Some Questions and Answers
(excerpt from A Popular Guide to Minority Rights,
ed. Dr.Y. N. Kly,
Clarity Press, Inc.
QUESTION: Why should African-Americans look to international human rights law for help achieving equal status and
equality in America?
International human rights law promotes norms of minority treatment that are more wide-ranging and have been more successful in
practice than limited concept of civil rights (non0discrimination and equality before the law, which in the United States is interpreted to
mean the same treatment). These norms reflect the modern world’s experience in trying to accommodate the problems of minorities by
giving the historically evolved situation and circumstances of the minority group adequate consideration, leading often to positive state
action and different treatment, in view of their different requirements.
Viewing the problem of minorities within the international context prevents the error of thinking that local minorities’ problems are unique
(and hence insoluble). By enabling the African-American problem to be viewed within the context of a whole range of problems which
have typically arisen for minorities worldwide—by the mere fact of their being a minority -- we can see that African-Americans’
development problems are essentially caused by the fact that they are a minority in a state that refuses to recognize or provide for their
minority rights or to permit any form of community control. Segregation attempted to institute the cultural assimilation of African-
Americans while maintaining their physical separation.
QUESTION: International human rights law as a model for minority rights is all well and good, but who says America will pay
Political pressure created by African-Americans demanding these rights, in conjunction with international pressure, will create
circumstances that will raise the cost both domestically as well as internationally, of denial of these rights beyond the benefit of not
providing for them. To maintain the creditability of its position as a leading power, the United States must provide for minority rights,
should these rights be demanded. As a matter of fact, in cases where effective demands are made by Native Americans, we have seen
positive action on the part of the United States government. Faced with an effective contingent of Native American lobbyists from the
United Sates and politically forced to respond in an internationally supported forum concerning the needs of the world’s indigenous
peoples, the United States delegate to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations was forced to respond, according to
the UNPO Monitor, that:
…although human rights of indigenous people is promoted in the United States, the promotion of the rights of dignity and “equality”
are not sufficient. Expressed support of the basic goals of the draft Declaration [on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples]. Offered a
working model on how the rights of indigenous people can be recognized and implemented—on the right to self-determination,
raised the issue of the recognition of tribal self-governance and autonomy over a broad range of issues as a positive development
in the national level. Highlighted the uniqueness of this concept of self-governance which considers a “government-to-government
relationship.” Finally, expressed determination to explore how this concept of self-determination might be translated into
Paradoxically, one of the strongest arguments for the effectiveness of the international human rights treaties is the general
reluctance of states to ratify them and hence become subject to their jurisdiction. The United States, for example, for all its bravado
about being the most powerful, most independent state, for decades was afraid to ratify more than the Genocide Convention. Y.N. Kly
has argued, in The Anti-Social Contract, that such reluctance stems from the fear that its domestic minorities, African-Americans in
particular, will thereby be made aware of and given the incentive to demand this internationally-recognized right.
Only recently has the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and at that, it has
hedged its ratification in a forest of reservations, understandings, and declarations. Most particularly, it has refrained from ratifying the
first Optional Protocol, which would permit groups and individuals (as opposed to states) to take human rights grievances to the Human
Rights Committee, which monitors state adherence to the ICCPR. The United States has yet to ratify the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the
International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, the Convention against Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, or even the Convention on the Rights of Child—to name but a few. Why such
hesitancy, if there were not the fear of the obligations incurred thereby, which might be too politically expensive to resist.
A state’s ratification of the human rights treaties brings along with it the obligation to report to the United Nations on its human rights
practices, and to have its reports questioned by the various states’ representatives of the treaties concerned. Non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) have the right to submit communications concerning these State Reports, communications which may provide
documented information on human rights violations by the state.
Criticism by state representatives in human rights forums and tribunals becomes fodder for the world public opinion and permits the
exertion of constant pressure on states which don’t abide by their obligation to enforce internationally protected rights.
QUESTION: It is often said that the United Nations depends heavily upon American financial support for its very existence.
How, then, can the UN act effectively against the hand that feeds it?
First, a serious observation of the decisions reached by the UN over a period of the past 30 years does not support the assumption
that the UN will not reach decisions contrary to the will of the United States. Indeed, the evidence against the assumption is so
overwhelming that we only need to examine UN decisions in almost any area: law of the sea, decolonization, human rights, the embargo
of Cuba, etc.
Most major African-American leaders have known that, in order to be successful, the African American struggle to achieve equality
within America must be internationalized. Today, there is no other mechanism un existence which permits a group to internationalize their
struggle except the UN. All minority movements go there—if for no other reason than the UN is the crossroads where the world meets
and makes decisions which come to represent the moral ad legal authority of world opinion. As a pivotal arena of public opinion and
thereby political power, the UN forces states to be concerned about its views. No state (nor indeed any serious liberation movement)
questions its value—although they may attempt to devalue it because they fear its power or criticism.
IHRAAM African-American Delegates to the UN report that the UN is full of diplomats in inter-governmental and governmental
capacity who harbor good will towards the African-American cause. But they can do nothing if African-Americans themselves do nothing.
UN diplomats themselves understand that the credibility of their human rights program itself could be severely called into question if it
should appear that they were willing to address the African-American plight because of the power of the United States. And United
States diplomats in turn realize that their road is made harder, every time they wish to press an issue with a state, if they can be
countered in turn with the issue of their treatment of African-Americans at home.
QUESTION: Haven’t African-Americans tried to pursue their human rights—unsuccessfully—through the UN before?
No. The human rights machinery of the UN is a recent development. Past efforts were never processed or followed through. Since its
inception, the United Nations has been viewed as a focus of appeal by numerous aggrieved nationalities who have been stymied in their
attempts to achieve adequate response to their grievances through domestic legal systems. However, all too frequently, the groups
concerned are unaware of the legal and political conditions and processes which will enable the United Nations to consider their
complaints. Trips to Geneva are made, important contacts are spoken to, good will is expressed, and well-documented grievances
exchange hands. And yet, because the necessary political and legal processes are not followed (or did not exist), it is as if nothing had
been done at all—even though the minority/nationality representatives concerned may in all sincerity feel that they have taken their
group’s grievances to the UN.
Many African-Americans are under the misapprehension that their grievances have already been successfully submitted (maybe
even numerous times) to the United Nations. But this is not so. The most noteworthy of such instances is that of the “We Charge
Genocide” petitioners, a distinguished body of African-Americans, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois among them, who addressed their complaint to the
General Assembly in 1951. At the time of this petition, the UN was under the sway of the “impossibility to act” doctrine which asserted the
unlimited sovereignty of states over their citizens, and states’ rights to noninterference in domestic affairs as it related to gross violation
of human rights, apart from genuine threat to world peace. (This doctrine has now been overcome.) Also, as above-mentioned, short of
a threat to world peace, there were no legal procedures within the UN that would have permitted it to respond to such a communication.
