2011 Minorities Fellowship Programme

Photo: Ana and Irene (center) with interpreters Mohammed (Soudan) and Mikhael (Qatar) during break at Bar des Serpentines, UNOG
Photo: Ana and Irene (center) with interpreters Mohammed (Soudan) and Mikhael (Qatar) during break at Bar des Serpentines, UNOG
Article by Ana Beltran, Irene Schwieger
21 January 2012

From November 21st to December 9th 2011, ICVolunteers contributed to the organization of OHCHR’s 2011 Minorities Fellowship Programme (MFP) held at the Palais des Nations and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. ICV interns Ana Beltran and Irene Schwieger welcomed the Arabic, English and Russian interpreters to the conference and assisted them during the course of the programme in order to guarantee its success as well as the enjoyment of the minority representatives. The present article provides a brief overview of the programme.

Launched in 2005 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Minorities Fellowship Programme (MFP) aims to give persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities an opportunity to gain knowledge on the UN systems pertaining to human rights in general and minority rights in particular. The MFP, which coincides with the UN’s Forum on Minority Issues, is intended to assist fellows in protecting and promoting the rights of the minority groups to which they belong, and to enable them to further train the members of their communities and organizations.

The Minorities Fellowship Programme is an interactive programme, consisting of briefings on topics relating to the UN system, OHCHR work, and human rights mechanisms. Key speakers attending the conference included representatives from the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the United Nations Development Program, the International Labor Organization (ILO), UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC), among others. In addition, fellows received training on human rights education and methodology, as well as on how to lobby treaty bodies.

ICVolunteers Ana and Irene as well as the contributing interpreters from Egypt, Lebanon, Russia, and Sudan had the opportunity to gain insight on minority issues worldwide, as well as within the United Nations. One interpreter, Mostafa of Egypt, said of his experience volunteering with ICVolunteers “In all honesty, volunteering at the Minorities Fellowship Program exceeded my expectations. It was fun and useful on many levels. Being at the UNOG allowed me to network with different groups and I learned a lot from the sessions of the Programme. It was inspiring to learn that UN offices are working closely with members of minority groups around the world to build their capacities and improve their status. It was also enriching to meet these Fellows in person and learn of their struggles. I would volunteer as an interpreter again and again. Thank you ICVolunteers!”

Another interpreter, Mikhael from Qatar, commented that “the participants of this fellowship programme (…) share the hope for a better future for their families, communities, and coming generations. They aspire for a future of equality and justice; a future of equal opportunities and fair distribution of wealth; a future when they are treated as normal human beings. I am so happy I have been part of this experience and wish them all the success in their endeavors".

Participating fellows as to them were given the opportunity to educate their colleagues on their own work within their communities, and to explain their identities and the individual sociopolitical situations of their respective minorities. Participating fellows came from Canada, Serbia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Iraq, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Russia. This process was very important because it enabled the fellows to identify with each other, and to work efficiently in groups during workshops.

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