Ms. Rita Izsák (Hungary) was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council and assumed her functions on 1st August 2011. She is the second holder of the mandate of Independent Expert, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Rita Izsák holds a Masters in Law diploma from the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, Budapest, Hungary. Inspired by her own experiences of prejudice and discrimination - her father's family was forcibly moved from Slovakia to Hungary due to their Hungarian ethnicity in 1947 and her mother is of Romani origin - she has been working on human and minority rights for a decade. She started her career in the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center and later became a Consultant with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Open Society Institute, the Roma Education Fund, and the Association for Women's Rights in Development. She completed field missions in Somaliland/Somalia where she worked with the Somaliland National Youth Organization (seconded by the London-based Progressio) and gave human rights lectures in Hargeisa Law University. Afterwards, she moved to Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to join the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe as a Human Rights Officer. She was the Chief of Staff of the Social Inclusion State Secretariat of the Hungarian Ministry of Justice and Public Administration and was responsible for several key priorities under Hungary's EU Presidency, including the establishment of the European Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. Currently Ms Izsák is President and CEO of the Tom Lantos Institute (TLI) based in Budapest, Hungary, a research institute and think-tank with a particular focus on human rights and minority rights.
Ms. Gay McDougall (United States) was the first holder of the mandate of Independent Expert on minority issues between July 2005 and July 2011.
Minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious threats, discrimination and racism, and are frequently excluded from taking part fully in the economic, political and social life of their countries. Today, minority communities face new challenges, including legislation, policies and practices that may unjustly impede or even violate minority rights. The outcome document of the 2005 World Summit of Heads of State and Government, approved by the General Assembly, notes that “the promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities contributes to political and social stability and peace and enriches the cultural diversity and heritage of society”.
Respect for minority rights assists in achieving stable and prosperous societies, in which human rights, development and security are achieved by all, and shared by all. The dynamics of majority/minority relationships lead to the emergence of a range of minority issues which provide challenges and opportunities for States and societies as a whole. Such issues, in all spheres of life, are identified and articulated both by minorities and by States seeking to manage diverse societies. Within this wider context of minority issues, the normative framework provided by minority rights should be understood as a necessary element to ensure integrated societies and to promote social inclusion and cohesion. In such societies, various national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups are able to live confidently together, practice their religions, speak their own languages and communicate effectively, recognizing value in their differences and in their society’s cultural diversity.
The mandate of the Independent Expert on minority issues complements and enhances the work of other UN bodies and mechanisms that address minority rights and minority issues, including the Forum on Minority Issues and the treaty monitoring bodies. Importantly, the Independent Expert can consult directly with Governments regarding minority issues, and is also mandated to take into account the views of NGOs, offering a unique opportunity for constructive engagement in country situations.
In Resolution 2005/79 the Commission on Human Rights requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to appoint an independent expert on minority issues for a period of two years, with the mandate:
(a) To promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, including through consultations with Governments, taking into account existing international standards and national legislation concerning minorities;
(b) To identify best practices and possibilities for technical cooperation by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the request of Governments;
(c) To apply a gender perspective in his or her work;
(d) To cooperate closely, while avoiding duplication, with existing relevant United Nations bodies, mandates, mechanisms as well as regional organizations;
(e) To take into account the views of non-governmental organizations on matters pertaining to his or her mandate.
The Commission also requested the Independent Expert to submit annual reports on her activities to the Commission, including recommendations for effective strategies for the better implementation of the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
Methods of work
In carrying out her mandate, the Independent Expert will:
-receive information from diverse sources including States, expert bodies, United Nations agencies, regional and other inter-governmental organizations, NGOs and other civil society organizations. Based on such information, she will issue communications to States concerning implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Minorities, where appropriate;
- submit annual reports on the activities undertaken by the mandate to the Human Rights Council including thematic studies on key minority rights issues;
- undertake, at the invitation of Governments, country visits to further constructive consultation, observe relevant programmes and policies, register concerns, and identify areas for cooperation. She will study national legislation, policy, regulatory frameworks and institutions and practices, in seeking to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Minorities.
To contact the Independent Expert:
Ms. Rita Izsák
Independent Expert on minority issues
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Tel: + 41 22 917 9640
Fax: + 41 22 917 9006