At that time, the United States had not yet ratified the Genocide Convention, nor the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
with its minority protection article (27). A cardinal principle of international law is that a state is not bound by a treaty to which it is not a
party. ECOSOC’s Resolution 1503 (XLVIII) concerning gross violations of human rights, enacted in May, 1970, had not yet come into
While the National Conference of Black Lawyers submitted a complaint through the 1503 procedure in 1979, their complaint was not
accepted by the Working Group of the Sub-Commission, and thus was not given to the Sub-Commission. This may be due to problems
deriving from political pressures in the Sub-Commission from the United States and its numerous allies, or the fact that the UN’s minority
rights law was not as fully developed as it is today (Special Rapporteur Francesco Capotorti’s study had not yet been received, nor had
the 1992 Declaration on Minorities been adopted, nor had the Human Rights Committee released its General Comment interpreting
Article 27 as requiring positive measures of minority protection on the part of states, etc.)
Now, however, there is an extensive body of international legal instruments available in support of international legal argumentation
for minority rights, and there are African-American experts in international law undertaking action on various levels, from complaint
procedure to information provision to the various Committees monitoring the UN treaties, to conflict warning. Through the International
Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM), an African-American-launched international NGO awarded consultative
status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 1992, United States minority issues are being presented to the UN
Commission on Human Rights and other UN organs. Now, through IHRAAM, African-American groups have a means of direct and official
input to the UN.
QUESTION: You know, frankly, I’m tired of being referred to as a belonging to a “minority.” No matter how you shake it, the
word itself makes you feel as if minority people are somehow less important than majority people.
For the purposes of international legal protection, the term minority is essentially an international legal construct, like victim,
accused, plaintiff, etc., in domestic law. It need not relate directly with how peoples refer to themselves or how they are referred to in the
domestic constitutional-legal documents of states. Hence in the Philippines, the term “cultural communities” has been used. Romania
has used the term “co-inhabiting nationality,” etc. This was a way of addressing the fact that the term “minority” had itself become
debased, and was synonymous with various forms of inequality between “the majority” and “the minority,” because the term “minority”
specified a category of citizens whose overall position in the state is less strong than that of the majority ethny.
While negotiations between minorities and states might lead to the substitution of other terms for that of “minority,” at the present
time it is appropriate to refer to minority when approaching the issue of minority rights in international law, because this is the
international legal terminology in which international law presently frames the rights of non-dominant groups living in multi-national
QUESTION: What are minority rights in international law?
Minority rights are the rights of persons belonging to non-dominant nations, communities, groups, etc. living in the same state,
exercised individually and in community with members of their group. While these rights include the right to non-discrimination and
equality before the law, they also include the right to be different and to exercise appropriate degrees of autonomy as required for equal
The intent of minority rights is to protect and preserve the unique ethnic, cultural and religious identities of minorities, and to
facilitate their equal status development. In order to accomplish this, most multi-national states have evolved, in addition to non-
discrimination and equality before the law, a wide range of proactive practices, including politico-legal structures permitting minority
autonomy in various socio-economic fields such as education, health, culture, criminal justice, welfare, etc.
QUESTION: How do minority rights differ from civil rights?
From the perspective of providing for protection from oppression by the dominant group, which usually controls the apparatus of the
state in which both live, minority rights are human rights and are therefore inherently held by minorities both on an individual and a
collective basis. The ultimate responsibility for their interpretation and implementation lies with the international tribunals, agencies, the
UN, other states, etc. Civil rights authority resides in the legislation and case law of the state (usually controlled by the majority ethny)
and they are the final judge and jury as to its interpretation and implementation. However, civil rights is often used to implement human
rights domestically so that citizens need not go to the international tribunals for remedy. Where this is largely successful, for all
purposes, civil rights, and minority rights are the same.
While valuable, civil rights is fundamentally a general right which functions as if all citizens were the same. It asserts the right of
persons belonging to minorities to freedom from discrimination, but not to positive entitlements which promote minority equal status with
QUESTION: Why hasn’t civil rights worked?
As a minority in a majoritarian democratic system (as opposed to a pluralist system), African-Americans don’t have the voting power
to enforce adequate consideration of their needs. American electoral procedures such as the single non-transferable vote (as opposed
to proportional representation) and at large municipal voting (as opposed to the ward system) are all geared to ensure majority
However, even if African-Americans were to vote under a system which gave them full representation according to their voting
numbers, insofar as they are a numeric minority, they could still continue to be outvoted on every issue where their interest might clash
with that of the majority. There would still be no (institutionalized) way which ensured that the system would address their specific needs
or permit African-American communities to address their needs, themselves.
QUESTION: Surely, if individual African-Americans are elected to office, this should mean greater clout for the community?
While African-Americans holding elected office doubtless feel strong obligations to their community and project their concerns in
whatever arenas they may be functioning in, such officials also have obligations to the other communities over whom they also have
jurisdiction. Frequently, in fact, elected black leaders have operated what Cynthia Enloe, writing with regard to black Americans, terms a
influence and resources depend on access to the resources of the larger machine controlled by politicians of another community.
In essence, the sub-machine boss is the loyal lieutenant of the machine boss; but he is permitted enough autonomy to build a
personal power base of his own so long as it never rivals that the senior patron.
These representatives, while they may be African-American, cannot be seen to be speaking for the African-American communities.
Their position is therefore very ambiguous where the interests of majority and minority conflict. While a number of mayors in major
American cities are now African-American, in many instances it cannot be said that the African-American communities that have elected
them have benefited. So the question remains: who has the legitimacy and authority, as conferred by the democratic process, to speak
for African-Americans? Is there a need for an African-American election? Are African-Americans enjoying democracy in America, or
have their interests and needs, insofar as they differ from that of the majority population, been consistently submerged by the interest of
the majority Anglo-American ethny? Is the subordination of African-American need to majority interest even visible in the very court
decisions which enforced their civil rights since, as Derrick Bell has observed, “Successful court decisions in relation to civil rights
coincide with those case decisions that also serve to benefit the majority ethny even more”?
QUESTION: Were we misdirected when we struggled for civil rights and against the “separate but equal” doctrine?
No. At the time, there really wasn’t much understanding of discussion of the options (nor indeed, was conventional international law
as developed with regard to minority rights as at present). Resistance to segregation, the American version of apartheid, and indeed,
the image of apartheid and Bantustans as practiced in South Africa, may have weighed against the maintenance of separate institutions,
in the presumption that they would necessarily be controlled by Anglo-Americans and thus kept unequal. However, the African-American
people may not have generally understood that what may have appeared as the alternate process, “integration,” was in reality
assimilation, and would encourage the dismantling of the existing degree of African-American economic, political and educational
institutions, communities, families, etc.
Most important to note is that African-Americans were neither separate nor equal. The doctrine, while using the words “separate but
equal” was actually a doctrine of segregation and racism. All institutions of the African-American community were under the indirect
control of the Anglo-American majority ethny through the apparatus of the state: school curricula, the justice system, the licensing system
for professionals, etc. Thus, African-Americans have never fought for nor against a separate but equal system. They have fought
against racist (Anglo-American) oppression and for civil rights, assuming that civil rights was the way of overcoming Anglo-American
oppression, while racism was simply the tool to maintain the oppression.
