such as the Basubiya, have
limited access to the lease of very small plots of land, since their traditional lands are
considered State land. While damage done by wildlife to their crops, homes, property and
even to themselves means in theory that they are entitled to some compensation, the
amounts involved are often either quite insignificant or at times never paid when the budget
for compensation has been exhausted. There is also the challenge of inhabitants in some
communities being locked in after 6.30 or 7.30 p.m. every evening, the road leading from
their communities to Kasane, outside the national park where most government and other
services are located, being closed except for emergency medical evacuation. The above
issues raise the often expressed feeling that non-Tswana minorities who live in these
communities are not fairly treated by the State authorities.
33. The Special Rapporteur was also told that difficulties in access to water and other
basic services disproportionally affect settlements in which certain nomadic and minority
communities live, including, in particular, the San and other Basarwa communities. He was
informed that even in a major town such as Maun, with a concentration of Wayeyi and
other minorities, the provision of water in the municipality was not always guaranteed.
34. Generally speaking, the use of languages other than English or Setswana is not
provided for in the information or communication activities of the country. Even
HIV/AIDS awareness-raising campaigns use only Tswana and English, although the
Special Rapporteur was advised that the Government tries to liaise with local organizations
for the effective dissemination of information. In terms of broadcasting on public television,
the only exception would seem to be the 30 minutes of interpretation offered in sign
language out of the 24-hour programme.
35. Although private printed media exist in Botswana, these only appear, and apparently
are only allowed, in English and Setswana. Any prohibition of the use of other languages in
private media, and this includes minority languages, would be contrary to fundamental
human rights, such as freedom of expression. It was brought to the attention of the Special
Rapporteur that, although private radio stations do exist, they are all based in Gaborone,
and apparently no private radio station is allowed to broadcast any programme in any of the
country’s minority languages. Broadcasting licences for locally based community radio
stations have until now always been rejected, and in some cases this may have been
partially motivated by the proposed use of minority languages in some of the programming.
36. While there is, since 1994, a recognition of sorts of sign language in Botswana with
its introduction in the country’s revised education policy and a growing use of the language
in schools, training programmes and as interpretation in the court system, many challenges
remain. It was brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur that there is a lack of
qualified and professional interpreters, particularly in the health-care sector, and of outreach
and health education programmes in sign language, which negatively affects the effective
dissemination of information with regard to health prevention, and that even in schools for
members of the deaf minority community most of the teachers are not trained in sign
language or in teaching methods adapted to the educational needs of deaf persons.
37. The Special Rapporteur sent letters of allegation and urgent action letters to the
Member States concerned, based on information he had received from diverse sources
about human rights violations perpetrated against national, ethnic, religious and linguistic
minorities. Those communications and the responses thereto are publicly available.3
38. A total of 51 communications have been sent to Governments since January 2018.
All of those were sent jointly with other special procedure mandate holders. Of those, 11
were urgent appeals, 27 were letters of allegation, and 13 were other letters expressing
concerns about legislation or policy.
39. The largest number of communications (21) were sent to States in the Asia-Pacific
region, followed by Europe and Central Asia (19), the Middle East and North Africa and
Africa (4 each). One communication was sent to a State in the Americas region, while two
are not associated with a specific region.
C. Conferences and awareness-raising activities
40. Raising awareness and the visibility of the human rights of minorities has been
repeatedly highlighted as an important dimension of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate
since his election in June 2017. This has, among others, taken the form of frequently
speaking and contributing to numerous conferences seminars, and meetings, internationally,
regionally and nationally, throughout the world and with a variety of governmental and
non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In particular, he has, whenever the opportunity
has presented itself, referred to the minority issues that have been identified as the thematic
priorities of his mandate, such as statelessness, education and the languages of minorities,
hate speech and social media, and the prevention of ethnic conflicts. Cross-cutting issues
have also been frequently highlighted, including the double or even triple marginalization
of minority women, and particularly vulnerable groups, such as Roma and the Dalit. The
Special Rapporteur has, on many occasions, additionally emphasized in his activities that
sign language users are members of a linguistic minority. He has also given frequent media
interviews on issues involving the human rights of minorities.
