The minority problem is basically a struggle for power and status, social and economic. The group which enjoys the greater prestige and wields the power is always jealous of its privileges, will not surrender them without a struggle, and is determined to defend its own values and its culture against competing and conflicting systems. The subordinate group is invariably “all right in its place”. The lesser group, at the same time, is no less attached to its traditions and values, and is not satisfied for long with its inferior position, and it is eager to improve its status. It is only when the subordinate group seeks to rise that its presence is resented. To the dominant group the problem is essentially one of maintaining its position of dominance and of preserving its privileged way of life. A docile, subservient, industrious racial or ethnic minority can be most useful, and even indispensable, but such a minority becomes a menace when it grows restless, clamors for change, and aspires to play new roles. Form the stand point the underprivileged minority, on the other hand, the problem is one of achieving a more desirable status, of removing the stigma of inferiority, of obtaining more power, of casing off the disabilities and handicaps imposed upon it.


Conflict between dominant and minority groups assumes a variety of forms, and these vary from place to place and from time to time. They include:

  • Insurrections
  • Programs
  • Rebellions
  • Riots
  • Relatively peaceful techniques as picketing and boycotting.



Annihilation of the menacing minority means the total destruction or eradication of the minority groups. However it needs not be deliberate and malicious. Even where extermination has not been a conscious and deliberate policy, the surviving group has often regarded these natural processes of destruction with favour. Early American historians wrote the following with reference to the Indians:

There befell a great mortality among them; the greatest that ever the memory of father and son took notice of; desolating chiefly those places where the English afterward planted… By this means, Christ, whose great and glorious works throughout the world are all for the benefit of his churches and chosen, made room for his people.

Frequently, however, dominant groups have not had the faith that providence would exterminate the competitive minority, or they have been impatient with the slow pace at which the divine plan moved, and have, accordingly, taken the matter into their own hands. A new word, genocide, has been introduced into the language to designate the practice of deliberately annihilating entire racial and ethnic groups.

It was without doubt the deliberate policy of the Nazis to exterminate the Jewish people in their midst, and they came very near to succeeding.

The U.S.S.R has dealt similarly with troublesome and recalcitrant minorities. The Jews of Russia, who once numbered 5 million, are apparently on their way to extinction. Not that they are being physically exterminated, but policies are being imposed which make it impossible for them to perpetuate themselves as a group. Synagogues have been suppressed, Yiddish journals forbidden, publishing houses closed, religious marriage ceremonies discouraged, and a ban imposed upon religious schools where Jewish beliefs and traditions might be inculcated into the young.

While the term genocide may be of recent origin, the practice itself is an ancient one. The Bible records many instances of a stronger group exterminating its rivals (Deut 3:3 and 2 kings 15: 16); and the practice was followed by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians. In more recent times the policy of seeking to solve a minority problem by annihilation has been attributed to the British in Tasmania, the Dutch in South Africa, and the Portuguese in Brazil.


Racial and ethnic conflicts are often resolved when one group expels another from the territory in which it resides. For the victors the end result is comparable to that attained by annihilation, but the process is somewhat more humane, though mass expulsion is often carried out in an atmosphere of violence.

Expulsion is often resorted to when other methods of dealing with the minority have failed. There are instances where a minority has been driven from a country only after a policy of extermination had failed, or only after concerted efforts to assimilate have proved fruitless. Thus, at the dawn of the modern era, when Spanish rulers were determined to promote homogeneity in their realm, they attempted to convert the Jews to Christianity, and when that failed they expelled them.

Indeed, mass expulsion, as a method of solving minority problems, has never been more widely employed than it has in the 20th century, if one takes account of the transfer of populations in the Balkan states, the Jewish migrations to Palestine, the flight of Arabs from Israel, the escape of Muslims from India and of Hindus from Pakistan, and the millions of refugees, expellees, and escapees from fascist and communist dictatorships.

A classical example of mass expulsion, taken from American history, is that of the forced removal of the Cherokee Indians from their homes in the east. The magnitude of the injustice and the heavy toll of lives were such that the Indians to this day refer to the incident as “The Trail of Tears”. By 1825 the Eastern Band of the Cherokees had grown to 13,000 in number, owned millions of acres of land and more than 1000 Negro slaves, had established schools and churches, and operated prosperous farms. They managed their political affairs well, the nation was out of debt, and they were at peace. The tide turned when gold was discovered in the Georgia hills, in Cherokee territory. The whites were determined to get hold of it, and followed a variety of schemes to that end. Finally, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, and General Winfield Scott moved in with 7,000 troops and an unruly mob of civilians. The Indians were burned and cattle and house hold goods were seized. The Indians were rounded up, homes and barns were burned and cattle and household goods were seized. The Indians were herded into stockades, conducted under guard down the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers, and driven into the territory which now is Oklahoma. The cost of all this was charged to the Indians. President van Buren, in his message to congress on Dec 3, 1838, was able to report:

The measures for Cherokee removal authorized by congress at its last session have had the happiest effects…. The Cherokees have emigrated without any apparent reluctance.