While African-Americans may have brought about the end of official constitutional-legal discrimination (segregation), they have not
achieved equal status (particularly as a group) in the electoral system, or indeed, in terms of general level of political and economic
control in any sector. So while the struggle for civil rights (the rights of a citizen) has been valuable, it has not provided equality or equal
status in law or in fact. It has provided for African-Americans to be treated the same as Anglo-Americans regardless of whether this
“same” treatment leads to greater inequality in fact or not, and regardless of whether treating African-Americans as the same legally
produces greater or lesser legal equality. It provided for their cultural and political assimilation into the Anglo-American underclass, for
their disappearance as a separate nation; in short, it provided for ethnocide.
QUESTION: Does non-discrimination (equality before the law) work for African-Americans?
Apart from marginal remedy for some individuals, not at all, because most discrimination is institutional, structural and systemic.
The main recourse provided by equality (same treatment) before the law/non-discrimination is threat of court action. As any who have
ever undertaken such legal action can testify, it is a tremendously costly and lengthy process, with the outcomes always uncertain and
the proofs concerning individual situations burdened by subtleties often beyond the power of the courts to capture. While successful
lawsuits likely do cause some attitudinal discrimination to abate, it is likely that attitudinal discrimination is pushed underground, while
systemic discrimination remains, disguised in legitimate institutions, politico-legal mandates, prerogatives and necessities.
A further problem with attempting to solve discrimination problems through the courts is the fact that, increasingly, the United States
judicial system regards equal treatment “of rich and poor alike” as before mentioned, to mean the same treatment (in abstract, making
these two unequals equal in such a way as to seem concerned rather with preventing the possibility of discrimination against the rich)
and thereby discounts factors that differentiate the parties concerned, such as poverty, historic oppression, etc.
Constant litigation on the part of aggrieved individuals is not the solution but remains a symptom of the problem, which is systemic
QUESTION: If non-discrimination laws don’t end discrimination, how do you end discrimination?
First we should consider some of the sources and purposes of discrimination. Discrimination does not derive from a free-floating attitude
of “racism” arising spontaneously in the minds of some “bad people” who “don’t like [black] people.” Typically it evolves dialectically
through specific historical events leading to the creation of systemically generated and ensured inequalities, whether its concerns today’s
third world economic refugees, victims of the neo-colonial international economic order, or the situation of the African-Americans, victims
of a long history of one nation’s official systemic policies devoted to ensuring the dominance of Anglo-Americans. The material and
psycho-social hierarchies generated by systemic inequality in turn condition a web of attitudes, fears, distastes, and hostilities.
However, awareness of this systemic causality plays little part in most inter-group relations—not just because of the complexity of
the understanding required, but also because what is really at issue is not just majority distaste for this or that trait of the discriminated
group. The issue is collective power relations between the groups, and the individual power of group members that either benefits or
suffers from this unequal relation. These are pocketbook issues and concerns “having” (as opposed to “sharing” which can be properly
viewed as “having an appropriate part of,” or negatively viewed as “having less,” or at minimum as “maximizing your losses,” insofar as
failure to share may result in a situation in which the pie itself is destroyed.) It concerns habits of interaction, customary assumptions and
so on, all of which are measured on a scale of relative privilege.
Psycho-spiritual complexes deriving from the long history of official systemic discrimination and gross human rights violation in which
African-Americans have been subjected, lead any in the majority culture to take it for granted that they should receive priority
consideration over African-Americans in the allocation of social benefits, i.e. jobs, education, housing. Many, while refusing to admit the
relevance of historical/systemic factors to the present day African-American condition, consciously and unconsciously anticipate and fear
retaliation for their disproportionate privileges. Few can be impervious to the distorted and inflammatory depictions of African-Americans
in the major American media, or indeed the reality of their disproportionately negative standing in all typical Anglo-American
measurements of social well-being (income, life expectancy, health, education, etc.) Such a web of motivation often leads the majority
population to a reluctance to surrender any of the advantages and privileges which have been directly tied to its historical role as
victimizer. Far better to blame the victim than to admit or dwell on causal factors which could lead to its recognition of both the justice,
need and wisdom of surrendering its position of superiority, both material and attitudinal, which translates into the proportionate sharing
of political and economic power and resources.
Equally, the remediation of such ingrained attitudes and long term abuse as has existed in the African-American case might require
not merely the alleviation of material inequality, but also a form of public repentance as exemplified by an official admission of and
apology/reparations for the history of systemic discrimination and gross human rights violations.
Once a measure of equal status has been established between groups, any tendency to discriminate would likely lose its deep-
rooted and destructive basis, and where it remained, become similar to the milder rivalries and frictions which exist between cultures
which nonetheless recognize each other’s full human equality, e.g. the rivalry between the British and French, etc. It is in such cases that
non-discrimination and recourse to the courts is most effective. However, in situations where the historical situation has led to deep and
pervasive structural inequalities in the relationship between majority and minority, the effectiveness of policies of non-discrimination for
creating equality are negligible.
So the question is one rather of establishing equal-status and interdependence between groups.
Within the American framework, the notion of how nondiscrimination policy can succeed in producing equality probably goes something
like this: if every instance of discrimination is prevented, then discrimination as a whole will be ended, and thus meritorious individuals,
who exist in similar proportions in all groups, will rise to their natural place in the general social order, and hence all groups, by natural
process, will end up having a proportionate share of the social product, and a proportionate standing in all social indicators, i.e. equality.
This view of non-discrimination is concerned, not so much with protecting the right to be different, as with insisting that difference not be
noticed or not matter, when it comes to allocating benefits, etc. Inactuality, it becomes a game of “let’s pretend”: let’s pretend that the
controller (the employer, the landlord, the banker, the real estate broker, the university professor) doesn’t notice that you are a minority
member; he/she will treat you as if he thought you were equal (the same as an Anglo-American) although actual social conditions and
prejudicial Anglo-American social criteria may lead him/her to assume (rightly or wrongly) that the schools you attended as a child were
under-financed, that the community your grew up in and presently live in is beset by social problems resulting from unemployment,
underemployment or low-wage employment, that your ability to excel or even function in the job may be impaired by the whole gamut of
social factors which beset you as a member of a devalued group, thereby rendering you less capable, less reliable, and so on. This not
only leads inescapably to hypocrisy, but is also highly insulting. Insofar as the collective identity of the minority is burdened by stigma, so
is the standing of the individual, whether the attendant presumptions apply to him/her or not. There is no way for individuals to
completely, or even sufficiently, escape the stigma attached to the collective identity even if they do manage to escape the material
conditions. In short, the game of pretending to ignore differences is a way of suggesting that there is something wrong with being
different (non-Anglo-American): a way of imposing cultural domination and ignoring your right to be who you are, with equal status.
Non-discrimination can only be achieved by ensuring the right to be different by whatever means that may require. It may require
both an attempt to put a stop to negative action, as well as taking positive action on behalf of preserving the identity and promoting the
equality of discriminated-against groups through politic0-legal or socio-economic policies directed specifically towards the group
QUESTION: Maybe discrimination is rooted in human nature and can’t be prevented?
This is unlikely. Most research shows that the source of discrimination lies in a historical oppression or devaluation which is
systemically implemented and ensured by the state. Thus, it can only be appealed against to the state that is also its creator and
preserver. As far as minority rights are concerned, the key may lie in sidestepping the issue of discrimination; in getting equally through
minority control of institutions, and leaving prejudice to its most natural correction: the development of respect and esteem deriving from
equal-status relations and the creation of situations of interdependence among groups.
