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Nigeria: expert on minority issues urges unity in diversity

Nigeria: UN expert on minority issues urges unity in diversity in response to challenges

ABUJA (28 February 2014) – Good and inclusive governance is essential to ensuring minority rights, equality and peaceful coexistence for all of Nigeria’s citizens, the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, said* today at the end of her first official visit to the country.

“I found evidence that in States where inclusive governance prevails and communities placed trust in their leadership, there are fewer communal fractures and concerns about minority rights,” Ms. Izsák noted. “However, the exclusion of some groups, partisan politics, corruption, and the reality or the perception of bias and favouritism along ethnic or religious lines, fuel distrust, suspicion and anger.

“Political parties must play their role in reaching across ethnic or religious divides,” she stressed, while urging the Nigerian Government “to strengthen measures to fully implement the constitutional guarantees of equality, unity and belonging, in order to protect minority rights.”

With over 250 ethnic groups and even more languages spoken in the country, the UN expert acknowledged the complex ethnic, religious and linguistic make-up of Nigeria and that, for the most part, minority and majority communities coexist in harmony. Nigeria this week celebrates its Centenary and its rich ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity. However the Expert highlighted concerns that threaten unity in several States and require attention.

“In States that I have visited, including Plateau State and Kaduna State, today there are new divisions where once was relatively peaceful coexistence,” she noted. “I have been saddened to learn that violent attacks perpetrated against both Christian and Muslim communities have heightened suspicions and in some locations created a climate of fear.

“I have been deeply moved by meeting victims of violence from different communities,” Ms. Izsák said. “Those who incite or perpetrate violence, including extremist elements, must be held to account for their crimes and must not be allowed to succeed in creating divisions between communities.”

The Independent Expert urged the authorities to enhance the capacity, training and resources of the security forces in regions where violence has broken out, but stressed that “sustainable solutions to communal violence require more than a heightened security response alone.”

“Some of the tensions and conflicts that have erupted in Nigeria’s northern and ‘Middle-Belt’ States have been framed as religious or ethnic conflicts. However, it is clear to me that, while they have evolved to have obvious religious and ethnic dimensions, this is far too simplistic an understanding and their root causes lie in other factors - competition for resources or unequal allocation of resources, land issues, population movement and migration, and even the gradual but important impact of climate change,” she stated.

The rights expert welcomed local and grassroots initiatives to build bridges of understanding and trust between communities, through inter-faith and inter-communal dialogue, shared activities and education.

“I have met traditional Chiefs, Christian and Muslim religious leaders who are working to bring a message of peace and tolerance to their communities affected by recent violence,” she said. “I was particularly impressed by creative women and youth initiatives that address underlying root causes of potential conflicts and help to prevent them.”

Ms. Izsák visited the Niger Delta where she met Ogoni and Ikwerre communities who highlighted their efforts to overcome what they describe as abandonment and marginalization and the devastating effects of frequent oil spills. She also sought information on Nigeria’s linguistic diversity and urged the Government to consider formal and informal measures to protect and promote Nigeria’s rich linguistic heritage.

The Independent Expert welcomed the forthcoming National Conference that will bring together a wide spectrum of Nigerian society to hold a dialogue on many constitutional, legal, social, political and economic issues. She urged full attention to minority issues within the scope of the Conference.

Ms. Izsák cautioned, however, that the Conference must be truly inclusive and have clear objectives and outcomes that result in a real process of political, social and economic reform, in order to fulfil its promise to the Nigerian people.

During her twelve-day visit to Nigeria, the expert consulted a wide range of stakeholders including senior Federal Government officials, as well as State officials, civil society groups and community and religious leaders. Following her visit the UN Expert will produce a report and recommendations that will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Independent Expert: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14293&LangID=E

ENDS

Ms. Rita Izsák (Hungary) was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. As Independent Expert, she is independent from any government or organisation and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/IExpert/Pages/IEminorityissuesIndex.aspx

Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country page – Nigeria: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AFRICARegion/Pages/NGIndex.aspx

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