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Part 12 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.


This is the first of two topics explaining how to carry out advocacy campaigns. The first topic introduces advocacy. It shows how to identify problems that need to be addressed through advocacy, and how to set goals for a campaign.

Topic 10: Guide to advocacy campaigns, Part 1
Section 1: What is advocacy?

Advocacy is defined as the process of changing, or trying to change or influence, laws, policies or practices.

Advocacy involves the following nine steps:

  1. Identifying the problem.
  2. Understanding one’s own organization.
  3. Understanding the environment.
  4. Devising goals.
  5. Identifying target audiences.
  6. Creating the messages.
  7. Creating the strategy.
  8. Carrying out the strategy.
  9. Measuring the outcome.

Section 2: Analysis of the problem

It is important for activists or NGOs to first understand the problem to be addressed through advocacy. Notes MRG, “At this stage, it is very important to involve the minority or indigenous community: Activists should listen to the human rights issues that community members raise and what their priorities are.”

Some considerations in understanding the nature of the problem

  • Extent of problem
  • Social attitudes
  • Level of awareness
  • Access to justice
  • Legal framework
  • Gender

Section 3: Analysis of the environment – internal and external

Having identified the problem that needs addressing through advocacy, activists and NGOs must next understand the environment in which they are going to be working. This process involves analyzing both the NGO for which the activist works, and the general situation.

Internal (i.e. organizational) analysis

This element contains two main points.

1. Mandate

What can the activist’s organization work on, and what is it not allowed to work on?

The answers to these questions will depend on:

  • The organization’s charter or constitution, if it has one
  • The organization’s board and its decisions
  • National legislation and government regulations

2. Resources, both financial and human

It will be important to establish the following:

  • What are the organization’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is the organization too small to carry out a large-scale campaign?
  • What is the organization’s capacity for given areas of work?

When looking at the external environment, it is important to identify the following four groups of people: stakeholders, supporters, potential allies, and obstacles.

1. Stakeholders

Stakeholders are those persons who have an interest in the advocacy campaign. They can be directly involved and/or affected by it. They may also influence the campaign and its outcomes. A clear group of stakeholders when advocating on behalf of minority rights are the members of a minority community themselves.

2. Supporters

Supporters are people who are not stakeholders but are in favor of the work. They may include members of other communities or the majority who favor the outcome being sought. Supporters may also be drawn if the campaign seeks a change in the law that will benefit another community too.

3. Allies

Allies are supporters who can influence the outcome, such as university professors, journalists, politicians, and government officials.

4. Obstacles

Obstacles are those people who will work against the campaign.

Section 4: Setting ‘SMART’ goals

Having analyzed the environment, the next step in an advocacy campaign is to choose its goals. A useful tool for identifying appropriate goals is SMART, an acronym for the following words:

Specific – it is important to be as precise as possible when identifying a goal(s).

Measurable – there must be a way of identifying how the goal has been achieved or how advancement has been made towards it.

Agreed upon – consultation is conducted with stakeholders and everyone is agreed that these goals are important.

Realistic – depending on the organization’s resources and the situation in the country, the goals should be achievable.

Time-bound – a deadline for the strategy is required.

Outputs are the activities that you do, while outcomes are the achievements that you make. Sub-goals can also be incorporated as a way of measuring success.


Although minority rights are not the only protection necessary to prevent genocide, where minority rights are lacking or altogether absent, the likelihood of genocide—or any other type of violent conflict involving minorities—is that much greater. As Minority Rights Group International (MRG) wrote in a 2004 briefing paper, titled “Genocide and Minorities: Preventing the Preventable,”

“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities captures the spirit of the Genocide Convention in that it emphasizes that the right of national, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups to physically exist is not enough: states have a duty to protect the existence and identity of such groups (see Article 1 [1] of the UN Declaration on Minorities). Governments must respect and support the rights of minorities to use their own languages, enjoy their cultures, profess and practise their religions, and participate effectively in public life.”

The authors of the paper also note:

“Sustainable prevention requires the development of ways for groups to at least peacefully coexist, and in time to integrate on the basis of shared values and interest. This implies the entrenchment of the rule of law based on the full and equal respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, and governance for the good of the whole population. The principles of non-discrimination and effective participation in public life both protect minority groups and ensure that their voices are heard in decision-making.”

With that in mind, this post marks the first in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through a new online course offered to the public free of charge by MRG, “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy.” 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.


The first course topic is basic concepts in human rights and minority rights. The first question posed is, Who are minorities?  MRG uses the following working definition: The term minorities refers to ethnic, national, religious, linguistic or cultural groups who are smaller in number than the rest of the population and may wish to maintain and develop their identity. In differentiating between minorities and indigenous peoples, MRG provides another definition: Indigenous peoples are distinct ethnic communities who are the first inhabitants of a geographical region, and whose identities and cultures are inextricably linked to the land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend.

