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This thesis deals with the protection of the rights of national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities under international human rights law. It is an absolute truth that there exists some kind of minority in arguably every country in the world, more so in Africa in general and Cameroon in particular.
This phenomenon is the result of thousands of years of human cultural evolution. However, since time immemorial, minorities have almost always faced some form of discrimination and marginalization directed at them by their majority counterpart.
Some basic human rights which they are entitled to have been denied solely on the basis of their status as a minority different in some way from the rest of the population. As time passed and views about international law evolved, it became increasingly clear that the rights of minorities needed to be safeguarded by international law.
The study aims at examining how international law, precisely international human rights law, protects the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. The study, in a bit to achieve its objective, adopts the content analysis of laws, especially international human rights instruments, both global and regional (precisely Africa).
The study reveals that the major international human rights instruments accord minorities protection in one way or another, although to varying degrees.
The study also reveals that international politics is one of the greatest barriers to the comprehensive and effective protection of minorities under international human rights laws, as manifested by the general reluctance of nations to give minority rights protection the attention and seriousness it most certainly deserves.
The study, therefore, recommends that states be compelled through various means to take their obligations to minority rights protection absolutely seriously and that the degree of protection offered to minorities be ramped up enormously. This will definitely go a long way to ensure peace and stability within and across state borders, which will in turn be a suitable condition for global development.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
The problem of minority discrimination or marginalization is not a new problem. It has existed for thousands of years. Right from the times of the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt thousands of years ago, to the passive marginalization of Anglophones in Cameroon by the majority francophone government today, minority groups have been the victims of great injustices.
The existence of minorities is no new phenomenon. They have existed since the earliest days of human existence. This has especially been made possible through human evolution/development in terms of language, sex, ethnicity, race, religion, etc.
To put this research into perspective, it will be important to discuss briefly, the development of minority rights under international human rights law. Judge Thomas Buergental of the International Court of Justice defines the international law of human rights as “ the law that deals with the protection of individuals and groups against violations of their internationally guaranteed rights’’.
Since minorities constitute a “group’’ (and a vulnerable one at that) as stated in the definition, it is no wonder that international human rights law is concerned with the plight of minorities. The question “what then is minority rights?’’ begs for an answer.
Most simply put, minority rights comprise the various measures put in place to protect ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities from any form of discrimination or marginalization that may be directed against them.
The promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities contribute to the political and social stability of the States in which they live. As a result, the United Nations and other Regional Bodies have put in place a system aimed at ensuring that minorities are not the subject of any form of discrimination or marginalization, either directly or indirectly.
The rights and protection of minorities is one of the major concerns of international human rights law, and rightly so. The marginalization of minorities has always been and continues to be a source of conflict around the world.
Since one of the foremost aims of the United Nations and other regional bodies is peace, it is no wonder that these international bodies will come up with laws that protect and promote the rights of minorities within their jurisdiction. Thus human rights law is seriously concerned with the welfare of minorities.
The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world’’. While there is widespread acceptance of the importance of human rights, there is some confusion as to their precise nature.
The question of what is meant by a “right’’ is quite controversial and is the subject of intense jurisprudential debate. Human rights can be described as the basic rights and freedoms that belong to all human beings from birth to death. These rights are inalienable, and thus cannot be taken away arbitrarily.
Human rights can either be personal (pertaining to the individual) or collective (pertaining to a group). Therefore, minority rights are collective rights because they are designed to be enjoyed by a group of people collectively.
During the early stages of human existence, right up to the 19thcentury, minority groups did not have any internationally recognized rights. They did not have any organized system of rights even within their geographical confines. In fact, if history has taught us anything, it is that minority groups have suffered in the hands of the majority.
The direct effect of such treatment of minorities has been the rise of animosity between them and the majority, which in some instances has culminated in all-out armed conflict as is the case in Cameroon and Burma.
The importance of minority rights cannot be overstated. If the rights of a minority are guaranteed, then peace in such a state is guaranteed, because animosity between the state/majority and the minority will be avoided. The protection of minorities is also a moral obligation of every state in particular, as well as the international community in general.
This research wants to look at how the recent developments in international human rights law has affected the protection of minorities. It will trace the development of this protection at an international level, the role international non-governmental organizations have played to ensure this protection. The paper will also address the challenges that exist to effective protection under international human rights law, and how these challenges can be addressed.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
There is little doubt that international human rights law and relevant mechanisms have gone a long way to ensure that minorities of various types enjoy adequate protection. This is seen in the relevant laws that have been passed to that effect, as well as the mechanisms put in place to ensure state compliance with these laws.
International non-governmental organizations have also played a vital role to promote respect for the rights of minorities, through various activities and programs to that effect.
However, the many conflicts around the world which have their roots in minority rights violations is a signal that something is wrong somewhere. Be it ethnic, religious, or lingual minorities, there is still, to a large extend, a laissez-faire attitude towards the plight of minorities both by their home governments in particular and by the international community in general.
This indifference to the rights of minorities has on some occasions led to internal armed conflict between state governments and groups claiming to fight for these minorities. Glaring examples include the armed conflict in Cameroon between armed secessionist groups and the government, the conflict in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar, characterized by sectarian violence between the Rohingya Muslim minority and the Rakhine Buddhist majority, etc.
It is thus evident that there is a lacuna in the international systems put in place to protect the rights of minorities.
1.3 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
As a result of this problem, this thesis would answer the following questions:
- What is the state of minority rights in the world?
- How did the international protection of minority rights develop?
- How does international human rights law protect the rights of minorities?
- What are the various international mechanisms put in place to ensure states’ compliance with international human rights laws on minority issues?
- What challenges are faced in the protection of the world’s minorities under international human rights law?
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE AND JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY
This significance of this study is to raise awareness to all those concerned on the importance of ensuring that persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities are adequately protected. The outcome of this research will be beneficial to governments having minority persons within their jurisdiction. It will also be beneficial to Non-Governmental Organizations concerned with human rights in general and minority rights in particular. Most of all, it will be beneficial to minorities themselves, so they can be aware of the rights they possess under international human rights law.
Members of the various kinds of minorities continue to face marginalization and or persecution of some kind, either directly or indirectly. It is against this backdrop that the researcher deemed it necessary to inquire into the level of protection that minorities receive under international human rights law, and how non-governmental organizations try to curb this injustice.
The research is also embarked on because the researcher seeks to make, where necessary, policy recommendations that would go a long way to ensure minorities receive better and more adequate protection under international humanitarian law.
This research is also undertaken in partial fulfilment of the award of a Bachelor of Laws Degree at the University of Buea.
1.5.1 GENERAL OBJECTIVES
The goal of this research is to assess the extent to which international human rights law and organizations protect and promote the rights of minorities.
Specifically, this research seeks to:
- Examine the state of minority rights in the world.
- Discuss the development of minority rights and minority protection.
- Analyze the legal provisions of international legal instruments that protect the rights of minorities.
- Examine the mechanisms put in place to hold governments accountable for minority rights violations.
- Make policy recommendations aimed at giving minorities better protection under international human rights law.