Minority Issues in Conflict Prevention discussed with Lamberto Zannier, OSCE HCNM and NHC
This summer during the NHC Advisory Board (Committee) bi-annual meeting an exchange of views and discussion took place with Lamberto Zannier, former OSCE Secretary General and current High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM). The group discussed, inter alia, the central role of minority issues in conflict prevention.
Marginalisation of a group, i.e. when political or economic power is disproportionately in the hands of another group, can lead to conflict”
Significance of Minority Rights in Conflict Prevention
Despite their increasing complexity and variety of form, conflicts still often share a common thread: the significance of groups. Within a state,there is nearly always a group that makes up the majority and a group or groups that make up the minorities. Marginalisation of a group, i.e. when political or economic power is disproportionately in the hands of another group, can lead to conflict. Often the minority group within a state is the marginalized group.
This is demonstrated throughout the OSCE region both historically and in the current context:
- The breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s comprised of several inter-ethnic conflicts (including Croatian, Serbian, and Bosniaks);
- The on-going ‘frozen’ conflict of Nagorno Karabakh caused in part by the marginalization of the ethnic Armenian minority in Azerbaijan; and
- The ethnic-Russian minority in part leading to the annexation of Crimea and on-going internal conflict in Ukraine.
Connection to NHC Work
Max van der Stoel, one of the NHC’s founders, worked closely on this topic, acting as the first HCNM from 1993 to 2001. But in the current context of NHC work, what could be done today?
The pre-accession process to the EU is an important instrument through which the situation of minorities, amongst other topics, can be examined, assessed, and improved. But the monitoring of minority issues should not stop once a country has acceded to the EU. There have been instances where minority situations have improved within a country in the pre-accession phase only to slip back into problematic practices once in the EU.
…the monitoring of minority issues should not stop once a country has acceded to the EU”
A main tenet of NHC work is securing the Rule of Law. This helps ensure changes in a country, e.g. improved minority rights, done through legislative reform, are upheld and continuously improved upon. For example, one training in the NHC Matra Rule of Law training covered Human Rights and Minorities another covered Decentralisation and Citizen Participation.
There will always be more work to be done on a topic. An example brought up during the discussion was to increase dissemination of HCNM Recommendations on easing inter-ethnic tensions. Where the NHC goes and how it can contribute will inevitably depend on the current context in which the organisation works. Discussions like these that take place within the Committee and in the organisation as a whole are important in ensuring the continued efficacy of the NHC.
Who is the Committee?
The Committee is composed of former diplomats, civil servants and political representatives who have worked in fields relevant to human rights and rule of law, and (former) members of the judiciary, academics, and members of other civil society organizations and representatives of the media.