Minority Rights, Minority Wrongs


Many of the new democracies established in the last twenty years are severely ethnically divided, with numerous minority groups, languages and religions. In conflicts between minorities and the state, human rights and minority rights values are one set of battlefields, and claimed abuses are the weapons of choice for all sides.

National human rights institutions stand at the center of these conflicts. Minority groups should be a primary constituency for these institutions. Nonetheless, only a few of the human rights institutions in severely divided states report developing programs directed at minorities, and many shy away from involvement in their conflicts.

This article is based on a qualitative study of the work of national human rights institutions with minority groups worldwide, the first study of its kind. Here, I report my findings on the patterns and trends in this work.

I then consider the implications of these results for the fundamental questions of the field: How can new democracies manage the inevitable conflicts between minority claims, liberal rights, and other state interests? Can minority rights theories that have been developed in well-established liberal democracies be exported to new democracies and severely divided states?

For now, the experiences of national human rights institutions offer a useful lens on these questions. By serving as a forum for dialogue between minority groups and states, they could also play a role in addressing these concerns.


Comparative and Foreign Law

Date of this Version

March 2005