Country Reports, Rights of Minorities Discussed by Human Rights Committee

UN Chronicle, May 1985 | Go to article overview

Country Reports, Rights of Minorities Discussed by Human Rights Committee


Country reports, rights of minorities discussed by Human Rights Committee

Reports on the human rights situations in the Dominican Republic, Spain, the United Kingdom and the Cook Islands, which is self-governing in free association with New Zealand, were examined by the Human Rights Committee during a three-week session at New York (25 March-12 April).

The Committee also completed consideration of a number of complaints from individuals charging that their rights had been violated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee's competence to recieve such cases, which are heard in closed session, is provided for in the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

Set up to monitor compliance of States' obligations under the Covenant, the Committee consists of 18 people "of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights", who serve in their personal capacities. They are appointed for a four-year term.

The 53-article Covenant, which entered into force in 1976, is one of the international instruments developed under United Nations auspices to give legal and moral force to the concept of an international bill of human rights. It consists of treaty provisions establishing a legal obligation on States to protect the civil and political rights of every individual, without discrimination as to race, sex, language or religion. It ensures the right to life, liberty, security, individual privacy and protection from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; guarantees the right to a fair trial; provides protection against arbitrary arrest or detention; and recognizes freedom of thought, conscience or religion, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of association.

In acceding to the Covenant, States parties also agree to submit reports, within one year of entry into force for that country and whenever requested by the Committee, on measures taken by them to give effect to individuals' rights recognized by the Covenant. There are now 80 States parties to the Covenant. Thirty-fourt States are parties to the Optional Protocol.

General Comments

Among other things, the Committee discussed the formulation of generaal comments on article 27 of the Covenant. Such general comments usually expand ont he Committee's interpretation of various Covenant provisions. They also identify matters on which the Committee would like more information from States in their reports to the Committee, which transmits its general comments to States parties and to the General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council.

Article 27 states: "In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language."

Christian Tomuschat, expert from the Federal Republic of Germany, read out the text of draft general comments on article 27 prepared by a working group of the Committee at its last session. Mr. Tomuschat, a member of that working group, said article 27 called for careful reading. The Committee had not yet had an opportunity to explore its scope fully. The article was unique in that it contained the only provision in the international code on human rights that protected minorities; most of the other rights enunciated in the Covenant could be traced back to corresponding provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

The text stated, in part, that reports submitted to the Committee had often failed to provide sufficient information on the ways in which article 27 was observed and implemented by the State party concerned. The Covenant drew a distinction between "peoples"--which according to article 1 were holders of the right of self-determination--and ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, whose members had only been endowed with specific rights designed to secure the existence and survival of the community concerned. …

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