41. On 29 January, the Special Rapporteur participated in an expert seminar organized at
the Institute of Education of the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, during which he
spoke about minority rights and linguistic rights in education. The next day he was a key
speaker at the annual meeting of the Russian International Law Association on global
challenges and effectiveness of international law, held at Moscow State University, during
which the Association addressed the issue of the “Protection of Minorities in International
Law: Its Importance in Today’s Global Instabilities and Uncertainties”. On the same day,
he also held a seminar on “25 Years of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging
to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: Directions and Relevance for
Education” at the Institute of Education, Higher School of Economics.
42. On 14 February, he was a guest lecturer at the Linguistics Department of the Faculty
of Arts and Social Sciences at the Université de Moncton in Canada, where he made a
presentation on the possible contributions of international human rights law in relation to
43. On 13 March, he spoke on the rights of linguistic and other minorities and the global
human rights system at a parallel event on the situation of human rights in the Islamic
Republic of Iran, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
44. On 26 March, he was keynote speaker at the launch of the Peter McMullin Centre on
Statelessness at Melbourne Law School in Australia, where he directly addressed the
thematic issue of “Statelessness and its Causes: Discrimination, Minorities and the Asia-
45. On 26 April, in Barcelona, Spain, he was keynote speaker at the end of the 36th
human rights course on human rights in the face of extremism and discrimination,
organized by the Catalan Institute of Human Rights, where his presentation dealt with
extremism, discrimination and the need for a new commitment towards human rights.
46. On 30 April and 1 May 2018, he convened and presided over a regional expert
workshop in Bangkok on statelessness and minority rights.
47. On 9 May, he was among speakers invited to the First International Muslim
Minorities Congress held in Abu Dhabi, during which he again explored one of the
thematic priorities of his mandate in a presentation on “Hate Speech, Intolerance and
Religious Minorities: Global Challenges and Responses”.
48. On 10 May, he was a guest at the meeting on “Arab Human Capital in Israel:
Organizing and Activation”, organized by the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens
of Israel and held in Taibe, Israel, during which he spoke on “The Value of Protecting the
Human Rights of Minorities: Education and Language”, another of the thematic priorities
of his mandate.
49. On 24 May, he participated in the third meeting of the Global Action Against Mass
Atrocity Crimes held in Kampala, during which he also made a presentation on atrocity
prevention and minority policies.
50. On 31 May, he was one of the keynote speakers at the conference entitled
“Language Policy and Conflict Prevention: Revisiting the Oslo Recommendations
regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities”, held in Oslo and co-organized by
the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Norwegian Resource Bank for Democracy and
Human Rights, during which he made a presentation on the international dimension of
conflict prevention and the linguistic (human) rights of minorities.
51. On 17 June, he participated in a workshop, held in Oslo, focusing on minority rights
in the Middle East and North Africa. The next day, he spoke on inclusive citizenship,
human rights and identity politics, at the International Conference on Human Rights and
Inclusive Citizenship – Conditions for Co-existence in Conflict-ridden Societies, organized
by the Norwegian Centre for Holocaust and Minorities Studies at the University of Oslo.
52. On 20 June, he made a presentation on the theme of new opportunities in European
minority protection and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, at the
sixty-third Congress of the Federal Union of European Nationalities, in Leeuwarden in the
53. On 25 June, he addressed, as a panellist, the World Conference on Religions, Creeds
and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights, held in Geneva,
organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, the
International Catholic Migration Commission, the World Council of Churches, the World
Council of Religious Leaders, Bridges to Common Ground and the European Centre for
Peace and Development.
54. On 26 June, he participated as an expert in the round table on citizenship stripping as
a security measure, held in The Hague, the Netherlands, and organized by the Institute on
Statelessness and Inclusion, in collaboration with the Open Society Justice Initiative, the
Asser Institute and Ashurst.
55. On 3 July, he gave a keynote speech on United Nations standards regarding the
protection of the human rights of minorities for stable and inclusive societies at the First
Nations Governance Forum, coordinated by the Australian National University in Canberra.
The next day, he made a presentation on the nature and extent of minority rights in
international law and his mandate, at the same venue.
56. On 11 July, he spoke on “Human Rights at a Crossroads: Where We Stand in 2018”,
for the United Nations Information Service’s fifty-sixth Graduate Study Programme on the
seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Geneva.