Discrimination counts most and is maintained when one group has to go to another group which is prejudiced against it for fulfillment
of basic needs: shelter, housing, education, capital; that is, when one group is made dependent on another, and when the law of that
group comes to feel that they are superior to the dominated group, and that there is something wrong with any number of aspects of the
dependent group. If African-Americans run their own communities, their own socio-economic institutions, then they no longer have to try
to achieve their needs in and through socio-economic institutions (etc.) controlled by the Anglo-American community. They are then able
to provide for their own through initiatives enabled by access to proportionate share of the public purse (i.e. tax revenue, etc.), thus
creating conditions of interdependence between groups, enabling the marginalization of the problem of discrimination.
QUESTION: Aren’t rights or measures that are just for minorities a kind of reverse discrimination?
No. The concept of reverse discrimination as used in the United States is an effective way of attempting to ignore the existence of
minorities and minority rights, and psychologically prevent minorities from seeking rights outside of their control. It suggests that the
historical situation of the dominant group is the same as that of the devalued minority, and that where there is no difference, no right to
be different, all should be treated the same—even if the effects maintain inequality for the minority. International law specifically militates
against the concept of reverse discrimination. See Article 1:4 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
(CERD) and 8:3 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities, in
QUESTION: Do special measures and special rights apply to all minorities? What about homosexuals, or the disabled?
What about Greek or Irish Americans?
Minority rights are essentially collective rights as they exist for the purpose of eliminating minority oppression and inequality. Therefore
in a technical sense, the word “minority” and the word “victim” in domestic law become similar when the right to international protection is
evoked. It is evoked because some important aspect of the minority’s rights and needs is being denied, ignored or trampled upon by the
majority. Customary international law suggests that rights involved in Article 27 of the ICCPR, as far as the United States is concerned,
apply particularly to the national minorities: the African-Americans, Native Americans, and Chicanos. These minorities existed collectively
within the state as the time it was constituted, and are not seen as immigrants from another state within the international system.
Immigrant minorities, on the other hand, have made individual choices to leave duly constituted states in which they were citizens;
there is implicit in the notion of immigration, the acceptance on the part of the immigrant of the desire to assimilate. This does not mean,
however, that the state may not be willing to accord them certain resources or special rights. Canada, for instance, has such a
multicultural policy which benefits its many immigrant minorities. This does not put them on the same plane, however, as Canada’s
national minorities, the aboriginal peoples and the French Canadians, who either enjoy or are recognized to have the right to significantly
greater politico-legal control of socio-economic and cultural institutions, and who seek to be regarded in full equality as founding nations
of the state.
Social minorities (gays, the disabled, women [so-defined because of their non-dominant position], etc.) do not figure within the
configuration of national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities protected by international minority rights law. However, other human
rights law applies to them.
QUESTION: What is the difference between special measures and special rights?
While special measures refer to measures taken on behalf of the group which cease to exist once the minority achieves equal status
with the majority, special rights are permanent and are accorded with a view to recognizing the minority’s right to remain different, to
continue to exist and develop as a minority or nationality distinct from the majority culture, while interacting with it on a basis of equality
Special rights may include the notion of proportionality, widely recognized as effective for reducing group conflict and ensuring
equal development. It may be introduced in a limited manner (e.g. in only some sectors such as hiring in the civil service) or extensively
in most public jurisdictions. IN Switzerland, for example, the French, German and Italian populations share federal executive, legislative
and judicial positions proportionally; proportionality is even taken into account in the armed forces. In Belgium of the 1950’s-60’s, a near
50-50 form of proportionality was extensively used. Belgium’s 1971 constitution stipulated that with the possible exception of the prime
minister, the cabinet must comprise an equal number of Flemish and French ministers. The same devotion to the principle of equality is
also found in Belgian government’s allocation of resources. When railway lines had to be abandoned, when industrial development
projects were sited and financed, when road were built, the decisions were made on the basis of equal shares in the benefits for each
nationality or minority.
In particular, special rights creates pluralist democracy in order to assure equal status of all nations or minorities in the state—
minority control of institutions in various sectors, such as education, healthcare, the justice system, culture, welfare, tourism, etc. Control
over these sectors, whether achieved through autonym, devolution, federalism, etc. permit minority control over important elements
affecting its well being and daily life. This allows the minority a measure of self-determination without threatening the territorial integrity of
QUESTION: Can we talk about self-determination and not be talking about secession?
Yes. Self-determination has come to be divided in scholarly discourse between external self-determination (the right of a group to
secede and become fully politically independent) and internal self-determination (where a group exercises political rights, among them
the right to control over jurisdictions of social activity such as education, health, criminal justice, etc. in varying degrees, while remaining
within the existing state).
QUESTION: In Article 1 of both Covenants, self-determination is said to be the right of “peoples.” Is self-determination a
minority right, too?
Many scholars such as Ian Brownlie argue that trying to establish differences between groups such as “peoples,” “minorities” and”
indigenous peoples” and their respective rights is fruitless, insofar as the issues are the same, and “the segregation of topics is an
impediment to fruitful work.” In his keynote address to the Hamline Conference on African-Americans and the Right to Self-
Determination reprinted herein, Dr. Kly further advances these arguments. In practice, varying degrees of internal self-determination
have been accorded to both peoples and national minorities in order to promote harmonious inter-group relations.
When used in relation to national minorities, self-determination is concerned primarily with internal jurisdiction, and does not permit
the right of succession or threat to the territorial integrity of the state. The word “autonomy” is being used with greater frequency now, in
this regard. While “internal self-determination” as it relates to national minorities, and “autonomy” can be regarded as functionally the
same, there is no escaping the liberating connotations which continue to cling to the former term.
QUESTION: What are African-Americans? A people? A racial, ethnic or national minority?
There is no internationally agreed upon definition for either peoples or minorities. Both share many characteristics. Also states
have devised solutions in domestic law to permit nationalities to exercise varying degrees of self-determination. While a common
language, culture and religion may play an important determining role in the process of definition, the subjective factor—self-definition,
the desire and ability of the group concerned to assert its will to exist as such, to be and to develop as a group, and to express its need
for “autonomy” or some form of internal self-determination to achieve equal status—is a major factor in determining how a group is
defined in international law.
Keeping in mind the international legal relationship between the word minority and the word victim, the most important factor calling
forth legitimate demands for )internal) self-determination may be their historical circumstances, and the extent to which they have been
unable or unwilling to assimilate, or have been prevented from assimilating by the majority culture, and remain trapped in a condition of
permanent inequality vis-a-vis the majority.
While there has been no internationally accepted definition of national minority (let alone minority), this term continues to appear in
international legal texts. Some have argued, in fact, that this is the only type of minority that truly has rights to international protection,
insofar as all other are essentially immigrant or social minorities, and are covered by other human rights instruments.
