In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Minority Rights

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Philosophy and Definitions
  • Historical Background
  • Nationalism
  • Minorities and Ethnic Conflict
  • International Implementation
  • Core International Instruments

International Relations Minority Rights
Hurst Hannum
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0120


Many disciplines have analyzed the relationship between minorities and majorities and within minority communities themselves. Given that the current topic is minority “rights,” however, this bibliographic guide will focus primarily on the legal and normative aspects of the topic, although norms cannot and should not be entirely divorced from sociological, political, or economic analysis. In addition, because the actual situation of minorities varies greatly from country to country and culture to culture, the emphasis will be on minority rights as they have been articulated at the international level. Information on the situation of particular minorities within specific countries should be sought elsewhere, although sources such as the reports of the London-based Minority Rights Group referred to in this article offer a good starting point. Nonetheless, minority issues cannot be easily distinguished from several related political and legal concepts. For this reason, references are included here to works on nationalism and ethnic conflict, although both are complex topics in their own right. Other related concepts (not included here) include the state, sovereignty, democracy, human rights, and self-determination. No international consensus exists on the definition of minority, and none of the major international instruments includes such a definition in its text. While this remains a contested issue (see the section on Philosophy and Definitions), historical and contemporary usage by states, diplomats, and many scholars indicates that the concept of minority in the international legal context is generally limited to persons and/or groups characterized by a particular set of objective characteristics; that is, national, ethnic (including racial), religious, and/or linguistic difference. This bibliographic article will, therefore, address only these internationally recognized categories of minorities and will not consider broader categories of groups of individuals who are marginalized, subordinated, or discriminated against, such as women, children, people with mental or physical disabilities, noncitizens, or sexual/gender minorities. Indigenous peoples constitute a distinct category not identical with minorities, and the development of internationally recognized indigenous rights has proceeded separately. However, they are considered by international bodies to fall within the scope of “minority rights,” and institutions that deal with human rights in Africa and Asia often do not draw a clear distinction between the two. Thus, at least a preliminary guide to indigenous rights is also addressed in this article.

General Overviews

The Study on the Rights of Persons belonging to Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities 1979) is dated but offers a good introduction to minority issues generally; Hannum 1993 provides legal texts related to minority rights and power-sharing arrangements, both contemporary and historical. Minority Rights Group International 1970 provide valuable analyses of specific situations in which minority rights may be at risk around the world.

  • Hannum, Hurst, ed. Documents on Autonomy and Minority Rights. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1993.

    Extensive collection of documents dealing with minority rights, indigenous rights, and autonomy arrangements from around the world. Includes international norms and standards, documents relating to specific countries or situations, and historical documents.

  • Minority Rights Group International. Reports. London: Minority Rights Group International, 1970–.

    Relatively short analyses of specific minority situations written from a human rights perspective. Updated periodically. Selected reports since 1979 available online.

  • United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. Study on the Rights of Persons belonging to Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. UN Doc. No. E/CN.4/Sub.2/384/Rev.1. 1979. New York: United Nations, 1979.

    Seminal study by Special Rapporteur Francesco Capotorti of the then–UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, based on information submitted to the UN by governments and nongovernmental organizations. Includes discussion of the concept and definition of minorities, measures of protection adopted by the League of Nations and the UN, and the scope of protection under Article 27 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Primarily of historical value. Reprinted as UN Sales No. E.91.XIV.2 (1991).

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