57. On 12 July, he gave a lecture on his mandate, activities and the challenges he faced
for the Summer Human Rights Programme of the School of Law at Murdoch University in
Australia, which was held in Geneva.
58. On 16 July he gave a presentation on his mandate to the sixth Global Minority
Rights Summer School, “The Law and Politics of Minority Rights: Are Norms and
Institutions Failing Us?”, held in Budapest.
59. On 14 September, he was a keynote speaker on the topic of “Tolerance and Non-
Discrimination: Minorities and the Prevention of Aggressive Nationalism, Racism and
Chauvinism”, at the 2018 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting held by the OSCE
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw.
60. On 19 September, he made a presentation at the World Conference on Xenophobia,
Racism, and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration, held in the Vatican
and organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the World
Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
61. On 26 September, he spoke on the issue of “Identity and Belonging: the Role of
Human Rights for Minorities”, during the 2018 session of the European Union
Fundamental Rights Forum, “National Minorities and the State: from Exclusive Identities
to Multilayered Forms of Identities”, organized by the European Union Agency for
Fundamental Rights and the Council of Europe in Vienna.
62. On 1 October, he gave a public lecture on special procedures and his mandate, in
particular, at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway. The same day he gave a
seminar for staff and students on the topic of the linguistic – and other – rights of minorities
and the global human rights system.
63. On 4 October, he addressed the European Parliament’s Intergroup for Traditional
Minorities, National Communities and Languages on the issue of minority rights, in
64. On 5 and 6 October, he participated in a preparatory meeting coordinated by the
Tom Lantos Institute with a number of European minority NGOs to discuss the possibility
of organizing a forum on the education and the linguistic rights of minorities in Europe in
65. On 8 October, he gave a presentation on his mandate and priorities to the members
of the Advisory Committee of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the
Protection of National Minorities, in Strasbourg, France.
66. On 11 October, he spoke on the topic of “Language is Power: An International and
Legal Perspective”, at the Conference on Fulfilling Indigenous Peoples’ and Minority
Rights to Culture and Language, organized by the Human Rights Consortium of the
Institute of Modern Languages Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of
London, and Brunel University Law School, in London.
67. On 12 October, he was keynote speaker at a colloquium in Paris on linguistic justice,
during which he presented a paper on language rights and the human rights of minorities.
68. On 18 October, he participated in a side event on statelessness organized by the
Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and the Open Society Justice Initiative in New York.
69. On 22 October, he participated in a side event on the theme of “Freedom of Religion
or Belief: an Indicator of Human Rights Protections” and spoke about “Freedom of
Religion: the First Right for Religious Minorities”. The event was organized by the Non-
Governmental Organizations Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the Baha’i
International Centre in New York.
70. On 23 October, he presented his annual report to the General Assembly, during
which he also presented his initial thematic report on statelessness as a minority issue,
highlighting why more than three quarters of the world’s stateless are members of a
relatively small number of minorities around the world and proposing further steps to raise
awareness and the visibility of the human rights dimensions and, in particular, the
discriminatory denial or stripping of citizenship, which are the root causes of the most
serious cases of statelessness in every region of the globe. Among some of the significant
recommendations are the need to focus on minorities as the main victims of statelessness,
as well as the necessity to further develop guidelines or practices to tackle more precisely
and directly the practices, policies and laws that result in so many minorities being the main
victims of statelessness.
71. On 27 October, he presented the keynote speech at the graduation ceremony for
European regional MA in democracy and human rights in South-East Europe on
“Democracy and Human Rights: the Challenge of Heroes”, at the University of Sarajevo.
72. On 29 October, he gave a seminar on “The Language Rights of Linguistic Minorities:
International Standards and their Significance”, organized by the European Foundation of
Human Rights, in Vilnius.
73. On 30 October, he gave a lecture on his mandate and activities at the European
Foundation of Human Rights, in Vilnius.
74. On 6 November, he participated in the OHCHR (Middle East and North Africa)
Youth Training Conference and gave a speech on the specific United Nations mechanisms
that protect minority rights, in Marrakech, Morocco.
75. On 13 November, he addressed the issue of “Conflict Prevention to Avoid
Humanitarian Crises: the Role of Human Rights and the Protection of Minorities”, at a
special meeting on protecting vulnerable religious minorities in conflict and crisis settings
organized by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland, in association with the United States Agency for International
Development, in Wilton Park, United Kingdom.
