For the first time in its history, the UN Forum on Minority Issues was preceded by a series of thematic regional forums. The goal of these regional forums was to make the UN Forum more accessible for minorities, and to provide more effective responses to problems affecting them, while taking into account regional contexts and realities. Convened by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr Fernand de Varennes, the regional forums were organised by the Tom Lantos Institute, in partnership with regional and local organisations. In 2019 three regional forums were convened. The European Regional Forum took place on May 6-7, 2019 in Brussels at the European Parliament. The Asia-Pacific Regional Forum was held in Bangkok at Mahidol University, on September 21-22. The Africa-Middle East Forum was held in Tunis, on October 28-29.
A wide range of stakeholders, including states, intergovernmental organisations, human rights organisations, minorities, representatives of civil society, academics, and regional and global experts participated in the these regional forums. The theme of the 2019 regional forums was “education, language and the human rights of minorities”, which coincided with the theme of the 2019 UN Forum on Minority Issues. The regional forums provided insights for the development of a set of regional guidelines and concrete recommendations focusing on education in, and teaching of minority languages. In addition, they provided the Special Rapporteur with information to inform the development of a UN practical guide on this issue. The regional forum’s other objectives included:
• Exploring, analysing and discussing current issues related to the learning of and teaching in minority languages;
• Facilitating informal dialogue between different stakeholders on the practical challenges of teaching in minority languages;
• Clarifying and raising awareness of how and to what extent human rights currently ensure the learning of and teaching in minority languages;
• Strengthening the participation of minorities in the development and evaluation of policies related to minority language education and facilitating access to expert support for minorities.
The 2019 regional forums contributed to the following significant results:
• Participants of the regional forums developed 132 region-specific recommendations. The recommendations were made public by the Special Rapporteur on the official website of the 12th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues and served as a reference document for the UN Forum.
• The decentralisation of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, the so-called “regional approach”, enabled representatives of minorities and NGOs to participate in the work of the UN.
• A draft UN General Assembly resolution supporting regional forums had been put forward. The resolution (A / RES / 74/165) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2019.
• Based on the knowledge gained at the regional forums, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues plans to develop a UN practical guide in 2020 that summarises and interprets human rights norms relevant to mother tongue education for persons belonging to minorities. The guidebook may serve as a source for international law in the future.
The work of the regional forums was presented by the Tom Lantos Institute at a side-event at the 12th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which was opened by the Special Rapporteur. All documentation related to the regional forums is available on the minorityforum.info website.