While classification of African-Americans as a national minority abrogates the issue of whether they are an ethnic minority, it seems
clear that their self-definition as African-Americans; their recognizability anywhere in the world as such; their distinctive music, dance,
cuisine, dress and manner; and their sense of a shared history would clearly make the ethnic definition, too, and an appropriate one.
QUESTION: Do African-Americans have a unique cultural identity?
Many factors make up a people’s or national minority’s unique identity; these concern shared characteristics such as language,
religion, or a common heritage. While most national minorities do to some degree share many of the same characteristics (as majorities,
and indeed as the people of many independent states), it is important to remember that the African-American culture was consolidated
under conditions of oppression. It would be difficult to argue that there is common history between the enslaved and the enslaver, i.e. a
shared experience of that history, a shared interpretation of that history, or a shared evaluation of its major actors.
Assuredly, African-Americans have a unique identity. Their roots go deep into Africa, not Europe. It would be nonsensical to
assume that , over the passage of generations, parents transmitted to their children nothing of the practices and understandings with
which they themselves have grown up—even under the hostile conditions of enslavement, which attempted to erase all prior identities.
African-American culture in the southern United States still retains many direct linkages—the basket weaving women of South Carolina,
the syntax and vocabulary of the Gullah language which many have claimed provides the basis for what is commonly referred to, and
coming to be taught as, African-American language, etc.
Despite the long history of theft and borrowing from African-American blues and jazz, there is nonetheless recognition of the
distinctive cultural source of this music. Even today, the reference to “crossover” music asserts a continuing difference and
distinctiveness of the African and Anglo-American musical cultures.
While African-Americans, like Mexicans, Cubans, French, etc., do to some degree share some of the same religious beliefs as
Anglo-Americans, they also practice many religions not generally practiced by Anglo-Americans. Within the African-American community,
we find, Muslins, Holly Rollers, the Green Door Society, the Yoruba, the Black Hebrews, Daddy Grace, Father Divine, and so on. The
religious culture of African-American Christian churches is strikingly different from that of Anglo-American churches, to the extent that
some worship an African Christ. Most African-American Christians still belong to the African Methodist Church.
QUESTION: Why does having a unique identity matter? Why can’t everybody just be the same. After all, we’re all alike
under the skin.
Unique cultural identities result from the historical circumstances of a people. It is not, on the collective level, what a group
chooses. It results essentially from group historical experiences and situations. Therefore, the correct question in relation to minority
rights law is not, why can’t we all be the same—we are essentially the same—it’s why should one people be oppressed because of its
difference from another group? The minority rights answer is: they shouldn’t, and therefore they must be afforded the rights required to
A group’s ethnic identity is made up of the common experience of their families, their ancestors, and their communities. It concerns
their social beliefs and religious practices, their values, their goals, their way of doing things. It means their music, their way of dress,
their hair-styles, their marriage mores, their languages as well as their way of talking, their interests, their particular talents, their cooking,
their dance, their sports and entertainment, their treatment of children and the elderly, and so on. These aren’t attributes that people
“put on,” in the way that people are sometimes said to “become cultured.” These are attributes that people take in with their mother’s
milk, from the historical practice and customs of their community. They provide the fabric for daily life.
Frequently an ethnic identity can be impoverished by oppression. Various expressions of that identity can be devalued by another
ethny which has the power to enforce its values. The instance where African-American corn-row hair-styles were once rejected as
unsuitable for those working in Anglo-American-controlled banks is a case in point. The denigration and suppression of an ethnic or
cultural expression previously accepted as natural can only have a negative effect on inter-cultural relations.
Groups are different, and they have the right to have their differences recognized and respected as much as their sameness.
These differences don’t go away by ignoring them. Rather, ignoring the ethnic dimension of an individual’s identity (while at the same
time accepting majority ethnic identity as somehow “universal”) puts minority groups at a disadvantage, since it prevents the society from
being able to adequately process their unique demands, needs and requirements for equal status.
QUESTION: What if the minority doesn’t express the desire to maintain its culture, but sometimes seems to be trying to
escape from it and assimilate into the majority?
The fact that an oppressed minority is usually afraid to express its unique culture where an environment hostile to the culture is
maintained by the state, is well understood in international law, and is the chief reason for promoting minority rights. African-Americans,
like nationalities, have throughout their history affirmed a strong desire to maintain their culture in every way except where it was feared
that doing so would provoke retaliation from the Anglo-Americans who controlled the apparatus of the state.
More often, the minority is simply forced to find means of accommodating the majority culture while at the same time rejecting it. In order
to survive and function in situations where the majority has control and enforces its cultural preferences: in the workplace, in housing, in
social services, in educational institutions, and other areas. For instances, many African-Americans provide an official and unofficial
name to their children.
QUESTION: What if the individual minority member wants to assimilate, or join the dominant culture?
We should stress that it remains a feature of minority rights that the individual minority member should not be forced to avail
him/herself of the rights he/she might bear as a minority individual, and should be regarded as free to assimilate into the dominant
culture, if so desired, and to participate in it fully, without discrimination. However, this decision of the individual does not affect the right
of the group. The individual is simply deciding to be a part of one group and not the other, or both, if the circumstances permit. Minority
rights are not to be taken as enforced ghettoization of minority members.
It should be reiterated that the desirability of assimilating into the dominant culture is often simply due to the dominant culture’s
power in the society, and the fact that it has refused to share power with the other nationalities (minorities) and has denigrated their
culture and traditions. Were the minority to achieve equal status through the exercise of minority rights, then minority traditions, values,
standards of beauty, etc. would have equal appeal to that of the majority.
QUESTION: You said earlier that minority rights can mean that minorities have the right to control socio-economic and
cultural institutions. Give me an example.
Let’s take education. Since Brown v. Board of Education as well as during segregation, African-Americans have been integrated
into the Anglo-American education system. In practice this has meant the demise, at a remarkable pace, of colleges which traditionally
have served the African-American population. On the other hand, African-American students have not felt at home in Anglo-American-
dominated institutions. They have not felt that these institutions adequately represented their history, their interests or their needs. In
short they did not feel these institutions were “theirs,” in the same way as Anglo-American students might. Many felt embarrassed by the
existence of affirmative action programs, the claimed intention of which was to accelerate their entrance into the Anglo-American
institutions and thereby their assimilation into Anglo-American culture, but which often were administered and interpreted in such a
manner as to discredit their true capabilities or to catapult them, under intense scrutiny, into a situation of hostile and unfair competition.
Applying the minority rights argument, there could be African-American and Anglo-American educational institutions as well as bi-cultural
institutions. All would of course be multi-racial.
QUESTION: Does self-determination mean we could control our own school? Re-establish African-American colleges? That
sounds like going back to segregation. We heard “separate but equal” before but it was never equal. Why should we
believe in it now?
Yes, self-determination might entail African-American control of college curricula, programs and financing. But this wouldn’t be like
returning to segregation. For one thing, there would be no restrictions based on race. Those African-Americans who wished to attend
Anglo-American or bi-cultural institutions would be free to do so. Anglo-Americans who wished to attend African-American or bi-cultural
institutions would also be free to do so. But this time, unlike during either the segregation or the civil rights period, the control of the
African-American educational situation would be in African-American hands. This would mean, among other things, that African-
Americans could decide qualifications for teachers, hiring and firing, curricula, student eligibility and professional licensing standards,
disciplinary codes, dress codes, fee scheduling, etc. (albeit with some restrictions resulting from mechanisms which might be put in place
for ensuring parity, where required, with multicultural national standards.) However, in general African-American institutions would not be
accountable to any other agency or administrative oversight outside of the African-American community.