76. On 26 November, he was keynote speaker at the Conference on Practicing Pluralism
in the Field of Human Rights in Geneva, which was made possible by the Global Centre for
Pluralism and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations Office and other
international organizations in Geneva. He spoke on the theme “Of Values and Men:
Challenges to the International Human Rights Architecture”.
77. On 27 November, he made the opening remarks at the conference on addressing
anti-Gypsyism in a post-2020 European Union framework for national Roma integration
strategies, organized by the Federal Chancellery of Austria, in Vienna.
78. On 27 November, he was one of the speakers at the eleventh Human Rights
Conference on the topic of “Human Rights at a Crossroads: the Protection of Religious and
Other Minorities”, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, in Budapest.
79. On 29 November, he addressed a side event during the eleventh Forum on Minority
Issues, in Geneva, entitled “Not Just Paper: Intersectional and Aggravating Factors
Affecting the Lives of Stateless Minorities”, organized by Minority Rights Group
International and sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations
Office and other international organizations in Geneva. On 30 November, the Special
Rapporteur participated in two further side events during the Forum: one organized by the
Jssor Youth Organization, in partnership with the Helping Hands Foundation and OHCHR
on the Ibelong campaign to eradicate statelessness; and the other was the presentation of the
Forum’s information website and online database launched by the Human Rights
Consortium of the University of London, and the Tom Lantos Institute.
80. On 5 December, he spoke on his mandate and thematic priorities at a conference on
the struggles and opportunities of the Hungarian minority communities in Romania, held in
81. On 6 December, he attended a seminar on Hungarian minority education, held in
Târgu Mureş, Romania.
82. On 7 December, he attended a conference and book project meeting, in Budapest, on
minority rights, organized by the Tom Lantos Foundation and the Human Rights
Consortium of the University of London, during which he gave a presentation on his
mandate and thematic priorities.
83. On 10 December, he made a presentation on “Never Again? Minorities, Human
Rights and the Prevention of Genocide 70 Years Later” at the Third Global Forum against
the Crime of Genocide, held in Yerevan and organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
84. He also conducted numerous media interviews on his mandate and minority issues
III. Update on the Special Rapporteur’s first thematic report on statelessness as a minority issue
85. In his first thematic report to the General Assembly in October 2018, the Special
Rapporteur highlighted the extent to which statelessness is mainly a minority issue, since
more than 75 per cent of the world’s more than 10 million men, women and children who
find themselves deprived of citizenship are persons belonging to national or ethnic,
religious and linguistic minorities. He also explained the underlying causes and patterns for
why certain minorities find themselves specifically affected because of breaches of
international human rights obligations, and in particular the international prohibition of
86. The 2018 Forum on Minority Issues expanded and enriched the observations and
recommendations presented in the Special Rapporteur’s thematic report by providing
further information and insights on the extent, significance and dire consequences of
statelessness for minorities in many States, including in countries in which such
information had not been previously considered. Among the information provided was, for
example, the fact that the world’s largest single group of stateless persons are Palestinians,
though their numbers are not provided in the official statistics of the Office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on stateless minorities.4 There was
also powerful testimonies to the double and even triple marginalization minority women
can encounter and the increasing threat of new waves of statelessness appearing due to
refugee and migratory trends, as well as new reported cases of documentary and other
requirements potentially leading to millions more minorities becoming de facto stateless in
Assam, India, and other parts of the world.
87. The Special Rapporteur intends therefore to continue work on the thematic priority
of statelessness as a minority – and human right – issue by convening a group of experts in
order to prepare guidelines and good practices, in line with United Nations human rights
obligations, such as the prohibition of discrimination and the right of children to a
nationality, on how to tackle the root causes of the problem, which result in the vast
majority of stateless persons being those who belong to a small handful of minority
IV. Focus on awareness-raising and visibility of minorities and their human rights
A. Forum on Minority Issues database
88. More than 4,000 statements, declarations, recommendations and other documents
have been produced since the establishment of the Forum on Minority Issues. Access to,
and hence the visibility of, these documents has not always been straightforward,
particularly since a large number of these, in particular statements, have not been
transcribed. First announced by the Special Rapporteur at the 2017 Forum, the Forum on
Minority Issues database (www.minorityforum.info) was launched on 30 November 2018
during the eleventh session of the Forum to remedy this lacuna.
