Political Participation of Minority Peoples

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What's Being Done On...

Enhancing the Political Participation of Minority Peoples?

The World Movement would like to thank its intern, Diana Ruiz, and its first Anna Pkhrikian Memorial intern, Lauren Parnell, for their contributions to this installment of What’s Being Done On…


This installment of “What’s Being Done On…?” focuses on “Enhancing the Political Participation of Minority Peoples.”  It highlights civil society organizations working to address the rights and needs of minority groups who are politically underrepresented in many societies, and emphasizes the importance of increasing participation of such groups in political processes.  As illustrative examples, this installment features profiles of the Afro-Colombian community, the Maya-Indian communities in Guatemala, the Roma community in Albania and Romania, and the Uyghur community in China.  Also included are interviews with Centro Pluricultural Para la Democracia/Multicultural Center for Democracy (CPD) of Guatemala, Roma ACCESS of Romania, Roma Active of Albania, and the Uyghur American Association (UAA) and a resource page with links to helpful Web sites focused on integrating minorities in political processes.

Who are Minority Peoples?

The term “minority peoples” usually refers to non-dominant ethnic, religious, and linguistic communities who may or may not also be a numerical minority, but the term can also include groups who share a common identity based on historical experience, region of residence, or, as in caste-like systems, occupation.  Minority peoples are often underrepresented or, as in some cases, completely excluded from national, political, and social life.  They often lack access to political power, suffer discrimination and human rights abuses, have little or no access to social services, and lag far behind other groups in society with regard to social indicators of development.  Minority peoples include a diverse range of populations, such as those featured here: the Maya Indian groups of Central America, Afro-descent communities throughout Latin America, Roma migrant groups of Europe, and the Uyghurs in China.

What General Challenges Characterize the Experience of Most Minority Groups?

Of the numerous minority peoples across the world, more than 200 have organized politically to assert their rights regarding land, education, development, justice, and political participation.  Though the situation differs greatly across distinct regions, countries, and groups, minority peoples often have much lower rates of political participation – that is, voting, running for elected office, participating in public budgeting processes, accessing the justice system and legal resources – than the dominant majority.   Minority groups often face outright discrimination and exclusion from participating in public elections, are denied legal rights and fair treatment in the justice system, and are resigned to the sense that their attempts to obtain equal treatment are futile.  Moreover, even if they have some formal legal rights, they are usually prevented from exercising them. Additionally, minority peoples are frequently not consulted when policies and legislation that affect them are considered. 

Why is the Inclusion of Minority Peoples Important for Democracy?

The recognition of minority rights is essential for establishing and maintaining a fully just, democratic, and peaceful society.  A government must account for the rights of all groups, not just the dominant majority.  The inclusion of minority groups enhances the likelihood of democratic development and strengthening by enhancing the “civic capacity of the society and increasing the cohesion of the country,” thus enabling individuals to work as citizens of the country rather than as members of their specific ethnic groups.  Some minority groups see political inclusion – defined as “full participation, representation in important decision-making institutions, influence on power, and adoption of public policies that address appropriate concerns”— as the necessary precursor to social and economic equality.   Responsibility for the inclusion of minority groups in political processes belongs to both sides – the onus is on minorities themselves to advocate for their own rights and exercise them at every opportunity, as well as on the dominant majority to open up space for minority voices to be heard. 

There is no blanket agenda or best practice for ensuring the political inclusion of minorities; rather, the most suitable course should be determined by the members of the society who must evaluate the appropriateness of possible tools and mechanisms.  In a democracy, “diversity is the rule, not the exception.”

How are Civil Society Organizations Improving the Situations for Minority Groups around the World?

Civil society organizations work in various ways to address the needs and rights of minority groups.  These methods differ by region, country, and the specific groups the efforts are meant to help.  Such organizations focus on inequalities and injustices related to land rights, education, language, religion, development, rule of law, and political participation, among others. 

In general, with the development of global information technology, human rights advocates and organizations now have unprecedented possibilities for pursuing their objectives through the Internet.  Through Web technology, organizations have been able to launch campaigns and increase awareness about issues facing indigenous peoples and minorities.   Meanwhile, much is being accomplished at the grassroots level.  Civil society organizations are striving to educate and inform these communities of their rights and to encourage them to exercise those rights.  Perhaps most importantly, through a combination of these efforts, civil society organizations are creating and encouraging dialogue between indigenous and minority populations, on the one hand, and the larger society to which they belong, on the other.


Information and quotations for this summary of the topic were drawn, in part, from the following sources:

Gurr, Ted Robert.  Minorities at Risk:  A Global View of Ethnopolitical Conflicts.  U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1993.

Gurr, Ted Robert.  Peoples Versus States:  Minorities at Risk in the New Century.  U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2000.

Ishay, Micheline R. The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era. University of California Press, 2008.