The Minority Rights Group


In delivering the 12th Annual Minority Rights Group Lecture on "1984 and Human Rights" on February 23, 1984, the former Director of Human Rights for the United Nations, Dr. Theo Van Boven noted:

The struggle for human rights constitutes an appeal and a challenge to those who are in power positions, such as governments, international organizations, transnational corporations and all other forces that represent political, military and economic powers. On the basis of the internationally recognized human rights standards they are to be held accountable in a political sense but also, as the case may be, their criminal responsibility should be established, in particular when they are guilty of crimes under international law, such as political assassinations, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and practices of torture...When we take into account that the existing inter-state and intergovernmental systems in many ways fail to promote and to defend human rights, it appears crucial to mobilize vigorously constructive forces outside that system as complementary or even alternative means for the promotion and protection of human rights...The first and second systems represent political, military and economic powers and often go hand in hand. The third system is envisaged to serve the rights and interests of individuals and peoples, in particular the underprivileged, the persecuted, the people having no voice at the national and international level. The third system is a system of solidarity and takes at heart the common standards of achievement of the Universal Declaration and the other international documents for the promotion and protection of human rights. This system has no fixed structure but can be considered as a broad human rights movement emanating from the grass roots of society. Representative for this movement are, among others, religious workers, trade union people, workers in the field of education and development and all those who are active in promoting and defending the rights of the poor and the underprivileged and who work for their liberation and self-determination and for a more just society. Also peace movements, environmental activists and numerous action groups that expose violations of human rights belong to this movement, as well as women's organizations and defenders of the rights of minorities and of indigenous populations.

Minority Rights Group has been an active part of that third system since its formation fifteen years ago. One of the original visions of our founders was that there should be a press service explaining the problems of disadvantaged groups to the centers of policy making in the metropolitan countries. We now have 65 publications in print, all of which are highly regarded for their judicious reporting and analysis of situations of oppression of peoples as groups because of their group characteristics - physical, philosophical or social. We maintain a regular monitoring system of such situations, receiving reports from affected peoples and circulating them to major media and governmental organizations of Europe and North America as well as to the governments of the states concerned. We have found that such circulation of information itself puts pressure on offending governments to moderate their behavior in the light of international opinion.

We believe that the internationalization of problems promotes their solution - otherwise we are left complaining of abuse to the abusers. That is why we maintain active advocacy at the United Nations in Geneva and New York. We submit testimony frequently in the Sub-Commission on Human Rights, ECOSOC and the Fourth Committee - our petitioners are either representatives of the abused peoples or, where expenses are too great to bring such representatives in frequently or where there is no clear representative of a point of view, we rely on staff to make the petitions. Since our staff are mostly women, we are particularly sensitive to women's issues.

Frequently we seek to publish our reports at a time when they will directly inform discussion on an issue in centers of policy making. For instance, our report on Haitian Refugees in the U.S. was used by several immigration lawyers in defending the rights of applicants for political asylum; our report on Micronesia: The Problem of Palau insisted on the validity of a decision of the Supreme Court of Palau at a time when the administering power sought to put that decision aside. In all cases, the guiding principles are those of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During 1984 we have been particularly active on behalf of island peoples of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, submitting petitions on the issues of Diego Garcia, East Timor, West Irian and Micronesia. We are frequently invited to submit expert testimony to parliaments in Europe, North America and Australasia as they seek to inform themselves on subjects of concern to us.

The Director of Minority Rights Group, Ben Whitaker, is also the British member on the UN SubCommission of Human Rights. He and MRG have long argued for the appointment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to give a more direct channel for the expression of this "third system" that Dr. Van Boven discerned - this system of solidarity between peoples in the third and fourth worlds and those whose contribution it is to be vigilant of the centers of policy making in the metropolitan countries so that the rights of all peoples are fully represented in policy decisions.

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