Cover Image
close this bookThe Courier N 140 - July - Aug 1993 - Dossier: National Minorities - Country Reports: Dominica, Mozambique (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderDossier: National minorities
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentWhat are minorities?- some possible criteria
View the documentThe basis of prejudice
View the documentPolitical representation
View the documentInternational legal protection
View the documentThe minority lights trap
View the documentThe African context: asset or liability?
View the documentA policy overview
View the documentTowards a new system of protection
View the documentLinguistic minorities in the European Conununtry
View the documentCreating marginalised dependent minorities Relief programmes for refugees in Europe
View the documentIndigenous peoples
View the documentSome examples of minority situations

(introduction...)

'Minorities of all kinds-cultural, religious, linguistic, ethnic, and racial-are ubiquitous in today's world. Almost all states have one or more minority groups within heir national territories, and minorities frequently live on different sides of state borders. Consequently, the treatment of minorities presents a moral and political problem with both domestic and international ramifications. It is of vital importance that statesmen and citizens pay more attention to this question... In addition, it is imperative that we think of practical solutions that are fair both to the minorities and to the societies of which they form a part'.

One does not need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of human history to understand what lies behind this plea by Professor Arendt Lijphart, writing at the beginning of he 1980s. Men and women have always been social creatures, ready to band together to form clubs, clans, tribes and nations. But just as in science, every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, the formation of social groups or communities, based on common characteristics or interests, implies the exclusion of those ho do not share those same characteristics or interests. Thus are the potential lines of dispute drawn.

As we approach the end of the 20th century, it would be rice to believe that mankind had found a way of satisfying its inherent 'group reflex' without the accompanying mistrust of other groups which so often spills over into conflict. That we have made some progress can hardly be disputed. Aggression by one nation-state against another is forbidden and rights can no longer be acquired by conquest. 'Battles' are more likely to be fought across a negotiating table, 'human rights' have been formulated and accepted, and people of different cultures communicate with each other in ways which previous generations could never have imagined. But these developments, welcome as they are, mean little to the people of Angola, Somalia, southern Sudan, Liberia, Bosnia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. They offered no comfort to the recent victims of war in Cambodia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Iraq and Nicaragua. The human race still has a lot to do to achieve the goal of peaceful coexistence.

Of course not all conflict involve minorities, but in today's world, where fighting is more often than not taking place within the borders of established states, the 'minority' issue is often a central component. And tensions between minority and majority communities are to be found in many other places even when open conflict is avoided. Oppression, discrimination, intolerance and prejudice pollute the atmosphere of too many societies.

The 'minority question' is a highly complicated one. Even the definition of the term 'minority' poses problems and each 'minority situation' has its own unique characteristics which limit one's scope for drawing general conclusions. In this Dossier, we seek to unravel some of the complexities of this subject by describing and analysing the key issues and looking at a 'representative' sample of specific cases.

This is clearly a sensitive topic and our external contributors have been asked to express their views freely. Some of these views may be controversial. Please feel free to write to us with your own ideas.

Simon Horner