By Yusimi Rodriguez
HAVANA TIMES — The ninth session of the UN’s Forum on Minority issues took place on the 24th and 25th November, at the Palace of Nations in Geneva. The subject was “Minorities in situations of humanitarian crises.”
On the first day two panel discussions took place. Both were followed by many reports by NGOs of violations of human rights against ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. The situation of Egypt´s Coptic Christians, who according to spokespeople were the victims of hate crimes and Muslim religious fanaticism, encouraged in class books which even incite Muslims to eat the flesh of those who don’t practice Islam, turned out to be especially distressing.
Iran’s ethnic minorities also reported violations of human rights in their country. There were reports of attacks against indigenous communities in Bangladesh; of Palestinian people who see their human rights violated on their own land by Israeli occupants; of African-origin population groups in Mauritania and Turkey; of Mongol civil society representatives who told those present about the effect on their ecosystem and displacement of peoples by the Chinese authorities.
The Delegation from the People’s Republic of China reacted to the Mongol civil society representatives complaint by asking the Forum’s President to stop the spokesman, saying his speech was politicized and revealed a separatist motive. The Chinese Delegation’s motion was supported by representatives from the Venezuelan, Russian, Iranian, Pakistani, Cuban and Libyan representatives.
Government delegations from the United States, Austria and the United Kingdom were in favor of the Mongol civil society’s right to report violations. Every intervention in favor of Mongol civil society was applauded by those present.
The Cuban Delegation’s argument for supporting the Chinese Delegation was that the subject of the Forum was Minorities in situations of humanitarian crises. It didn’t take into account the need to protect minorities before, during and after crises, which was an idea put forward by panel leaders, as minorities are already at a disadvantage way before these take place. Humanitarian crises only make things worse.
The Russian Federation’s Delegation also asked NGOs to stick to the Forum’s subject. However, a few days before, during the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law, dedicated to Engaging Youth Political Participation, the Russian representative dedicated its intervention to the demagogy and populism which dominated the US presidential elections. Was that any more relevant to that Forum’s subject than civil society’s complaints about human rights violations against minorities at a Forum for Minorities?
It’s also striking that the Cuban government’s delegation, the champion of pro-independence movements like that in Puerto Rico (a possibility that doesn’t have majority support in this Commonwealth) and Catalunya, didn’t identify with those who don’t want to form part of the People’s Republic of China.
The situation repeated itself with complaints from NGOs which involved Egypt and Iran. It became predictable that government delegations would support representatives from these States, and which would support NGO representatives, including government delegations from Canada, Norway and Switzerland.
The Cuban government´s delegation criticized the fact that some delegations were being applauded when they presented their motions and others weren’t (including its own). “This isn’t a TV show,” the Cuban government representative stated.
Nobody, not even the young representative of an ethnic minority in Iraq, who had claimed that he had reported violations against his ethnic group in two previous sessions of this Forum, and nothing has changed, would think that this Forum was a TV show. Applauding is a way to express approval.
Forums are a space where NGOs can express themselves freely; in many cases, even more freely than they can in their own countries, including our own. Applauding something we identify with is a way of exercising our right to freedom of speech. Therefore, those present continued to applaud the delegations who supported civil society’s rights, in spite of the Cuban delegation’s representative, which also wanted applause it seems.
However, it’s also striking that the US representative, where human rights violations and hate crimes against Afro-descendant minorities and Hispanic, Muslim and LGBTI communities, have become routine, would support civil society’s freedom of speech so ardently. It is worth thinking about how it would have reacted, if a complaint had been made by victims of the continuous human rights violations in its own country.
Maybe, it would have reacted like the representatives from Chinese, Russian, Iranian, Egyptian, Turkish and Mauritanian delegations did: trying to deny them and even denounce civil society spokespeople. It is also possible that it would have reacted like the representative from the Colombian delegation. After having claimed that the Colombian State safeguards victims’ rights and provides humanitarian relief, and that the new peace agreement has a different focus, including a chapter on minorities, the Colombian delegation didn’t try to deny or silence the critical speech made by Erlendy Cuero Bravo, the Vice-president of AFRODES, a direct victim of the conflict, and who up until now had suffered ongoing threats.
Erlendy stated that there is statistical invisibility of minorities; racism marks its society and institutions; sexual violence against Afro-descendant and indigenous women has been a strategy used by every armed group; the Colombian government has drawn up laws and meets international standards, but it continues to fall short in strengthening communities.
Other spokespeople weren’t able to speak as the event ran out of time, but the idea that States should approach the subject of empowering minorities remained.