*** PROTECTION OF MINORITIES
Oral statement to the 42nd session of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
Agenda Item 18: Protection of minorities
15 August 1990
* * * * *
The Baha'i International Community welcomes the important initiatives of the Sub-Commission with respect to the protection of minorities. In particular, we congratulate Mr. Eide on his progress report E/CN.4/Sub.2/1990/46, and welcome this opportunity to share our thoughts with respect to "possible ways and means of facilitating the peaceful and constructive solution of problems involving minorities."
In dealing with the protection of minorities and human rights, many useful insights may be gained by considering the historical evolution of humankind. Slavery was once generally accepted in many parts of the world. Today, it is widely viewed as an abhorrent practice which cannot be countenanced under any pretext. It is evident that as civilization advances, our standards of justice also evolve. Nevertheless, old patterns of behaviour are not easily forgotten. The world is presently engaged in a struggle to emancipate itself from the practice of discrimination against ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities. Such a dramatic shift in the structure of social relations requires more than a minor adjustment in attitudes; it requires a whole new perspective about humankind.
We believe that the recognition of the fundamental oneness of humankind and the interdependence of all peoples is the foundation for true social equality and for respect of the fundamental human rights of all people, including persons belonging to minorities. Efforts to protect the rights of minorities which are inspired only by the desire to avoid or suppress conflict between minority groups or between minority groups and the dominant group in society are doomed to failure. The principle of the oneness of humanity provides not only a more constructive and far-reaching approach for ensuring minority rights but also a creative basis for the resolution of long-standing tensions and the construction of a new world-embracing civilization.
Baha'i communities embrace a broad cross-section of the planet's races, religions and cultures, including over 2000 ethnic groups. Tapping the rich diversity of culture and thought of minorities is a great challenge in building dynamic and unified Baha'i communities. On the other hand, it is also a great challenge to unify this diverse community with the understanding that "...the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and that no abiding benefit can be conferred upon the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are ignored or neglected." The watch word in this social process is "unity in diversity."
Mr. Eide points out the need for "appropriate ways of managing ethnic and minority relations in a constructive and peaceful way." In the face of the complexities, however, he questions "...whether it is at all possible to find generally applicable models to handle the different situations where minorities are involved." In this respect, the experience of the Baha'i International Community may contribute to the search for generally applicable models for conflict resolution.
Decision-making in Baha'i communities throughout the world consists of a collective consultative process. Because it is based on universal spiritual principles, it is adaptable to any culture. The aim of this consultation is to discover, through a spiritual process, the optimum decision for the community. It is founded on a respect for the creative power of diversity and a shared desire for unity. In other words, "in the clash of differing opinions the spark of truth is ignited." Therefore, a diverse group, drawing on the wisdom, knowledge, and experience of each person, can produce more comprehensive, far-reaching and effective solutions to problems. Because it requires of participants both frankness and compassion, the consultative process itself engenders trust, breaks down traditional misconceptions about minority groups, and creates a dynamic unity.
The elements of this consultative process are as follows: first, the group must identify the problem to be solved; then it must ascertain the facts; next, the relevant spiritual principles to be applied have to be identified; and finally, the group must arrive at a decision that everyone can support. The group strives for consensus, but if it is not possible, a majority vote prevails. Once a decision is made, however, there is no minority view. Everyone is obligated to preserve the unity of the group by supporting the decision, based on the conviction that partisanship will ultimately undermine the very foundation of society.
By appealing to that which is noble in people, the consultative process fosters cooperation and the spirit of service, thus discouraging even subtle forms of intimidation. Because the goal of consultation is not to win but rather, to find the truth, opinions are to be offered in the spirit of humility as contributions to the collective effort, and not as definitive and final. Participants are asked to consider carefully the views of others and to accept the solution that emerges. The result is an improved understanding of differences, increased creativity, the maturation of individuals and a stronger community.
We believe that the elimination of discrimination against minorities, and the development of the requisite social and economic support structures require that education be extended to all peoples. This education should aim to develop each individual's capacities and should include experience in consultation, so that individuals will be prepared to contribute fully to the welfare of society. In this respect, the Baha'i International Community sees a strong connection between the work of the Sub-Commission and the need for universal education. We, therefore, urge governments to be mindful of the educational needs of minorities within their borders during 1990, declared at the International Literacy Year, and throughout the upcoming campaign to provide Education for All by the Year 2000.
We once again commend the Sub-Commission for its important endeavors and assure it of the continued support of the Baha'i International Community.
* * * * *