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HR Council creates New international Forum for Minority Issues

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The 6th Session of Human Rights Council has created a new Forum on Minority Issues. The Forum has the potential to promote minority rights, and sustain discussions on this important aspect of human rights.
On 28 September 2007, the 6th Session of the Human Rights Council established a new Forum on Minority Issues. This Forum replaces the Working Group on Minorities (WGM), which operated under the now defunct Commission on Human Rights. Its task will be to identify issues and best practices, and to make recommendations on the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. The Forum will also provide the Independent Expert on minority issues with vital information.

The Forum will be open to the participation of States, UN mechanisms, bodies and agencies, national human rights institutions, academics, and NGOs. NGOs without ECOSOC status will be permitted in the forum as well, provided that their organisation runs in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations. The forum will meet for two days every year. The Forum Chair will be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, in consultation with regional groups and in accordance with regional rotation. The Independent Expert on minority issues will direct the work of the Forum as it convener by recommending focus topics and bringing issues to the Human Rights Council.

In its final report, the WGM recommended the provision of a mechanism to serve as a forum for dialogue and mutual understanding on minority rights issues. The Secretary-General reiterated this need by inviting the Council to consider ways of maintaining mechanisms offering opportunities for the participation of civil society.

FORUM-ASIA is encouraged by the creation of this new Forum, especially as its creation shows that the international community recognises the vital importance of an accessible forum to explore minority issues.

The role of the Independent Expert on minority issues within the Forum is a positive development, and should strengthen the overall protection of minorities. There was no such relationship between the Independent Expert and the former WGM. The potential that the Forum offers for more direct access to the Independent Expert for NGOs and other minority organisations is especially welcome.

The regional rotation of the chairmanship in new Forum has positive implications for minorities in Asia. Following this principle, Asians are given the opportunity to highlight regional realities in the Forum’s work during their turn to chair the body. The opportunities provided should be seized by all Asian organisations working on minority rights to raise issues in the Forum.

The Ethnic Minority Programme at FORUM-ASIA, along with all minority rights organisations, waits with anticipation for the forum to convene.