A more recent instance of mass expulsion occurred during World War II when some 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) were forcibly evacuated from the area of the United States bordering the Pacific, including parts of Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona. Sensibly this was nothing more than war time measure undertaken in the interest of national security, but actually, in the perspective of time, it appears to have been one more chapter in the long struggle between whites and Japanese. The attack upon Pearl Harbour gave the anti- Japanese forces a rare opportunity. Rumours of espionage and sabotage began to circulate. None was proved valid. Finally, as a result of numerous pressures upon the president, an executive order was issued authoring the War Department to set up military areas and to exclude from such areas any persons regarded as dangerous. On a date fixed by the army, all persons of Japanese lineage were required to report to control stations, whence they were escorted to improvised assembly centre, and later to more permanent relocation camps.


This is the process of dividing society into ranks, grades, or positions, and involves the unequal distribution of privileges, duties, responsibilities, power, prestige and influence. Quite apart from the area of minority problems, this process of arranging individuals and groups of a society on horizontal levels operates wherever people try to work out a common life together. Perfect equality prevails nowhere, except in the dreams of utopian philosophers. The fact is that in every society there are various tasks that have to be done, and very early in human history it was discovered that specialization and division of labour make for greater efficiency. Furthermore, some of the tasks which have to be performed are more difficult than others, some more appealing, and some distasteful. The problem, therefore, which every society has to solve, is this: How to distribute these various functions, how to assign people to their special roles.

Now there are only two ways in which to meet the problem:

(1) Permit everyone to compete, in the hope that each will thereby come to perform the functions for which his interests and abilities fit him. This is the essence of democracy– equal opportunity for every individual to compete for the role and status he desires, regardless of his race, religion, sex, or family.

(2) Assign everyone to some social role or roles, using as the basis for the assignment some easily ascertainable feature such as age, family, sex or skin colour. This on the other hand carried to its logical extreme, is that of caste, wherein the individuals status, role and various other aspects of his life are determined at birth and remain fixed through life.

Both these methods have been widely employed, and both have proved equal to the job of getting a society’s work done. The fact of the matter is that no society operates entirely on either of these principles. Even the most democratic makes a practice of ascribing some roles and statuses, the most cast- ridden societies have a certain degree of flexibility.

Wherever racial and ethnic groups come into contact the process of stratification operates. The form that stratification takes, however, varies from one situation to another and from time to time. The relations between groups may assume the rigid feature of slavery or caste, the flexibility of class, or the subtleties of “gentlemen’s agreements” or simple discrimination.


Unlike groups faced with the problem of living together with a minimum of conflict, many resolve their difficulties by resorting to some form of segregation.

Segregation means isolation and may be either voluntary or involuntary. The former is illustrated by the Amish, who have chosen to withdraw into isolated communities rather than to succumb to almost inevitable assimilation which they would regard as a calamity.

The segregation of the American Negro contrariwise is not of his own choice. Unlike the Amish and the Chinese, he wants to attend the theatre, join labour unions, participate in politics, escape residential restrictions, use the public services, acquire education, enter the occupation of his choice, and otherwise participate fully in the life of the nation. In all these areas, however, he finds himself circumscribed and excluded and he accordingly wages an incessant war against the restrictions which isolate him and prevent his social participation.

In the Republic of South Africa the dominant whites have openly and vigorously espoused a policy of segregation, which they call apartheid, in order better to preserve white supremacy and to hold in subordination the natives, the mixed bloods, and the Indians and other Asiatic who grew early, outnumber them and who, they feel, threaten the European way of life.


Riots, lynching, mass expulsions, segregation and discrimination are among the phenomena of intergroup relations which catch the public’s eye, while assimilation, a less conspicuous consequence of the meeting of peoples, is probably more significant in the long run. Assimilation denotes the process whereby groups which differ culturally come to have a common culture. This means not merely such tangible items of culture as dress, utensils, food, sports, etc but also those nonmaterial items such as values, memories, sentiments, ideas, attitudes, and traditions. Assimilation must be distinguished from naturalization, a political concept denoting the act or process of admitting an alien to the state and privileges of a citizen. Americanization is simply a special case of assimilation, and refers to the process whereby a person of some foreign heritage acquires the customs, ideals, and loyalties of American society, just as Europeanization, Russianisation, and Germanisation, denote similar processes with respect to those cultures.

