Hundreds of minority groups in Africa are in dire need of strengthened protections, a United Nations independent expert said today, calling on governments to act urgently to safeguard these vulnerable populations.
"The semantic debate on who are the minorities and who are the indigenous peoples in Africa must not prevent stakeholders from addressing the extremely vulnerable situation of hundreds of minority communities across the African region," the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, said during the 53rd session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) in Banjul, The Gambia.
Ms. Izsák stressed the importance of the African Commission dedicating specific attention to minority issues and ensuring that their concerns are addressed in a more systematic manner. She added that minority issues include not just ethnic groups but also linguistic and religious minorities.
"Fulfilling the rights of minorities is an essential means to prevent tensions from emerging and is a key element of good governance," Ms. Izsák said, recalling that in several African countries hundreds of diverse groups live together.
"The ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity must be recognized as enriching the society and its historical heritage and be protected and promoted to the full extent possible."
During the session, Ms. Izsák held a consultation meeting with the ACHPR Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, and welcomed the Group's openness to engage in further dialogue and cooperation concerning minority issues.
She also addressed the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum and advised African civil society representatives about the opportunities for cooperation with her mandate.
In addition, she informed participants about the work of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which she is charged with organizing and guiding.
This is the first time that Ms. Izsák attends an ACHPR session, and she described the opportunity as a way to collaborate more closely with the African human rights system.
"I am confident that dialogue will be continued in order to achieve strengthened attention and efforts to protecting and promoting the rights of minorities across Africa," she said.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights was inaugurated on 2 November 1987 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and according to its website, it is in charge of protecting and promoting human and peoples' rights. The Commission consists of 11 members elected by the African Union assembly from experts nominated by the state parties to the African Charter.