The next section poses the query, What are human rights and minority rights? Human rights are freedoms and entitlements that all human beings have because they are human. They are to be enjoyed without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political and other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. This means they are universal. There are different categories of human rights, all of which have equal importance:

  • Civil and Political: These rights protect people’s status and participation in the public sphere, e.g., the right to be free from torture, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Economic, Social and Cultural: These rights concern material and social welfare, e.g., the right to education, the right to health, the right to work and fair conditions of work.

The three main elements of minority rights are non-discriminationprotection of identity, and effective participation. There are two types of discrimination: direct and indirect. Direct discrimination is less favorable or detrimental treatment accorded to an individual or group of individuals due to their possession of one or more specific characteristics (for example, ethnic group, religion, language or sex). Indirect discrimination is when a practice, rule, requirement or condition outwardly appears to be neutral but it impacts negatively on a particular group in a disproportionate way. Protection of the distinct identity of a minority group in a particular country means that governments must guarantee the physical existence of that group. This means protection from genocide, forced expulsion or ethnic cleansing, and forced assimilation into the dominant community.

The right to participation for minorities includes three main elements:

  1. Participation in decision-making on issues that affect the minority
    This principle is especially important. Minorities should be involved at all stages of the decision-making process and at all levels – local, regional, and national.
  2. Participation in all aspects of public life
    It is essential for minorities to be able to contribute to the wider society and effectively participate in decision-making processes as members of the majority do, for example, through standing for elections.
  3. Participation in economic progress and the benefits of development
    Minorities must benefit from wealth they generate, for example when they live in areas with valuable natural resources. Also, minorities should benefit from the proceeds of wider development agendas.

The next section seeks to expose commonly held misconceptions about minority rights. The first is that minority rights are divisive; the second is that they lead to breakup of the state; the third is that they are privileges for groups; the fourth is that taking action to support minorities discriminates against the majority.

As noted above, this blog post is just an outline; the course itself is more in-depth. The following links are suggested further reading for this section:



Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has just put out the 2012 edition of its flagship annual report, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012. The publication “provides concrete evidence of how the generation of vast revenues from logging and dams, oil and mineral extraction, coastal tourism, fish farming, conservation parks and large-scale agriculture, is often at the expense of the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.” MRG points out that while such threats are not new, it is the present extent of their severity and scale that is so alarming. This is the result of a combination of dwindling resources and greater technology which enables extraction of such resources in remote parts of the world, thereby affecting previously isolated minorities.

As is often noted in regards to Africa, natural resources are a double-edged sword—some of the most resource-rich regions throughout the world are home to some of the poorest minorities and indigenous peoples. Revenue streams from extraction are filtered out of these areas, while their inhabitants are left to deal with the consequences. The reason for this paradox of sorts is the fact that minorities and indigenous people are “more vulnerable to harmful natural resource development because their right to equality is not respected fully in society. Discrimination is one major root cause. This can lead to practices such as ‘environmental racism,’ whereby higher incidence of pollution or other environmental degradation is found” where marginalized groups reside. The report “sets out for the first time corporate responsibility in relation to minority rights, and provides evidence of companies’ ongoing disregard for minority and indigenous peoples’ rights (even when their Corporate Social Responsibility policies say otherwise).”

Such disparity is significantly worse for indigenous women, since their land rights and access are controlled by customary law; traditional territories are retained by communities, often with no legal title. As a result, entire communities are displaced in the name of conservation or development projects. Furthermore,

When communities are dispossessed of their land, women are often disproportionately affected because of their traditional role in procuringwater, fuel or trading goods for their families. . . . Women may also lack the education or information necessary to allow them to exercise formal legal rights. Overall, unequal access to land can limit the economic independence of indigenous women, making them more vulnerable to economic or social upheavals.

However, there have also been positive developments in this realm, especially pertaining to the status of ratification of major international and regional instruments relevant to minority and indigenous rights over the past five months. To view a comprehensive table, as well as more in-depth thematic essays and regional overviews, you can download the entire report at the link above.


From right: Eduardo Gonzalez, Esther Attear, Ana Manuela Ochoa Arrias


Last week, as part of the eleventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) organized a roundtable discussion on “Truth Commissions and Indigenous Peoples: Lessons Learned, Future Challenges.” The event also marked the launch of a resource book titled Strengthening Indigenous Rights Through Truth Commissions. Per the ICTJ, “The book summarizes the findings of an international conference on truth commissions and indigenous rights hosted by ICTJ in 2011. It makes concrete proposals to consider when setting up a truth commission focused on abuses committed against indigenous peoples.”