89. Created by the Tom Lantos Institute in cooperation with the Human Rights
Consortium of the University of London, the database compiles statements from the 2008
to 2016 sessions of the Forum, as well as key minority rights standards, reports of the
special rapporteurs and independent experts on minority issues, and recommendations in
the field of minority rights. The database is a searchable, user-friendly resource for civil
society actors, including minorities, States, international organizations, academics, and
other stakeholders working for the human rights of minorities, thus addressing what the
Special Rapporteur had identified as a priority area early in his mandate in 2017.
B. Outreach and social media activities
90. In 2018, the Special Rapporteur participated in or addressed some 50 conferences
and meetings around the world and also gave a significant number of media interviews.
Nevertheless, in order to reach out beyond those traditionally interested or active in the
field of minority issues and to better promote awareness in and the implementation of the
Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and
Linguistic Minorities, the Special Rapporteur will explore ways to better use media in
general, and social media in particular.
V. Update on the 2018 Forum on Minority Issues
91. The Forum on Minority Issues was established in 2007 by the Human Rights
Council in resolution 6/15 and reaffirmed in 2012 by resolution 19/23. It is mandated to
4 While UNHCR recognizes that there are some 10 million stateless persons in the world (excluding
Palestinians), other organizations, such as the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion in The World’s
Stateless report, suggest that the number is closer to 15 million, though inclusive of Palestinians.
provide a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national
or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, as well as to provide thematic contributions
and expertise to the work of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues. The Special
Rapporteur is tasked with guiding the work of the Forum, preparing its annual meetings and
reporting to the Human Rights Council on its thematic recommendations. The Forum meets
annually in Geneva for two working days allocated to thematic discussions. It brings
together an average of 500 participants, including minorities, Member States, United
Nations mechanisms, regional intergovernmental bodies and NGOs.
92. The eleventh session of the Forum was held on 29 and 30 November 2018, with the
topic “Statelessness: A Minority Issue”. This year’s number of participants far exceeded the
average level of previous years, with more than 600 being counted.
93. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, former Special Rapporteur on minority issues, was appointed as
Chair of the eleventh session by the President of the Human Rights Council. A total of 12
experts and members of minorities from different parts of the world presented the four main
panel discussions: the root causes and consequences of statelessness affecting minorities;
statelessness resulting from conflicts, forced population movements and migration affecting
minorities; ensuring the right to a nationality for persons belonging to minorities through
facilitation of birth registration, naturalization and citizenship for stateless minorities; and
minority women and children affected by statelessness – advancing gender equality in
nationality laws. The Forum was opened on Thursday 29 November 2018 by the President
of the Human Rights Council, Vojislav Šuc, followed by a video statement by the High
Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, a statement by the Special Rapporteur
and remarks by the Chair.
94. In an effort to improve dialogue among stakeholders and better focus the exchanges
on the topic, the session was comprised of four panel discussions, each introduced by three
experts or minority activists. Four moderators guided the discussions, which helped to keep
floor interventions more focused on the topic at hand and to maintain a high level of
engagement by participants throughout the two-day programme.
95. The Special Rapporteur reiterates the crucial importance of the Forum on Minority
Issues, which represents the only avenue for a number of minority rights activists to
advocate for change at the international level, but also a positive and unique platform for
promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national or ethnic, religious and
linguistic minorities. He noted the extremely high levels of participation in 2018, including
more than 200 declarations and 100 written statements made during the two-day Forum, as
evidence of the timeliness and relevance of this year’s topic for many minorities around the
world, but also of the vital role the Forum continues to play as a unique focal point of
discussions and exchanges at the United Nations for minorities, civil society organizations
and Member States.
96. He notes in particular, among the many recommendations made at the Forum, a call
made by Member States and other participants for an international day for the eradication
of statelessness, as well as for a General Assembly resolution solemnly recognizing, as a
binding rule of customary international law, that a State in which a child is born must grant
nationality to that child if otherwise he or she would be stateless.
