An analysis of the rights of minorities in international law
The concern for the plight of the minorities and an attempt to safeguard their interests has been an ideal which has contributed towards the growth and expansion of international law. Although international law primarily operates through the medium of States, and minorities generally have no locus standi, the treatment which the minorities receive from their States has occasionally become a matter of international concern. International law, however, has historically found it difficult to deal with the issue of minorities. Like the poor, the weak and the inarticulate, they have, since time immemorial been the natural victims of persecution and genocide. In an age when wars were "just", religious repression legitimate, and cultural or political dissidence unacceptable, minorities remained the prime target of repression. Even in this contemporary period of relative tolerance and rationality, minorities are often subjected to persecution, discrimination and genocide. The stance of international law remains tentative and extremely cautious, for minorities pose questions of a serious nature, existing in myriad forms with their own social, political, cultural and religious peculiarities. Often transcending national frontiers minorities are extremely capable of appealing to the sensitivities of their international sympathisers. Most national boundaries are arbitrarily drawn, and a number of States contain turbulent factions artificially placed within their borders, often cutting across frontiers. Many regions continue to witness a perpetual and infinite struggle between the minority groups on the one hand and the State on the other, sometimes to a point where the very fabric of the institution of the State comes under threat. A consideration of many of the contemporary disputes including those involving the Kurds of Iraq, Turkey and Iran, the Kashmiris of Pakistan and India, the Sikhs of Indian Punjab, the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Biharis of Bangladesh, the Tibetans of China, the Catholics of Northern Ireland, the non-Arab indigenous Africans of Southern Sudan, and protagonists in civil wars of the fonner Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, reveals the widespread nature of the conflict. While a number of governments attempt to hide behind Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter and take refuge in the "citadel" of State sovereignty and sovereign equality, the minorities may take to heart the revolutionary indoctrination of secession in the name of self-determination. A significant number of States that emerged from the rubble of decolonisation have, in particular, faced serious challenges from their minorities. The emphasis on the principle of Uti Possidetis, though redolent of the colonial past, meant arbitrary divisions of peoples belonging to the same tribe, race, or religion. In the face of these challenges a number of States attempted to introduce constitutional devices including integration and pluralism, while others, insensitive to minority aspirations and unwilling to compromise, concentrated on the building of a nation-state with one dominant culture, language, politics and religion. Consequences of some of these policies have been severe, resulting in enduring and painful conflict. The issue of minority rights has and continues to occupy a sensitive position in inter-State relations. Historical as well as current events show that the subject is also capable of engulfing the international community as a whole. The ending of the "Cold-war" has brought with it a need for urgent revision of many areas of international law and international relations. The subject of the rights of minorities in international law, it is submitted, is worthy of an extremely thorough reconsideration.