Moderating the discussion was Eduardo Gonzalez, director of the Truth and Memory Program at the ICTJ. Sparked by recent media coverage of the Canadian Indian residential school system, the ICTJ set out to determine whether truth commissions are useful for advancing the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly in Guatemala, Peru, and Paraguay. Today, there are truth commissions in Cote d’Ivoire, Nepal, and Brazil, as well as local efforts at truth-seeking taking place in Colombia, Mexico, and the United States.

The first speaker was Alcibiades Escué, coordinator of strategic planning at the Association of Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca. Mr. Escué said that from the 1980s through the present, the treatment of indigenous peoples is getting worse. He spoke of the extraction policies of the national government in indigenous territories occupied by guerrillas because of the mines located there. Territories have been consolidated and battalions camp out high in the mountains. There is an indigenous guard force consisting of young men and women who are oriented and accompanied by older people. Mr. Escué went on to speak about harmonic justice, the purpose of which is to promote self-determination for persons and communities so that they can best acquire life essentials. Within his community, this also includes searching for and registering victims. He concluded with talk of a house of thought, which not only provides training and education, but also aids in the reconstruction of historical memory. Another organizational process is the symbolic review of elders and spiritual authorities.

Next to speak was Ana Manuela Ochoa Arias, a lawyer for the National Authority of Indigenous Governments in Colombia. The indigenous peoples of Colombia live in the mountains of Santa Marta and comprise 30 percent of the Colombian population, which is about 1.3 million people. Sixty-five indigenous languages are spoken in the region, though Ms. Arias mentioned demographic fragility. Her speech focused on Law 1448, the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which was signed in June 2011 and pertains to historical reparations for the victims of the internal armed conflict that spanned 50 years. However, the law only applies to acts committed since January 1, 1985. So what is sought is transformational, rather than transitional, justice. Indigenous peoples have suffered cultural and economic damage, with specific damage caused to women and children. Ms. Arias maintains that the state has a legal obligation to such persons, each of whom individually had to make their own proposal.

The third speaker was Esther Attear, Passamaquoddy tribal member and lead staff person for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. According to Ms. Attear, her people have witnessed a 95 percent decrease in population due to genocide, war, disease, and forced relocation. She discussed residential schools, where Indian children were sent after being taken away from their parents; the goal of such schools was to “kill the Indian, save the child.” It has now come to light that rampant abuse occurred in these schools, and approximately 1,000 children died as a result. The ultimate aim was the destruction of culture, including native dress and language. In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in response to “the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to ‘protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families’ (25 U.S.C. § 1902).” In Maine Wabanaki, state case workers received special training to deal with these cases, especially since in this culture, a child has three parents—mother, father, and tribe. Even so, there remained an invisible wall of the truth of genocide and genocidal policies. Decolonization also required truth and reconciliation; “white” people had to deal with their guilt and unpack a heritage of racism and genocide, while native people had to work through internalized oppression, lateral fighting, and a legacy of victimhood. In order to challenge the dominant narrative of white vs. native, both sides need to reach a common understanding, come up with recommendations for best practice, and share their stories in order to heal.

The last panelist was Alvaro Pop, Guatemalan independent expert and member of the UNPFII. He spoke about how in December 2011 in Colombia, indigenous people were victorious in having the Marmato municipal council “close the door to the efforts of Canadian companies to resettle the population and to destroy a town with 475 years of history in order to extract gold from the Marmato mountain using open pit mining in only 20 years.” He viewed this as an end of 400 years of darkness for the Mayas. He went on to say that indigenous peoples are survivors, having endured slavery, exploitation, and other such horrors. Now, the indigenous people want to rescue history, a mechanism to enrich identity, as the public school curriculum begins with colonization. A truth and reconciliation commission recognizes facts and awakens consciousness but was limited in Guatemala and didn’t have the future that was hoped for. It is now time to move beyond mourning and such a commission must contribute to the end of impunity by having specific mandates and including indigenous dialects and languages.

Mr. Gonzalez concluded the panel by talking about short- and long-term violations of rights—individual, collective, and earth. Reconciliation should not just be on an international level, but must be a nation-to-nation effort. He then opened up the floor for a brief Q&A session. The first person to speak was a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who sat on the Guatemalan Commission from 1997 to 1999. She said they were dealing with 600 massacres and that there were actually two commissions, one from the Catholic Church and one from the UN. She believes that truth commissions are just the beginning and that there is a need for different sponsors.

Closing out the program was an audience member who is part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which is court-mandated and focuses on children who were forced to go to residential schools, as discussed above. This school system was in place for more than 150 years, and children spent anywhere from 10 to 21 years at these schools. There are 80,000 survivors, and the last residential school closed in 1996. Though the experience is sadly widespread, one survivor’s testimony states, “We have been raped in every way—emotionally, physically, spiritually, culturally.” The commission plans to establish a national research center and hold an expert group meeting before the end of 2013.

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