97. Another suggestion at the 2018 Forum is the proposal to hold, initially, three
regional forums in 2019 on education and the languages of minorities, before the November
2019 Forum in Geneva, to provide more accessible and flexible platforms to encourage
more contextualised discussions of regional realities and gain more regional insights and
suggestions that would subsequently be taken into account at the 2019 Forum and be part of
a larger debate. At the time of writing of the present report, the final report on the 2018
Forum is not yet finalized.
98. Although the Forum achieved a number of its objectives, the Special Rapporteur
reiterates his view that there remains a need to consolidate the Forum as a space for
interactive dialogue and to increase the engagement of States, United Nations bodies,
regional organizations and other stakeholders. Additionally, from a procedural viewpoint,
the increasingly large number of participants continues to create frustration as not everyone
is able to take the floor under the desired agenda item and to delve into specific thematic
issues or concerns, particularly when they are limited to two or three minutes to do so.
While a more regional approach may make this interactive dialogue more accessible to
minorities in different parts of the world and more receptive to regional concerns and
contexts, other improvements should also be examined in 2019.
VI. Conclusions and recommendations
99. The Special Rapporteur’s first thematic report to the General Assembly in
2018 on statelessness, as well as the focus of the 2018 Forum on Minority Issues on
statelessness as a minority issue, have succeeded in raising awareness and the visibility
of the extent statelessness in every part of the world and that it mainly involves
persons who belong to specific minorities. He intends to further pursue awareness-
raising activities on statelessness as a minority issue with the United Nations, UNHCR,
States and other stakeholders in 2019 in order to suggest more effective ways of
addressing the root causes of statelessness affecting the vast majority of the world’s
more than 10 million stateless persons. The success of the 2018 Forum has contributed
greatly in enhancing the visibility and raising awareness of this issue.
100. He urges that, in view of the high-level review in 2019 of the UNHCR Ibelong
campaign to eradicate statelessness by 2024, the issue of how to address more directly
the root causes of the denial or stripping of citizenship, involving more than 7.5
million minorities, be acknowledged and included for further deliberation and action.
101. He invites States, regional organizations, NGOs, OHCHR and UNHCR to more
proactively and as a matter of priority direct their attention and efforts to addressing
the de facto and de jure statelessness affecting minorities.
102. In line with the suggestions made at the Forum, he calls upon States to draft
and adopt a General Assembly resolution solemnly recognizing, as a binding rule of
customary international law, that the State in which a child is born must grant that
child the nationality of that State if otherwise he or she would be stateless.
103. He invites States and other interested parties to follow up on the
recommendation made at the Forum that the United Nations consider formally
recognizing an international day of observance each year dedicated to raising
awareness of the situation of stateless persons worldwide.
104. He reiterates the need for a more targeted and comprehensive identification of
the positive measures that States can take to avoid the scourge of statelessness
affecting millions of minorities, in accordance with their international human rights
obligations. He intends to develop expert guidelines to this effect in 2019.
105. The continued success of the Forum, measured by the very high levels of
participation in 2018, is noteworthy. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that
additional regional platforms, inspired by the Forum, will be considered in 2019 so as
to strengthen its role as an important platform for promoting dialogue and
cooperation on issues pertaining to persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious
and linguistic minorities, which provides thematic contributions and expertise to the
work of the Special Rapporteur, and identifies best practices, challenges,
opportunities and initiatives for the further implementation of the Declaration on the
Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities,
pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 6/15, which was reaffirmed by
resolution 19/23. It is therefore hoped that at least three regional forums could be held
in Africa, Asia and Europe so that this unique platform can be supplemented by these
initiatives to be even more responsive to regional contexts and concerns, as well as
more accessible to interested parties on a regional basis and more conducive to
interactive dialogue among stakeholders, including State authorities and minority
106. The launching in 2018 of a searchable database of the more than 4,000
documents related to the Forum since 2008 greatly improves access to and the
visibility of the many valuable statements, declarations, reports, recommendations
and other contributions connected to the unique contribution of this global platform
for dialogue and expertise. The Special Rapporteur hopes to increase the awareness
and visibility of his mandate with the aim, in particular, of creating better
understanding of the human rights obligations reflected in the Declaration on the
Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities
and clarifying the concept of minority as a means of overcoming obstacles to the full
and effective realization of such rights.