The UN chief was speaking in New York at an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
Countries meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly to critically assess the progress of the landmark document.
“Outright inaction and negligence”
Mr. Guterres was candid in his assessment of their efforts.
“The hard truth is that – 30 years later – the world is falling short. Very short,” he said.
“We don’t deal with shortcomings – we deal with outright inaction and negligence in the protection of minority rights.
Women most affected
He reported that minorities have faced forced assimilation, persecution, prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, hatred and violence.
They were also stripped of their political and citizenship rights and had their cultures stifled, their languages suppressed and their religious practices restricted.
In addition, more than three quarters of stateless people in the world belong to minorities, while the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep-rooted patterns of exclusion and discrimination disproportionately affecting their communities.
“Women from minority groups have often been the worst off – facing aescalation of gender-based violence,lose more jobs and benefit the least from any fiscal stimulus,” he added.
It is high time for the international community to live up to its commitments, the Secretary-General told the gathering.
Call to action
“We need political leadership and resolute action . I call on every member state to take concrete steps to protect minorities and their identity,” he said.
The UN chief highlighted his Call to Action for Human Rights, issued in February 2020, as a “blueprint” for all governments to address long-standing issues of discrimination.
During this time, hisOur common programreport, published last September, calls for a renewed social contract anchored in a holistic approach to human rights.
Mr. Guterres stressed that minorities must be active and equal participantsin every action and decision, adding that this participation is not only for their benefit.
“We all benefithe said. “States that protect minority rights are more peaceful. Economies that promote the full participation of minorities are more prosperous. Societies that embrace diversity and inclusion are more vibrant. And a world in which the rights of all are respected is more stable and fairer.
The commemoration should serve as a “catalyst for action”, he said, urging countries to work together to make the Declaration a reality for minorities around the world.
About the Declaration
The 1992 Declaration is the only international human rights instrument of the United Nations devoted entirely to the rights of minorities.
He enshrined three fundamental truths, namely that minority rights are human rights, that the protection of minorities is an integral part of the United Nations mission and that the promotion of these rights is essential to advancing the political and social stability and prevent conflicts within and between countries.
Strengthen common ground
In his address, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, urged countries to act urgently to protect the rights of minorities in their territories.
“The ambition of the Declaration was to create a world where minorities can freely practice their religion. Engage freely in tradition. Speak their mother tongue freely. A world wherediversity is not seen as a handicap, but as a strength,” he said.
“However, our task today is not to point fingers,” he continued. “Our task is to reinforce the common ground that has already been agreed upon.”
Like the Secretary-General, Mr. Kőrösi also spoke of the plight of minority women, who experience what he called “intersecting forms of discrimination”, multiplying their vulnerability to violence.
The dangers of marginalization
Nobel laureate Nadia Murad, who survived ISIL’s atrocities in Iraq, spoke of her childhood in the small Yazidi community in the north of the country.
Iraq is vast 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, distrustful of each other and voiceless in government and civil society,” Ms Murad said. “We were deprived of rights and representation and marginalized. We were invisible.
This isolation has had “violent consequences”, according to the human rights activist, who is also a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
She said Yazidis were alone and unprotected when ISIL entered Iraq. His village was attacked. Eight years later, the community remains on the fringes. Most still live in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Ms Murad insisted hers was not just a ‘Yezidi story’, but applied to all minority communities in Iraq and others across the world fighting for a fair role in their country.
“We need the international community to act, to show the world that it believes in the ideals set out in this resolution.We know the brutal consequences of inaction. We call on you to be our partners in this fight.”