Mainstream discourse on minority rights embodies a series of normative biases and assumptions, which ignore the colonial underpinning of some of the core concepts such as the definition of minority and the notion of minority protection.

In this lecture held in November 2023, based on a forthcoming journal article, Professor Shahabuddin argued that contemporary minority rights discourse needs to engage closely with relations of power and subaltern agency to ‘decolonise’ conventional thinking within the discipline. He unpacked this decolonising agenda and mapped out what such an agenda would entail by critically analysing five key areas of relevance: reconceptualising the minority to expose ‘otherness’ embedded in the concept; scrutinising the reification of the state as a prerequisite for decolonising minority rights discourse; mainstreaming subaltern resistance; re-evaluating a priori assumptions about the need for legal interventions; and finally, taking seriously the political economy of neo-colonial violence.

The lecture and paper offered a framework for systematically thinking about decolonial promises of minority rights discourse. Dr Mihlar was discussant on the paper presented.  

Mohammad Shahabuddin is Professor of International Law & Human Rights and Associate Dean at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, UK. He is the author of Ethnicity and International Law: Histories, Politics, and Practices (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and Minorities and the Making of Postcolonial States in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2021). His research is informed by critical, postcolonial, and TWAIL (Third World Approaches to International Law) scholarship. He was an expert panellist at the 14th and 15th sessions of the UN Forum on Minority issues in 2021 and 2022. 

Dr Farah Mihlar is a Sri Lankan/British academic and human rights activist. She is a senior lecturer in human rights at Oxford Brookes University. She has a long career working on minority rights at the international level, specialising in minorities in conflict contexts. Her current research focuses on contestations of international models of post-conflict justice by women and minority groups. Farah is deeply committed to decolonising and has recently begun to use decolonial approaches in her teaching and research. 

This event was organised in collaboration with the Minority Rights Solidarity Network(Opens in new window)

You can download the event poster here.

Image: © Markus Spiske on Unsplash