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*** RIGHTS OF MINORITIES: COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT DECLARATION
Oral statement presented to the 48th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Agenda item 18: The rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities
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The Baha'i International Community wishes to congratulate the Commission's Working Group on the adoption of an excellent draft Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. Given the stressful nature of deliberations on such a sensitive topic, this achievement is a genuine breakthrough. We hope this success will inspire further efforts among all people to promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
The major task for the immediate future will be to find constructive and effective means for implementing the draft Declaration, once adopted. Sadly, the reality of life for many minorities bears no resemblance at all to the minimum human rights standards set forth in this draft.
Members of the very minority groups whom the draft Declaration was designed to protect are experiencing intense suffering and anguish in a number of violent conflicts now raging in the world. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of these conflicts, aside from the unconscionable human grief they produce, is that they have been fueled by age-old prejudices, based on nothing more than ethnic, religious or racial origins.
We are undeniably living in an age of great tumult in the relations among minority groups, and between minorities and majorities. As external restraints imposed by governments relax or collapse entirely, it is no surprise that long-simmering ethnic antagonisms are erupting. This development was foreseen over a century ago by Baha'u'llah, the Prophet-Founder of our Faith:
"The winds of despair, are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divides and afflicts the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appears to be lamentably defective."
In the face of such conflict and strife, many observers of these momentous events have become pessimistic about the possibilities for improving the situation of minorities throughout the world. Indeed, it would be understandable for the members of this Commission and its Working Group to feel overwhelmed by the ever-accelerating transformation of the world political map and the attendant increase in ethnic strife. Pessimism, however, poses a serious threat to the work of this Commission. If allowed to fester, it could lead to a paralysis of will that would prevent the draft Declaration's standards from ever becoming a reality.
In the view of the Baha'i International Community, a pessimistic outlook, though understandable, is unwarranted, both as to the long-term future of minorities, and as to the Commission's accomplishments and future tasks.
With respect to the long-term prospects for resolving these conflicts and promoting the full realization of the rights of minorities, the Baha'i International Community regards the current world confusion and calamitous condition in human affairs as a phase in an organic process leading ultimately and irresistibly to the unification of the human race in a single social order whose boundaries are those of the planet. The human race, as a distinct, organic unit, has passed through evolutionary stages analogous to the stages of infancy and childhood in the lives of its individual members, and is now in the culminating period of its turbulent adolescence approaching its long-awaited coming of age.
We are witnessing the unavoidable conflict and confusion that comes with the process of maturation. Baha'is are confident that, as all peoples reach a new stage of cooperation based on mutual respect and a commitment to justice, the contemporary conflicts among minorities and between minorities and majorities will become relics of the past. Cooperation will emerge from a growing consciousness of the oneness of humanity and will be facilitated, Baha'is believe, through a process of consultation and deliberation. Such consultation must be frank and candid on the one hand, yet cooperative and open-minded on the other.
Constructive consultation is possible only when both minorities and majorities renounce their stubborn clinging to long-standing and misguided attitudes of superiority and condescension; to ancient grievances, however justifiable their origins; and to extreme parochial attachments that represent a perversion of the sane and intelligent pride that all groups rightfully feel towards their particular culture. Minorities and majorities must embrace an expansive view of world society that sees all human beings as members of one human family, united in their fundamental aspirations, yet enriched by the precious variation in human thought, language, religion and culture. The development of such a universal and unshakable consciousness of the oneness of mankind is essential if the rights of minorities are to be fully realized.
A hundred years ago, Baha'u'llah, in a statement addressed to Queen Victoria, urged that the world be regarded as an organic whole, like the body of an individual. As the component elements of humanity come to see one another as distinct yet equally vital parts of one human society, which, like any living organism, benefits from the well-being of its constituent parts, then enduring solutions to the problems of minorities become possible. Baha'is foresee the establishment of a system of relations between minorities and majorities that is at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious. Such a system must give free play to the creativity and initiative of persons belonging to minority groups, supporting their efforts to cherish and nurture the beneficial aspects of their rich culture, language and traditions. At the same time, it must be based on cooperation and reciprocity between and among minorities and majority groups.
Because Baha'is believe that long-term solutions to the problems of minorities will be the product of mature consultation supported by a new, progressive social order, we wholeheartedly support the provisions of the draft Declaration calling for communication and participation. We also believe that the draft Declaration represents an important step towards developing universally accepted guiding principles and understandings upon which a dynamic social order that is responsive to the needs of minorities can be founded.
To conclude, Mr Chairman, we believe that the working group's conscientious attempt to articulate fundamental rights and responsibilities on this subject will be an important contribution towards the task of building a pattern of peaceful relationships between minorities and majorities. Governments as well as non-governmental organizations will be grateful to have the Declaration from which to draw inspiration in the near future.
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