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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

Public Participation and Minorities
Yash Ghai

London: Minority Rights Group International, 2001
28pp. Pb.: 6.70 inc. p&p; ISBN 1-897693-885

Public Participation and Minorities provides a wide analysis of the institutional arrangements meant to enhance minority participation in public life, as well as an overview of the mechanisms used for avoiding turbulence, secession or bloodshed in multiethnic societies when re-negotiating the social contract after the crisis or during a process of transition.

Yash Ghai uses the premise that mere protection against discrimination is not enough and that effective civic inclusion in public life by the categories of population usually defined as "second class citizens" is required as a sine qua non condition of national stability. In his report mandated by Minority Rights Group International, one of the most important authorities in the promotion of group rights, the author gives a new meaning to the very concept of protection of minorities, by interpreting public participation of the minorities as protecting and expressing the identity of the minorities in cultural, social and political arenas.

The study begins with an overview of the general foundations of the concept of public participation as defined by international and regional standards. It further highlights the pre-requirements for participation of minorities in public life and justifies the importance of developing public participation strategies aiming at the inclusion of minorities in public discourse: citizenship, extending the basis of the entitlement to fundamental rights to include non-citizens, creating an environment of human security and human flourishing for the members of minorities.

Subsequently, the wide range of institutional and legal mechanisms developed are analyzed while using different country-specific cases from Fiji to Hungary, South Africa and Finland, or from Canada to New Zealand, Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia. Yash Ghai selected the most relevant aspects of different societies and the various models of participation through, for example, minority representation, power-sharing and autonomy in decision-making, or the creation of the framework for a continuos dialogue and inclusion of the minorities in public discourse.

Each of the case studies, revealing various constitutional arrangements, is relevant for countries facing similar issues on their long and winding road to democracy - as a way of addressing the impact of long-term structural discrimination or in order to ensure the pro-active civic participation of categories of population that have been newly enfranchised.

It can be argued that the study fails to give a universal recipe for public participation of minorities but this is not its aim in the first place. The book was designed to be a thematic report, an overview, a collection of good practices followed by a critical review of the impact of each model of public participation of minorities- a topic more relevant than ever after the failure/ success of the recent World Conference against Racism.

Romanita Elena Iordache

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