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Part 4 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.


Topic 4: UN political mechanisms for protecting minorities
Section 1: The Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council (HRC) is the UN’s highest-ranking forum on human rights. Because its members are governments, it is considered a political body and regularly meets in Geneva to discuss and pass resolutions on a variety of human rights issues. It is comprised of 47 member states; other states participate as observers, meaning they can address meetings but can’t vote on resolutions. The HRC is a high-ranking, influential body whose strength lies in the fact that it can raise issues pertaining to any country in the world. However, “Debates on critical human rights issues are frequently overshadowed by political considerations and arguments.”

Section 2: The Independent Expert on Minority Issues and other Special Procedures

According to MRG, ‘Special Procedures’ is the name given to individuals (and groups of individuals) who are appointed by the Human Rights Council (HRC) to examine a particular human rights issue or the situation of human rights in a particular country. This section specifically focuses on thematic special procedures, which can address issues related to that theme in any country in the world, regardless of whether or not the relevant human rights treaties have been ratified. However, the recommendations made by special procedures are not legally binding on governments.

What do Special Procedures do?

1. Information-gathering

All special procedures undertake research related to the theme of their mandate using information from governments, inter-governmental organizations, UN agencies, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), and NGOs. They submit reports to the HRC, and many also report to the UN General Assembly. How is this relevant to minorities? “Many of the thematic special procedures have addressed issues of concern to minorities in their thematic reports. For example, in the last year the Special Rapporteur on racism addressed the link between racism and conflict, including the role of hate speech in triggering violence and the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women highlighted the need for reparations for minority women systematically subjected to violence such as forced sterilization.”

2. Country visits

Many mandates authorize the mandate-holders to visit countries to undertake in-depth investigations into the situation as it relates to the theme in that country. They submit a report and recommendations on the visit to the HRC.

3. Communications

  • Authorization
    The HRC has authorized some special procedures to intervene with governments on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals.
  • Urgent appeals
    Mandate-holders can send urgent appeals (called Communications) to governments requesting the government to take action or provide information about a particular case.
  • Reporting
    The mandate-holder reports to the HRC on the cases they take up and the responses they get.

In 2005, the HRC created the post of  Independent Expert on Minority Issues (IEMI), mandated to promote the implementation of the UN Declaration on Minorities (UNDM) and identify best practices relating to minorities. The current IEMI is Ms. Rita Izsák from Hungary. She has undertaken research on a number of pressing issues for minorities, including poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals, denial of citizenship, and public participation. Additionally, Izsák  has visited and reported on nine countries around the world.

Section 3: The Forum on Minority Issues

The Forum on Minority Issues was established by the HRC in 2007 and is the only UN body dedicated to minorities. It is a subsidiary body of the HRC. The Forum provides a place of discussion between members of minorities, governments, international agencies, NGOs, and the IEMI, who reports to the HRC on recommendations from the Forum on the given theme of each session. The Forum focuses on one theme selected by the IEMI each session; thus far, it has addressed minorities and the right to education in 2008, minorities and effective political participation in 2009, and inorities and effective participation in economic life in 2010.

Section 4: The Universal Periodic Review

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is an examination over a four-year period of the human rights record of all states by the member and observer states of the Human Rights Council (HRC). The review is based on a report submitted by the state under review, a document summarizing all UN documents relating to that state collected by the UPR Secretariat, and a second document summarizing all information submitted by NGOs to the secretariat. The HRC devised a schedule for the UPR to ensure all 192 states would be examined between 2008 and 2011. Per MRG,

The UPR Process


  1. A troika (group of three states) is selected to facilitate the review.
  2. States submit written questions via the troika for the state under review.
  3. A three-hour meeting of the UPR working group is held.
  4. In the meeting, the state under review makes an initial presentation. Then any other state may ask questions or make recommendations. The state under review responds to questions (known as interactive dialogue).
  5. The troika compiles a summary of the interactive dialogue and all the recommendations into one document.
  6. The UPR working group adopts this document a few days later. The state under review may indicate then whether it accepts the recommendation. The state may request time to consider certain recommendations.

Final stage (including NGO involvement)

At the HRC session following the UPR working group, the outcome document of each state under review is discussed by the HRC plenary.

Here, the state must indicate whether it accepts or rejects the recommendations it previously deferred. If it rejects any recommendations, it should explain why. This is also an opportunity for the state to inform the HRC what measures it has taken and to make public commitments for future measures.

At this stage, NGOs have their only opportunity to make statements during the UPR process. The final outcome document is then adopted by the HRC.

Next Review

After all states have been reviewed, the process will start again. The next review should focus on whether the state under review has implemented the recommendations it agreed to at the previous review.


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