During the period of segregation, while African-Americans did almost all the administration and teaching, African-Americans, in
conjunction with the African-American community, did not establish the subjects or content, nor the priorities, nor were they culturally or
politically free to promote their culture and vision of the world and the U.S. in equal-status with Anglo-Americans, or to affirm their cultural
or political preferences, thus creating the intellectual and cultural ethos of their institutions. Also, during the period of segregation,
African-American institutions did not have the funding to permit them to function on a par with Anglo-American institutions.
QUESTION: How would African-American colleges be in any better financial condition in a situation of self-determination?
Article 27 of the ICCPR, as amplified by Article 1 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic,
Religious and Linguistic Minorities, requires governments to “create conditions” favorable to the preservation and development of
minority cultures. In practice this has often meant giving minorities jurisdiction over their own schools. The educational sector has
historically been the most common sector for minorities to exercise their cultural rights. The funding of these educational institutions has
been a government responsibility, financed by a share of public moneys, i.e. transfer payments in those situations where minorities were
not also given the right to raise money in the numerous ways that governments do: by power to tax, by licensing fees, etc. (See, for
instance, Articles 41-43 of the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country, 1979, in Appendix I.) In Canada, the federal structure and
provincial taxation rights thereunder has permitted French Canadians, by means of their control of the Quebec provincial government, to
directly control a sector of the taxation rights accorded to Quebec and secure funding for education institutions and the Desjardin
QUESTION: If African-Americans controlled their own educational system, how would this make a difference?
First of all, it would enable African-Americans both to preserve and develop their unique cultural identities by accepting community
practices and understandings as normative rather than (at best) “different but all right.” On the higher level, this is not just a matter of
teaching African-American literature or studying African art. It also permits the expression of an African-American perspective on all the
various disciplines: history, political science, law, sociology, psychology, economics, anthropology, and so on—in the same way that this
naturally occurs in, say, Canadian, Quebecois, French, and British educational institutions. It creates responsiveness not just to the
needs but also to the views and practices of the African-American community, seeking to affirm, substantiate and empower these views
(both intellectually and in actuality). As such, it would serve as a cornerstone and pillar establishing and ensuring the unique African-
American intellectual contribution to global scholarship.
Secondly, it would mean jobs for the community—not just jobs in the present (teaching and administrative positions) but also the
guarantee of jobs in the future, for the students coming up, since education as well as professional and other licensing authority could be
geared towards meeting community needs.
QUESTION: Since “integration” and the significant movements of whites into traditionally black schools and colleges, many
African-Americans have wanted to set up schools to preserve their own culture. But then they thought: what was the use
in establishing schools, if non-discrimination meant they were obliged to open their doors to whites, who might come in
and take over. Could they have a policy saying no whites were allowed to come?
It isn’t a matter of the presence of the whites or any other race, it’s a matter of establishing the purpose and curricula of the school
in relation to the highest African-American standards and needs. All people should be invited to assist a worthwhile purpose. The
curricula and policies would be dominated by universal values as understood by the African-American community, as well as courses
specifically geared to meet the needs of the African-American community.
QUESTION: Does African-American control of the educational system mean that kids would be learning Afrocentrism?
What African-American control of African-American education means is just that: control of schools by the African-American
community. It’s not simply a question of the curriculum, it’s a question of the administration, philosophy, world view, etc. it will be the
democratic consensus of the community which decides those qualified to determine what goes into the African-American curriculum.
African culture inhabits African-American culture like the sap, the tree. Whether consciously rediscovered, or simply passed on as
family practice from one generation to the next it is pervasive throughout African-Americans’ daily habits, ways of thought and belief,
modes of relating, political and lifestyle preferences, and so on. For generations it has represented their heritage and their aspirations.
There is no way for the two to be torn apart. And yet, with the centuries of life in America, the African-Americans have evolved to
become a new African people in North America—Africans who are also American, and whose relation with Europe is significantly different
from that of African or Asian populations. Who is to say how that identity, given its freedom to develop according to its own tastes and
abilities, might evolve?
If the African-American community as a whole wants Afrocentrism, then likely it would play a larger role. But there are other
elements in the community as well, wanting other things. Undoubtedly Afrocentrism represents yet another rich channel of African culture
pouring into the African-American pot. But insofar as Afrocentrism is (self)-consciously imported, insofar as it can be sensed as
representing something other than what the people presently are, then it must be recognized as being a part, not the whole of the
African-American culture; as feeding into the hole, enriching it, undoubtedly, but not being it. The whole is what the African-American
people are, today, as they stand, as they remember, as they have forgotten, as they experience subliminally, habitually, and so on. As
UNESCO’s World Conference on Cultural Policies in Mexico recently declared:
society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being,
value systems, traditions and beliefs.
behaving in a way that they were not presently behaving. Unless they wanted to do so. Unless they decided, as a group, to do so. It
would e similar to taking all the noteworthy English writers, poets, scholars, musicians and exponents of “high culture,” as comprising the
whole of English culture. Where, then, would one find steak and kidney bean pie? Or stiff upper lips?
QUESTION: What could self-determination mean in relation to other jurisdictions such as criminal justice?
It’s well known that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world in relation to its African-American population—in
fact, four times the rate of white dominated South Africa. Much of African-Americans’ disproportionately higher rates of incarceration
stem not only from acts deriving from circumstances of poverty and oppression that they endure, but also from the disproportionate
tendency of law enforcement to apprehend, convict, harass, intimidate and scapegoat the African-American community. Much also
stems from the exacerbated tensions between law enforcement and enforcement personnel has been a largely unsuccessful attempt to
mitigate the poor relations existing between the African-American community and the criminal justice system insofar as such black
personnel have not themselves been in control of their working environment, but rather caught up in it like helpless cogs in a machine,
forced rather to prove themselves to their environment (the various peer groups and hierarchies within the criminal justice system) than
to their community.
Dr. Roberta Sykes, an eloquent spokeswoman for the Black Aboriginal minority of Australia, made the following observation
pertinent to police work in her own community, which suffers similarly high rates of incarceration:
contention that it does not matter very much what color a police officer is—what matters is who he or she is accountable to.
If African-Americans were enabled to influence the criminal justice system or establish their own criminal justice system insofar as it
concerned the African-American community—not just through personnel, hiring, firing and appointments, but through a systematized
form of African-American input into criminal law content, policy, behavior codes, sentencing, parole, passage or prioritizing of laws, etc., it
is likely that an entirely new relationship between the African-American communities and law enforcement would be achieved. Law
enforcement would be seen as it properly should be—as an extension of the community values, needs and understandings, and
responsible to it rather than to politicians, absentee property holders or Anglo-American philosophic, socio-economic and political
priorities or public opinion. The community would have the freedom to find alternatives to incarceration; to give appropriate
consideration to community evaluations to offenders; to give due weight to mitigating socio-economic and cultural factors in relation to
crimes and misdemeanors; and to stop harassment by establishing procedures to ensure enforcement responsiveness and responsibility
to the community and community evaluation of service and service personnel.
