The world is falling “far short” of commitments made three decades ago to protect minority communities, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday, appealing for concrete action to counter this neglect.
The UN chief was speaking in New York at an event to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
Countries are meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly to critically assess progress of the landmark document.
Mr. Guterres was blunt in his evaluation of their efforts.
“The hard truth is that – 30 years on – the world is falling short. Far short,” he said.
"We are not dealing with gaps – we are dealing with outright inaction and negligence in the protection of minority rights.”
In his remarks, the President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, urged countries to act urgently to protect the rights of minorities in their territories.
"The Declaration’s ambition was to create a world where minorities can freely practice religion. Freely engage in tradition. Freely speak one’s native language. A world where diversity is seen not as a liability – but as a strength," he said.
"However, our task today is not finger pointing," he continued. "Our task is strengthening the common ground that has already been agreed upon."
Like the Secretary-General, Mr. Kőrösi also addressed the plight of minority women, who endure what he called “intersecting forms of discrimination”, multiplying their vulnerability to violence.
Nobel laureate Nadia Murad, who survived ISIL atrocities in Iraq, spoke about growing up in the country’s small Yazidi community in the north.
Iraq is large, and she said minority communities were separated geographically, but also by design.
“For those in power, it was easier to control a country in which minorities were divided, suspicious of one another, and voiceless in government and civil society," said Ms. Murad. "We were deprived of rights and of representation and marginalized. We were invisible.”
That isolation had “violent consequences”, according to the human rights activist, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
She said the Yazidis were alone and unprotected when ISIL came into Iraq. Her village was attacked. Eight years on, the community remains on the margins. Most are still living in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Ms. Murad insisted that hers was not just a “Yazidi story” but applicable to all of Iraq’s minority communities, and others across the world fighting for a fair role in their countries.
“We need the international community to act, to show the world that they believe in the ideals outlined in this resolution. We know brutal consequences of inaction. We call upon you to be our partners in this fight."