By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Speaking at the 1318th meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk highlighted four points central to efforts to protect the rights and improve the conditions of national minorities.
The Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE advocated for education, ensuring equal rights and opportunities, non-discrimination based on language, and provision of health care for disproportionately affected national minorities amid the Covid-19 pandemic, in his intervention on Thursday addressed to the office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.
Monsignor Urbańczyk called for special focus to be given to education, especially for the young, as “education is a formidable tool for reducing tension involving national minorities.”
In this regard, “learning programmes should be developed, promoted and strengthened in order to advance a better understanding and respect for diverse cultures, ethnicities and religions.”
He also pointed out that education, in addition to being a means of promoting active participation of minorities in social and political life, can become “a nurturing place for tolerance and non-discrimination and helps to build bridges for peace and stability.”
Equal rights for women
Also central to protecting national minorities is “ensuring equal rights of men and women, promoting equal opportunities and effective participation of women in political, economic, social and cultural life, in particular for women belonging to national minorities,” Monsignor Urbańczyk underlined.
To achieve this, he urged that women be assisted through structures of economic and social support that will enable them to meet their needs especially as regards education, healthcare, housing and social security.
The third point highlighted by the Monsignor is the prevention of discrimination, particularly based on language.
He pointed at the numerous, longstanding commitments on non-discrimination based on language to which adequate attention has not always been given by the OSCE and its member states, and called for more efforts to be put toward activities pertaining to tolerance and non-discrimination.
Then, turning his attention to the disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on vulnerable people, including national minorities, Monsignor Urbańczyk said that “the current pandemic has highlighted inequalities that put those in vulnerable situations at the greatest risk of suffering.”
He went on to turn the spotlight on the communities of Roma and Sinti who, “due to substandard and overcrowded housing conditions” face increased risk of contracting Covid-19 and have been “disproportionately affected by measures taken to contain the virus as well as by the digital divide.”
The Permanent Representative, therefore, called for government intervention in order to help people come through the crisis and achieve recovery post-Covid-19. He stressed that action by the government is needed “to ensure necessary minimum levels of income, universal provision and access to basic services, such as healthcare, including access to vaccines, as well as dignified and sustainable jobs.”
The Holy See, affirmed the Monsignor, “believes in the principle that every human person, irrespective of the ethnic, cultural or national origin, or religious belief, possesses an inherent dignity” from which universal human rights flow.
Concluding, Monsignor Urbańczyk reaffirmed the spiritual closeness of the Church to members of national minorities and expressed confidence that the commitment of the OSCE and the High Commissioner on National Minorities “will contribute to improving the situation of all national minorities, hoping that their hardships may soon cease and that they may be secure in the enjoyment of their rights.”