Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


If the majority always rules, what real protections for minority rights exist within a democracy? Why does the majority have a stake in respect for minority rights?

Why do individual rights protect minority rights? When are individual rights insufficient for the protection of minority rights? Are UN guarantees protecting minority groups from discrimination superfluous or necessary?


When the majority decides to oppress, drive out, or exterminate a minority group, often the minority has no option but to appeal for help from outside the country. Using sources such as the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council, identify recent international actions aimed at defending minorities against oppression or extinction. Have any succeeded in protecting the minority? For those that did not, what caused them to fail?

The African American experience in dealing with majority oppression is presented here as a model for how to achieve minority rights from an intransigent majority using non-violence and civil disobedience. What other examples can you identify from American or international experiences where minority rights were achieved through non-violent strategies and actions. Compare these to the African American experience. What was similar? What was dissimilar to these civil movements?



What issues of minority rights regarding ethnic and religious groups have arisen in the Netherlands in the last decade? How has the traditional policy of multiculturalism conflicted with recent immigration, especially in Muslim communities? How have political parties reacted to these issues?


The Netherlands today is addressing both political and ethnic minority issues at the same time. Review the Social and Cultural Planning Office Report in 2004 (search title for PDF). What issues are being confronted in the report? What are barriers preventing integration of immigrants? How has the Netherlands responded to minority issues in recent years and how has the minority community responded? What avenues do minority communities and minority political opinions have for expressing opinions?



Why is Turkey designated as Partly Free by Freedom House’s Survey of Freedom in the World? What characteristics make it free? What characteristics make it less free?

What essential principles of majority rule and minority rights are at issue in Turkey’s recent elections? Did the governing party respect the rights of political, individual, and ethnic minority groups? Were elections in November 2015 fair?


Recent events (the crackdown on the Gezi park protest movement in June 2013, the controversy over the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer conspiracy verdicts, and restrictions on social media) have raised fears that the Justice and Development government under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is becoming increasingly authoritarian. Read the three opinion pieces from the New York Times in the Resources section and examine what essential principles of majority rule and minority rights in a democracy the authors think are not being adhered to in recent government actions and the re-holding of elections? Do the authors expect greater respect for democratic freedoms or the continued exercise of majority rule over minority rights? How has the Syrian conflict affected these issues?



What factors contributed to Sudan's disunity following independence? How are minority rights violated in Sudan? How does repression of political and ethnic minorities prevent majority rule? Why is the repression of Darfur considered genocide by the US and other governments? After more than 30 years of armed conflicts, what are the current issues facing Sudan? Is there any civil or political opposition to the current ruler?


In the Country Studies of Turkey and Sudan, compare the treatment of the minority Kurds in Turkey and the treatment of minority groups in Sudan. What are the similarities? What are the differences? How has “the majority” ruled over “the minority”? Examine Freedom House’s country reports for the two countries. Do you agree with Freedom House’s designations of Turkey as “partly free” and Sudan as “not free”? Explain why or why not.