The various racial and ethnic groups which have come to the United States differ widely in the rapidity with which they become assimilated. It is a common place observation that British immigrants are quickly and readily absorbed, while others become assimilated more slowly. The uninformed make much of this fact, inferring that some groups possess an innate quality of “assimilability” which others are “unassimilable” and insisting that the rate with which one assimilates is proof of inherent superiority.

There is certainly no single explanation for the fact that some groups assimilate more rapidly than others, but rather a number of interacting factors must be taken into consideration. Among these factors are:

  1. The attitudes of the dominant group towards the newcomers;
  2. The attitudes of the minority with respect to the desirability of becoming assimilated;
  3. The degree of similarity of the culture (especially of languages) and groups in contact.
  4. The racial characteristics of the groups involved, or the “visibility” of the minority
  5. The relative numbers involved.
  6. The rate of entrance of the minority.
  7. The manner of settlement, whether rural or urban.
  8. The age and sex composition of the groups. and
  9. The role of leaders, either in opposing or encouraging assimilation.


A social organization in which diversity of racial, religious, ethnic or cultural groups is tolerated.

Many have insisted that it is possible for peoples who are different to live together on a basis of equality, tolerance, justice, and harmony. This involves, of course, a degree of voluntary segregation, but without the prejudices and discriminations that usually go with segregation. The idea is included in the in the concept “separate but equal” and is sometimes referred to as “cultural dualism” or “cultural democracy”.

Its proponents maintain that contact between unlike groups need not result in perpetual conflict, or in the relationship of superior and inferior, nor is it either necessary or inevitable that different cultures become fused into one. Those who advocate pluralism as the most desirable pattern of ethnic group adjustment recognize that there are limits beyond which cultural freedom cannot go, if a society is to function. Any society, to survive, must have a considerable agreement among its members as to basic ideals, goals, values, morals and beliefs. An aggregation of individuals or of groups, each with its own language, gods, customs, and traditions, would not be a society at all. Ethnic groups which differ radically in their fundamental value systems could hardly become accommodated on a plane of equality and tolerance.

In defining the Rights of the Minorities therefore we can be branch them into two sections which are the rights that each individual becomes entitled to just at the mere fact of being human and the whole minorities’ groups rights. The purpose of the right of the minorities is to ensure that they are able to achieve equality, identity, participation to all spheres of life and are protected from persecution, discrimination and deaths as well as enjoying all the other human rights.


They include the following indivisible, interdependent and interrelated human rights:

v  The freedom from any distinction, exclusion, restriction which has the purpose or effect of impairing the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

v  Right of members of minorities to freedom from discrimination.

v  Right of each member of a minority to equal recognition as a person before the law, to equality before the courts, and to equal protection of the law.

v  Right of all members of minorities to participate effectively in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life.

v  Right of members of minorities to freedom of association.

v  Right of minorities to exist.

The constitution of Kenya 2010 and protection of minorities: Chapter 4 part 3 of the constitution of Kenya is entirely about special application of rights to children, persons with disabilities, the youth, minorities and marginalized groups and older members of the society, all whom are part of the minorities going by our definition. Quoting from Chapter 4 Part 3 Article 56 of the constitution:

“The State shall put in place affirmative action programmes

designed to ensure that minorities and marginalised groups—

(a) participate and are represented in governance and other

spheres of life;

(b) are provided special opportunities in educational and

economic fields;

(c) are provided special opportunities for access to


(d) develop their cultural values, languages and practices;


(e) have reasonable access to water, health services and


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rights of the Minorities 1948: Article 2 states that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

Subsequent human rights standards that codify minority rights include:

  • The rights of ethnic and racial minorities are also protected in the International Human Rights Law as follows:
    • The right to be protected from racial discrimination, hatred and violence.
    • Right to equal protection before the law irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.
    • The right of racial and ethnic groups to enjoy their own culture, practice their own religion and use their own language.
    • Right to benefit from positive steps taken by the state to promote racial harmony and the rights of racial minorities.
    • Right to seek asylum for reasons of a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and the right to remedies.

Attempts to codify the rights of sexual minorities in international human rights law have met strong opposition from a number of member states of the United Nations and different the media within countries.


Posted on March 21, 2013, in HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONFLICTS. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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