Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today reaffirmed the commitment of the United Nations to addressing the concerns of minorities worldwide, while noting that many challenges remain in ensuring that their rights are respected.
"The United Nations has a crucial role to play in minority protection," Mr. Ban said in a video message to the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which is meeting in Geneva today and tomorrow.
"I am strongly committed to ensuring that concerns of minorities are reflected in our work," he told representatives of governments, human rights organizations and other groups attending.
The Forum was established in 2007 by the UN Human Rights Council as a "platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities."
Meeting for its fifth session, the Forum is this year focusing on further implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1992, and celebrating its 20th anniversary.
"The Declaration sets out essential human rights standards for the many millions of people across the world who belong to minority groups," Mr. Ban said, describing it as a "landmark" initiative. "It underscores the responsibility of States to protect the rights of minorities to enjoy their cultures, use their languages and practice their religions."
He described the anniversary as an "opportunity to review the Declaration's impact on national legislation, policy and practices," as he noted the common refrain that societies "are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable members."
"Twenty years on, many challenges remain," he said. "Too many minorities face discrimination, stereotyping, hatred and violence, solely for being who they are. And at this time of economic distress, minorities often bear the brunt of societal tensions."
Mr. Ban highlighted that efforts to overcome the remaining challenges got a boost with the launch this year of the UN Network on Racial Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, which aims to help UN entities work together on minority issues. It also seeks to ensure minority concerns are reflected in the UN's work, according to the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which coordinates the initiative.
The Secretary-General also saluted the efforts of the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, who reports in an independent and unpaid capacity to the Human Rights Council.
"This Forum, together with the Independent Expert on minority issues, are crucially important actors, including as platforms for dialogue on implementation of the Declaration," said Mr. Ban.