QUESTION: If we want to talk about the African-American community controlling its education and criminal justice systems,
etc., don’t we have to talk about how we decide what the African-American community wants?
Yes, African-Americans will need to institutionalize a political and democratic means of accessing African-American demands and
needs. The main question African-Americans need to politically and democratically determine is whether, as a people, they wish to
assimilate, or to be empowered, collectively. Their answer to this question determines the direction that they should follow—civil rights or
This could be done by holding some form of referendum for African-American voters only, which might draw on the good offices of
the United Nations to provide the required expertise and legitimacy. There are numerous bodies in the international world concerned
with the establishment of electoral procedures under a wide variety of circumstances; they would have answers to the numerous
technical questions which would arise in that regard. The required expertise is there, if there is the will and desire to access it.
Also, African-Americans need establish democratic structures or institutions which will provide arenas for policy debates, and the
emergence of an African-American-elected leadership responsible to the African-American people.
This may mean establishing a national Council, and African-American Congress, and African-American Assembly or whatever, and
demanding its recognition by the government as the only legitimate voice of the African-American people.
QUESTION: What are the advantages of an African-American National Council, Assembly, Congress, or what have you?
It would enable African-Americans to choose their own leadership, which would have to answer first to them. This would encourage
the leadership to put forward policies that African-Americans want and need that reflect their history and circumstances. This is
particularly important when the federal government puts into place policies that solely or even predominantly affect African-Americans.
Rather than consulting with people whom the federal government has decided it is willing to recognize as African-American leaders, the
federal government would be encouraged to confer with a body which is directly responsible to the African-American people, and hence
responsive to its needs. Because the National Council, etc., would have been democratically chosen by the African-American people
and legal recognized as the sole voice of African-Americans, the federal government will be less inclined to behave as if this leadership
may or may not (depending on federal government whim or interest) represent the true will of the African-American people. It would be
unlike the present situation where individual leaders are summoned for consultation to the White House, and remain just that: individual
VIPs—any one whom might be “de-legitimized” simply by failing to receive an invitation next time.
The National Council, or whatever, would provide an apparatus for the African-American people which would enable them to make
decisions and institute planning in relation to African-American philosophy and cultural paradigms as it relates to how they see the best
interest, globally as well as nationally.
Further, this authorized representation would counter the present situation where media heroes engage with world leaders on
whatever issues may move them (or be mediagenic at the time), representing the authority of the African-American people without having
been legitimately given it.
A National Council, once integrated within the governmental structures of the American politico-legal system, would be able to
function like another layer of government, regulating and responding to its key population group within the spheres of its own
QUESTION: What kind of politico-legal system can offer African-Americans these jurisdictions, bearing in mind that the
African-American population is not concentrated in one area, but rather is spread out through many states?
True, the African-American population is spread out, but that may prove to be advantageous. For one thing, territorial
concentration has a tendency to give rise to movements which seek to establish self-determination through taking over a specific
territory, and demanding political independence. This is threatening to both the state and the local non-minority population which may be
located within such territories, insofar as it may arouse fears of secession, and dismemberment of the country. No state easily
countenances secession, and in any event, African-Americans may not have the relative numbers, power, or desire to move toward
taking political control of a specific territory, so long as their survival needs can be better obtained as an integrated part of the country
they feel they helped to build.
The international legal norm of minority rights instead suggests the establishment of politico-legal structures within the framework of
the state, related specifically to the use and needs of African-Americans as a dispersed minority. While in practice and in law,
territorially-concentrated minorities’ needs are more easily facilitated, there are existing and historical precedents for empowering
dispersed minorities which could serve as examples for African-Americans. This does not preclude the combination of local territorially-
based autonomies with a national politico-legal structure geared towards a dispersed population.
Insofar as each minority situation has its own particular conditions and is advanced or constrained, according to the needs,
structures and views of the state with which it is negotiating implementation of its rights, it is unlikely that the model of any other country
would be adopted in the United States without substantial reversion or embellishment. What is needed at this point is to use these
historical models as a means of initiating a discussion of new possibilities.
QUESTION: How would African-Americans go about establishing a National Council?
What is most necessary is widespread recognition of the need and consequent demand for such a body within the community itself.
Ideally, at such time, a non-partisan entity permitting all groups, large and small, to participate, might serve the technical role of
establishing he procedures and facilitating the process. While the UN might assist such an entity, and legitimize and provide expertise to
the process, insofar as the process must be sufficiently self-developed, the UN, international organizations and African states must
plainly see a manifestation of the demand before participating.
QUESTION: What role would the United States government play?
Since any such National Council, Assembly, or what have you, formed at the initiative of the African-American community and suing
for government recognition, affects traditional power relations in the state, its recognition could entail constitutional and/or legal changes,
bureaucratic changes, changes in the tax structures or transfer payments, according to the powers which might be acceded to it and/or,
attendantly, to the African-American community.
At the present time, the United States government has no single, logical, constitutionally-delineated and institutionally-coordinated
policy for dealing with its national minorities. Indeed, with the emergence of “rainbows” and “multiculturalism” even within African-
American activist organizations themselves, and the failure of the major political parties to raise, let alone deal with, African-American
issues, there appears to be desire, within both the white and black echelons of power, for the existence and problems of African-
Americans to be submerged in the generalized distress of what has been termed the American “underclass.”
And yet, time is running out. African-American populations dominate major metropolitan areas. Already the decay in American
cities is ominous. Something has to be done, of the good ship U.S.A., punctured by the gaping holes that are its major cities, and
ravaged by a major ethnic conflict that could approach third world proportions, will sink. It is in the interest of the country as a whole to
solve the problem of African-American inequality. African-American autonomy—which may indeed by the only way this community will be
able to develop, insofar as four decades of civil rights have produced neither assimilation nor non-discrimination—is therefore ultimately
in the interest of the USA.
Consider the similar situation of majoritarian democracy in South Africa. Will the present South Africa under majority rule be able to
satisfy the desire of the Zulu—and indeed, the Afrikaner minority—for protection and maintenance of their unique cultures? Already
these groups are demanding minority rights and internal self-determination. If such internationally-recognized rights are not, to some
degree, accorded to them, will South Africa be able to achieve the peace required for its economic development?
QUESTION: Why should African-Americans give much value to achieving true democratic participation through democratic
pluralism? In most democracies where elections are in place, people can’t even be bothered to vote.
The simple attainment of democracy as it concerns African-Americans and as it is reflected in some form of a national council
permitting the formulation of policy and election of leaders directly responsible to the African-American community, in and of itself
represents an assertion of the right of the African-American community to existence and to socio-economic development as such. It
represents a mechanism for encouraging the direction of political power and economic resources into the community. Even should the
voting pattern of African-Americans in elections that concerned their community alone subsequently reflect an indifference similar to that
of other communities, this would not change the immense impact the very existence of such politico-legal and socio-economic institutions
would have in promoting African-American equal-status relations through creating a high degree of political and economic
interdependence in place of dependence with the majority community.
