Dec 07, 2011

UNPO Co-Hosts Panel Discussion At Forum On Minority Issues

Panel organized by UNPO and Minority Rights Group discusses violence against minority women and their access to justice


Main Photo (courtesy of U.S. Mission in Geneva - Eric Bridiers): Rebiya Kadeer speaks during panel discussion

The Forum on Minority Issues, an annual event organized by the United Nations under the guidance of the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, is one of the few opportunities for minority representatives to speak openly at the UN-level about the challenges they face. In recognition of the importance of this rare opportunity, UNPO has facilitated delegations of Member representatives to attend the Forum for the past three years. Last year UNPO collaborated with Minority Rights Group International to present a lunchtime panel discussion of minorities and natural resources in relation to the theme of the 3rd Forum – effective participation of minorities in economic life.


The Fourth Forum on Minority Issues was held on November 29 & 30, 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland, and focused on the theme of guaranteeing the rights of minority women. In recognition of the major issues facing minority women worldwide with regards to violence both within and outside of the home and community, UNPO and MRG organized a panel of minority representatives to discuss this issue in greater depth.


The issue of violence against minority women is heavily intertwined with other issues of focus at the Forum, including access to education, political participation and economic, social and cultural rights. In addition, minority women’s access to justice (or lack thereof) is strongly linked to their vulnerability and responses to violence against them. UNPO and MRG representatives from minorities in India, Uganda, China and Iran spoke on the panel about the issues they have seen firsthand.


Chairing the event, Jolly Kemigabo, African Regional Manager for Minority Rights Group, opened with an introduction of the speakers and topic. Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uyghur Congress, led off the discussion with a powerful speech regarding the violence experienced by Uyghur women in East Turkestan, including forced transfer by Chinese authorities into slave-like labor conditions.


Ms. Thilagam Ramalingam followed by speaking about the experiences of Dalit women in India, gained through her work with Evidence, an NGO that focuses on monitoring Dalit rights and promoting social justice in Tamil Nadu. Ms. Pheona Namuyaba of the Community Development Resource Network (CDRN), an organization working with indigenous and minority communities in Uganda, spoke about violence experienced by indigenous women in Uganda.


Representing the Balochistan Peoples Party, Monireh Sulemani ended the panel with a description of some of the challenges facing minority women in accessing justice as illustrated by the experiences of Baloch women in Iran.


Following the presentations, the floor was opened to the entire room, leading to thoughtful comments about the specific and brutal targeting of minority women in custody for violent treatment, opportunities to seek justice at the international level through the United Nations human rights treaty body system, and the need for empowerment to begin with the individual.


In the afternoon session of the Forum, which directly followed the event, UNPO Programme Coordinator Lisa Thomas delivered a statement on behalf of UNPO directly addressing issues presented during the panel discussion, namely the particular challenges facing minority women living in situations of state-sponsored violence.


FlyerRebiya Kadeer & Ambassador DonahoeAudience



Left (courtesy U.S. Mission in Geneva - Eric Bridiers): Flyer for the panel discussion

Center (courtesy U.S. Mission in Geneva - Eric Bridiers): Rebiya Kadeer speaks with Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Ambassador to the Human Rights Council, prior to UNPO panel event 

Right: Members of the audience participate in open discussion following panel presentations