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Human rights defenders adopt “Bangkok Statement of Commitment” on minorities

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Human rights activists has adopted a commitment to strengthen and protect the rights of minorities at FORUM-ASIA’s 1st Regional Workshop on Minority Issues in Southeast Asia, held in Bangkok from 21 to 23 January 2008.
(Bangkok) Human rights defenders of Southeast Asia have adopted the “Bangkok Statement of Commitment” to strengthen and protect rights of minorities at FORUM-ASIA’s (also known as Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development) 1st Regional Workshop on Minorities Issues in Southeast Asia held in Bangkok from 21 to 23 January.

These points include participating in the United Nations mechanisms and procedures, and communicating with the United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues (IEMI). Participants identified that the most pressing issues affecting minorities in their countries are discrimination, statelessness, language policy and conflict.

They also found that political participation of minorities in decision making processes at all levels is the key to securing all other rights, although this is especially difficult for women.

About 40 human rights activists who are working on minority issues attended the event, together with United Nations representatives and the IEMI, Gay MacDougall.

This year, the IEMI will focus on poverty and minorities. In Asia and all over the world, minorities often find themselves in positions of deeply entrenched poverty: poverty that, when combined with discrimination, is more difficult to remedy than simply lack of income. Facing discrimination in law enforcement, combined with a lack of social mobility, special measures are required to get minorities out of the vicious cycle. But first, governments and societies need to acknowledge that minorities exist and face extra challenges.

The discrimination minorities face is complex and comes in many forms: some are also stateless or migrant workers; and women from minority communities have an added burden of being female and a minority, compounding their discrimination. The turbulent situations in some Southeast Asian states can create refugees and asylum seekers, often minorities in their home country, who become minorities in a new country. Migrant workers can sometimes be classified as minorities as well as they resettle and create communities in a new country.

One of the next major advocacy opportunities in ethnic minority issues is the upcoming Durban Review Conference in 2009. In 2001 in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, states pledged to create public policies to combat discrimination. These policies and their progress, if any, will be up for review and non-governmental organisations can participate in this process. FORUM-ASIA’s Ethnic Minorities in Southeast Asia Programme intends to provide input into the Durban Review process to hold states accountable.