Ethnicity and Democratic Governance

Ethnicity and Democratic Governance

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Spoke 3

How can the international community facilitate constructive and peaceful state-ethnic community relations?

Coordinator: Will Kymlicka
Participants: Jane Boulden, David Last, Christian Leuprecht, Benedict Kingsbury, Karen Knop and Peter Leuprecht

Here we are concerned with the role of the international community in shaping ethno-communal relations and conflicts within and between states. This, too, is contested. It is often said that the international community can and should do more to protect vulnerable minorities around the world, but others argue that such international intervention is likely to be ineffective at best, and biased and self-serving at worst. Our spoke researched the conditions under which the international community decides to actively engage with state-minority conflicts, the different forms that this engagement takes, the various goals that underlie it, and the range of effects it has produced.

For example so-called "kin-states" have often intervened to support their co-ethnics in another country; regional powers have supported rebellious minorities in neighboring countries in order to destabilize governments that are seen as hostile; and global superpowers have supported or opposed ethnic claims in light of geopolitical security considerations. More recently, however, a number of international institutions have attempted to develop mechanisms that would allow the international community to respond to internal ethnic conflicts in a more constructive and principled way. To oversimplify, these mechanisms take two different forms:

  • The first type of response is a case-specific conflict-resolution approach, particularly where serious violence has already occurred. This approach raises issues of military/humanitarian intervention, peace-keeping, disarmament, and the re-integration of former combatants. In some cases, it has even extended to the design of political institutions such as electoral systems as in the Dayton Agreement for Bosnia, the Annan Plan for Cyprus, the Ohrid agreement for Macedonia, the Transitional Administrative Law in Iraq, and Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement.
  • The second type of response involves the attempt to codify general international legal norms of minority rights, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities, the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, or the Organization of American States' Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have also seen the emergence of transnational advocacy networks, such as international human rights NGOs or indigenous peoples' organizations, which push to strengthen these international norms, and to ensure their proper implementation.

The working assumption of this spoke was that these two forms of international intervention are likely to become more common under conditions of globalization. The era when the treatment of internal ethnic communities was seen as the exclusive preserve of sovereign states has passed. Yet it is far from clear that these international influences always operate in constructive ways. Current interventions tend to be selective and ad hoc, supporting some claims and discouraging others, without any principled rationale. This is true not only of case-specific conflict-resolution interventions, but also of the emerging international norms of minority rights, which are very uneven in their coverage.

Our Approach

We explored the prospects for developing a more consistent framework to guide the international community's engagement with these issues. Research activities included field research on the impact of international intervention on the ground, studies of decision-making processes within international organizations such as the UN, and analyses of emerging international legal texts and cases regarding migrants, national minorities, and indigenous peoples.