Minority rights refer to rights of an individual or a group who are a small number in comparison to the remainder of the population. In the context of international law, minority rights are most concerned with national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, but other minority groups exist. Minority rights regularly change in conjunction with minority status, which is determined by location. For example, a Jewish man in the United States is considered a religious minority, while the same man in Israel would be part of the majority.
With increasing global awareness and focus on human rights, the United Nations (UN) has made a declaration on minority rights. The declaration is not law, but many countries, especially democracies, are obligated to adhere to its content because they have signed treaties. Although there are still many countries who grossly violate human rights, especially in the case of minorities, the United Nations' declaration offers a well rounded explanation of minority rights.
Adopted in 1992, the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities globally promotes human rights and individual freedom without regard to race, sex, language or religion. Specific minority rights mentioned in the declaration include the right for a minority group to take pleasure in its own culture, practice its choice of religion and use its own language without fear of discrimination.
The UN declaration also includes that people who belong to minority groups have the right to participate in all aspects of life, which include cultural, religious, social and economic activities. Additionally, minority groups have the right to establish and organize their own associations. They may choose to exercise or not exercise their rights without discrimination.
Nations who adhere to the UN Declaration are obligated to put particular measures in place to ensure minority rights. When nations create new laws, programs and policies, they must do so with the best interest of minorities in mind. Nations must also create favorable conditions for minorities to practice their culture, religion, customs and language when it does not violate national law. Creating these conditions is often achieved through education.
For example, nations must include opportunities for minorities to learn their native language and be instructed in their native language. Additionally, countries are urged to promote the knowledge of culture, history, tradition and language of minorities within their country to encourage peaceful relations between minority groups and the majority. States are also encouraged to promote minority activity within economic and political developments within their countries.