QUESTION: Will it be necessary to wage a war of liberation in order for African-Americans to achieve minority rights?
This may not necessary. We have before us the example of the restructuring of eastern Europe, where systemic changes too vast
to have been contemplated even a year earlier, once initiated, took place swiftly and with little bloodshed. Why? Because the time of
these ideas had come. The old order was helpless before them. The agreement on the need for change was general and all-pervasive,
and therefore unstoppable. In the case of America, it is clear that the explosive situation caused by the systemically-enforced inequality
of African-Americans is reaching the end of its containment. That something must be done—something new—will become apparent to
most. Once this realization becomes pervasive, sufficient numbers of the decision-makers in all communities will be enabled to facilitate
the systemic shift to minority rights required to avoid catastrophe.
QUESTION: If self-determination for African-Americans is so beneficial, what can possibly hold it back?
The major questions remain the extent to which the African-American struggle will meet with the good will of the United States ruling
circles, and how prepared they are to make sacrifices. The economic capability for it exists in the U.S.—inherent at minimum in the
redirection of economic resources already being spent on containment of African-Americans in situations of political and social malaise.
The international paradigms re there—paradigms which need not be taken as gospel, but simply as a way of introducing conceptual
flexibility, of freeing the mind from the rigidities of past practice and opening up new possibilities.
Again, as Dr. Roberta Sykes noted with regard to her own Black Aboriginal community in Australia:
task easier. At each point along the way, policy makers must ensure that their work is guided by determinations made in the Black
community about the Black community’s welfare. Anything less is not self-determination, and the principle of self-determination is
America stands in danger of running aground on its minority problem. If good will cannot be generated from traditional American
moral values—the belief in equality, fairness, sharing and justice—then in the end it may come to be realized, willy-nilly, through another
no less quintessential American belief—that of enlightened and pragmatic self interest.
1 While the UN Sub-Commission was unable to achieve a consensus on the definition of minority prepared at its request by Mr. Jules
Deschẻnes, his definition suffices for this article: "A group of citizens of a State, constituting a numerical minority and in a non-dominant
position in that State, endowed with ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics which differ from those of the majority of the population,
having a sense of solidarity with one another. motivated, if only implicitly, by a collective will to survive and whose aim is to achieve
equality with the majority in fact and in law." UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/Para. 181.
2 UNPO Monitor: Draft Summary of the Principle Points Raised at the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.
Day 2. Morning Session. Tuesday. July 25, 1994.
3 Y.N. Kly, The Ana-Social Contract 1987.
4 IHRAAM submitted a lengthy Communication to the Human Rights Committee, August 9th. 1993.
5 Cited in Francesco Capotorti, Study on the Rights of Persons Belonging to Ethnic. Religious and Linguistic Minorities. United
Nations. 1979, p. 8.
6 Richard L. Engstrom and Michael D. Mcdonald, "The Effect of At-Large Versus District Elections on Racial Representation in U.S.
Municipalities," in Bernard Grofmann and Arend Lijphart, eds. Electoral Laws and Their Political Consequences. 1986, p. 116.
7 Cynthia H. Enloe. "Internal Colonialism, Federalism and Alternative State Development Strategies," Publlus: The Journal of
Federalism, Vol. vii, Fall 1977. p. 150.
8 Derrick Bell. Race, Racism and American Law. 1969.
9 An analysis of the current U .S. judicial response to discrimination is provided in this book, in the article "Non-Discrimination in U.S.
Courts: A Non-Solution?" by Aviam Soifer.
10 See Kenneth McRae, Conflict and Compromise In Multilingual Societies: Switzerland, 1983.
11 See Eric A. Nordlinger. Conflict Regulation In Divided Societies, Occasional Papers in International Affairs, Harvard University,
12 Ian Brownlie, "The Rights of Peoples in Modern International Law," in James Crawford, ed.. The Rights of Peoples, 1988, p. 5-6.
13 See keynote address, "African-Americans and the Right to Self-Determination," Proceedings of the Hamline Conference on
African-Americans and the Rights to Self-Determination, herein.
14 For an indication of the continuing importance of this view, see Final Report of the Martin Ennals Symposium on Self-
Determination, March 4-6, 1993. International Alert. London. 1993.
15 See submission by the French government, drafting process of the Declaration on Minorities.
16 See Lorenzo Turner, Africanisms In the Gullah Dialect, 1969 reproduction of 1949 edition.
17 See UNESCO, Final Report of the World Conference on Cultural Policies. Mexico City. 26 July-6 August 1982, p. 41.
18 Cited in Francesco Capotorti, supra, note 5. p. 8. The Yugoslav Government stated that it "wishes to underscore its conviction
that the so-called 'subjective factor' is in many aspects dependent on the political stereotypes and the cultural and social circumstances
prevailing in the individual social communities in which the members of minorities live and work. Historical experiences have shown that
the 'indifference' of the members of minorities towards their national origin, position and rights are, as a rule, the consequence of the
social and other circumstances in which they live. In societies with a prevailing negative attitude of the 'majority' towards the 'minority,' the
members of the minorities are fearful that any declaration of one's national, ethnic, cultural and other characteristics might be interpreted
as a so-called 'civil disloyalty' on the part of the minority concerned. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to ascribe too much importance
to the need of a "declaration of desire" by the members of any minority in order to preserve their own national, ethnic, cultural and other
features, and to manifest their awareness of their affiliation to a particular minority, especially in the case of a minority which has for
decades been subjected to the pressures of systematic assimilation and de-nationalization."
19 See B.T. Warington's Five Finger, One Hand Solution.
20 See Article 3 of the UN Declaration on Minorities.
21 Serena L. Swaggers and H. Larry Winecoff, "Changing Profiles of Black Institutions of Higher Learning: A Study of Fourteen
Private. Historically Black Institutions in the Southeast," as cited in IHRAAM Newsletter. Vol. 2. No. 3.
22 See Andrew Hacker, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, 1992.
23 The Permanent Court of International Justice rendered an advi¬sory opinion affirming this right as early as 1935. See Advisory
Opinion of 6 April 1935 on Minority Schools In Albania, P.C.I.J., Ser. A/B, No. 64, 17.
24 Quoted by Anders Arfwedson, Introduction to Information Kit on the 1994 Decade Theme: “Culture and Development,” Paris,
25 "U.S. Imprisons Black Men at 4 Times S. Africa's Rate." Los Angeles Times, January 3. 1991.
26 Roberta B. Sykes. "Self-Determination: Implications for Criminal Justice Policy Makers." Kayleen M. Hazlehurst, ed.. Justice
Programs for Aboriginal and Other Indigenous Communities, Australian Institute of Criminology. Seminar Proceedings. No. 7, p. 25.
27 In this instance, reference is made to cases where offenders seeking parole (or indeed, being tried) are unable to benefit from
the high standing they may enjoy within their community, as attested to by their local religious, educational or other community leaders,
insofar as this testimony is not given the credence which might adhere to similar testimony given by a body of Anglo-American community
28 See Y.N. Kly, International Law and the Black Minority in the U.S., 1990 (third edition).
29 See Sykes, supra, note 14, p. 28.