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Minorities and the criminal justice process


A.    Introduction

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7.  The Special Rapporteur is alarmed by the many allegations that she has received of human rights violations committed against minorities in the administration of criminal justice, owing to their minority status. Having reviewed existing United Nations documentation and relevant documents from regional and national institutions, through her consultations with Governments (see annex), various experts and civil society, the Special Rapporteur has identified global patterns of violations of the rights of minorities in the criminal justice process.


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8.  The Special Rapporteur recalls the four pillars of minority rights elaborated in prior reports, which provide an important framework for understanding minority rights within the criminal justice system (see A/HRC/29/24, para. 17). She also recognizes the variety in legal systems around the world. While the modality of violations of rights of minorities may vary among systems, no system is free of such concerns. National specificities in the administration of criminal justice, however, can never justify discrimination in the administration of justice.


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9.  This report highlights some examples of good practices. However, too often a lack of data collection precludes Governments from accurately assessing the existence and scale of violations, or designing effective countermeasures. It should be noted, however, that the report is not exhaustive, and does not address violations by law enforcement officials outside of the formal criminal justice process, or violations arising from substantive criminal law, which impact minorities and merit further research.


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B. Legal framework

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10. International law protects persons in contact with the criminal justice system who belong to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. It prohibits discrimination in the administration of justice and creates positive obligations to ensure that justice systems are sensitive to, and facilitate effective participation of, minorities. These overarching principles are developed through treaty law and customary international human rights law and, in situations of armed conflict, international humanitarian law.


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11.  The overarching principle of non-discrimination including, specifically, equality before the law and before the courts, is enshrined in, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (hereinafter referred to as the Minorities Declaration), the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. These are reinforced by regional instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples�� Rights (hereinafter referred to as the African Charter) (articles 2 and 3), the Arab Charter on Human Rights (hereinafter referred to as the Arab Charter) (articles 3 and 11), the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (Council of Europe) (article 4)) and the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter referred to as the American Convention) (articles 1 and 24), as well as by the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance (not yet in force) jurisprudence and international humanitarian law. The concept of effective participation is recognized in the Minorities Declaration (article 2), under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 7 and in regional standards.


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12. Fairness and effective safeguards for rights at all stages of the criminal justice process depend on the ability of suspects, defendants, victims and witnesses to understand what is happening. In this regard, the rights of linguistic minorities provided for by the Minorities Declaration, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 27 and 14), the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (associated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)), the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (article 10 (3)), the Arab Charter (article 25), and international humanitarian law and other instruments, take on particular importance.


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13. The right to liberty and security of person, 9 prohibition of torture and other ill treatment, right to a fair trial, right to privacy, and right to life are relevant to surveillance, stop and search, use of force, arrest, questioning, pretrial detention, criminal trial and sentencing. Additional United Nations and regional instruments address these issues in greater detail.


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14. For minority victims of crime, standards on the right to effective remedy and reparation, and to participation and protection in the criminal justice process, are relevant.


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15. Human rights standards also affirm that members of minorities must have equal access to training and service as law enforcement officials, including within the police, prosecution, judiciary and legal profession.


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16. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Recommendations on Policing in Multi-Ethnic Societies (2006) are of cross-cutting importance, providing guidance on representativeness of police and enhancing communication between police and minority communities.


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17. General Recommendation XXXI of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the prevention of racial discrimination in the administration and functioning of the criminal justice system describes measures for gauging and preventing discrimination at each stage of the criminal justice system. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommendations can and should be extended and adapted to cover discrimination against all national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.


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C. Minorities and the exercise of police powers



18. Should a disproportionate number of individuals from a minority group find themselves in contact with the police as a result of discrimination, then even if, formally, every other step of the process functions impartially, minorities will, similarly, be disproportionately represented throughout that process. This underscores the importance of strict non-discrimination at the policing stage. The risk of discrimination further increases when police forces do not reflect the diversity within the population.


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19. Police often have wide-ranging discretionary powers. Some discretion may be necessary owing to the nature of their work. However, the broader the discretion, the greater the risk of its arbitrary or discriminatory exercise, particularly in the absence of effective independent oversight mechanisms. Indeed, globally, and specifically in such areas as counter-terrorism legislation where police powers continue to expand beyond the reach of effective oversight mechanisms, minorities are increasingly at risk.


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20. Furthermore, police practices that impact a certain minority excessively tend to reinforce the sentiment among the members of the group that they are not an integral part of society. This can ultimately undermine the efforts to protect and promote their identity, as they may seek to hide their status in order to avoid unwarranted attention. Such practices can also contribute to the creation of a vicious circle of tension between the police and minority communities.


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