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UN expert raises alarm at minority statelessness

NEW YORK (22 October 2019) –The world is facing a significant and immediate increase in the number of stateless minorities around the world, a UN expert warned today, raising concerns about a potential security and humanitarian crisis in India.

“Statelessness may in fact be increasing significantly in the coming years and even months, contributing to a potential humanitarian crisis and destabilizing situation, because of the continued risk of hundreds of thousands and even perhaps millions of individuals who mainly belong to Bengali and Muslim minorities in India being deemed to be ‘foreigners’ and in all likelihood non-citizens in the state of Assam, and who may therefore find themselves stateless,” the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, told the General Assembly.

De Varennes urged the international community to develop guidelines for equal nationality rights for minorities as a matter of urgency.

In his annual report, the Special Rapporteur also provided a working definition of what constitutes a minority for the purposes of his mandate and UN activities. The objective approach, based on whether a group constitutes less than half of the population in the entire territory of a State, whose members share common characteristics of culture, religion or language, and not dependent on any particular status such as citizenship, would address “inconsistencies, uncertainties and even contradictions that can currently exist within and between United Nations entities,” de Varennes said.

He pointed out that without affecting national or regional concepts of what is a minority, it was important to have greater clarity internationally. “[There has sometimes been a] reluctance even to refer to minorities because of no common understanding as to who is a minority, leading to omissions where minorities should have been recognised as a particularly vulnerable group,” the Special Rapporteur said.

De Varennes highlighted a 2019 draft for a legally binding instrument to regulate in human rights law the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises which withdrew all references to “minorities” in the provisions that recognize the special attention required for groups of persons that face heightened risks of violations and disproportionate impacts on their human rights from businesses activities.

“I am led to understand that while in an earlier version of this draft minorities were identified as a vulnerable group, this reference was eventually omitted because of concerns over the meaning of this term – an unfortunate situation since in many parts of the world, it would seem generally understood that some minorities can face heightened risks of violations of human rights within the context of business activities in some parts of the world,” he said.

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