Minority rights

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The term Minority Rights embodies two separate concepts: first, normal individual rights as applied to members of racial, ethnic, class, religious, linguistic or sexual minorities, and second, collective rights accorded to minority groups. The term may also apply simply to individual rights of anyone who is not part of a majority decision.

Civil rights movements often seek to ensure that individual rights are not denied on the basis of membership in a minority group.

There are many political bodies which also feature minority group rights. This might be seen in affirmative action quotas, or in guaranteed minority representation in a consociational state.

Minority Rights in National and International Law

The first minority rights were created by revolutionary Parliament of Hungary in 1849. Minority rights, as applying to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples, are an integral part of international human rights law. Like children’s rights, women’s rights and refugee rights, minority rights are a legal framework designed to ensure that a specific group which is in a vulnerable, disadvantaged or marginalised position in society, is able to achieve equality and is protected from persecution. The first post-war international treaty to protect minorities, designed to protect them from the greatest threat to their existence, was the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Subsequent human rights standards that codify minority rights include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 27), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, two Council of Europe treaties (the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and the OSCE Copenhagen Document of 1990.

Minority rights cover protection of existence, protection from discrimination and persecution, protection and promotion of identity, and participation in political life. For the rights of LGBT, The Yogyakarta Principles have been approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council and for the rights of persons with disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by United Nations General Assembly.

To protect minority rights, many countries have specific laws and/or commissions or ombudsman institutions (for example the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minorities Rights).[1]

While initially, the United Nations treated indigenous peoples as a sub-category of minorities, there is an expanding body of international law specifically devoted to them, in particular Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (adopted 14 September 2007).

Attempts to codify the rights of sexual minorities in international human rights law have met with strong opposition from a number of member states of the United Nations.

National Minorities in the Law of the EC/EU

The direct role of the European Union (and also the Law of the EU/EC ) in the area of protection of national minorities is still very limited (likewise the general protection of human rights). The EU has relied on general international law and a European regional system of international law (based on the Council of Europe, OSCE etc.). and in a case of necessity accepted their norms. But the “de-economisation of European integration”, which started in 1990s is changing this situation. The political relevance of national minorities´ protection is very high. Now (2009) although a protection of the national minorities has not become a generally accepted legally binding principle of the EU, in several legal acts issues of national minorities are mentioned. In external relations protection of national minorities became one of the main criteria for cooperation with the EU or accession.[2]

The individual: the smallest minority on earth

Ayn Rand, philosopher of Objectivism asserted that a group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations. She maintained that since only an individual man can possess rights, the expression “individual rights” is a redundancy, but the expression “collective rights” is a contradiction in terms. Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).[3]

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