Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
Source: "Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities." Council of Europe, 1995.
About the Author: The Council of Europe is an association of forty-six European states, founded in 1949 and distinct from the European Union.
The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCPNM) is a treaty signed by most of the member states of the Council of Europe that seeks to protect the rights of national minorities. A "national minority" is a minority population that has a linguistic, religious, or ethnic identity distinct from that of the surrounding majority, such as German-speaking residents of Russia. Historically, such minorities have often been targets of persecution.
The Council of Europe, the body under whose auspices the FCPNM was created and is enforced, is an association of forty-six European states (as of 2006) that was founded by ten original member states in 1949. The Council of Europe is distinct from the European Union, which was founded in 1992; however, the two groups use the same flag, are both headquartered in the French city of Strasbourg, and have many member states in common. The Council's primary interest is the protection of democratic principles, including human rights, language rights, freedom of speech, and the rights of national minorities.
Radical changes swept the European political scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the former Soviet Union disintegrated and democratic or at least quasi-democratic governments appeared in a number of former Soviet states. These events motivated the Council of Europe to design a treaty to guard the rights of national minorities, which became more mobile and more vulnerable to nationalistic animosity in their countries of residence. In 1991, the Steering Committee for Human Rights of the Council of Europe was tasked with exploring the means by which the Council might protect national minorities. The Steering Committee appointed a group of experts who in 1993 recommended the drafting of the FCPNM, which was duly written and adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in November 1994. The treaty was opened for signature in early 1995 and entered into force in 1998 after being ratified by twelve states. As of 2005, thirty-eight states were party to the treaty.
FRAMEWORK CONVENTION FOR THE PROTECTION OF NATIONAL MINORITIES
The protection of national minorities and of the rights and freedoms of persons belonging to those minorities forms an integral part of the international protection of human rights, and as such falls within the scope of international co-operation.
The provisions of this framework Convention shall be applied in good faith, in a spirit of understanding and tolerance and in conformity with the principles of good neighbourliness, friendly relations and co-operation between States.
- Every person belonging to a national minority shall have the right freely to choose to be treated or not to be treated as such and no disadvantage shall result from this choice or from the exercise of the rights which are connected to that choice.
- Persons belonging to national minorities may exercise the rights and enjoy the freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention individually as well as in community with others.
- The Parties undertake to guarantee to persons belonging to national minorities the right of equality before the law and of equal protection of the law. In this respect, any discrimination based on belonging to a national minority shall be prohibited.
- The Parties undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority. In this respect, they shall take due account of the specific conditions of the persons belonging to national minorities.
- The measures adopted in accordance with paragraph 2 shall not be considered to be an act of discrimination.
- The Parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.
- Without prejudice to measures taken in pursuance of their general integration policy, the Parties shall refrain from policies or practices aimed at assimilation of persons belonging to national minorities against their will and shall protect these persons from any action aimed at such assimilation.
- The Parties shall encourage a spirit of tolerance and intercultural dialogue and take effective measures to promote mutual respect and understanding and co-operation among all persons living on their territory, irrespective of those persons' ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity, in particular in the fields of education, culture and the media.
- The Parties undertake to take appropriate measures to protect persons who may be subject to threats or acts of discrimination, hostility or violence as a result of their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity.
The Parties shall ensure respect for the right of every person belonging to a national minority to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to manifest his or her religion or belief and to establish religious institutions, organisations and associations.
- The Parties undertake to recognise that the right to freedom of expression of every person belonging to a national minority includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas in the minority language, without interference by public authorities and regardless of frontiers. The Parties shall ensure, within the framework of their legal systems, that persons belonging to a national minority are not discriminated against in their access to the media.
- Paragraph 1 shall not prevent Parties from requiring the licensing, without discrimination and based on objective criteria, of sound radio and television broadcasting, or cinema enterprises.
- The Parties shall not hinder the creation and the use of printed media by persons belonging to national minorities. In the legal framework of sound radio and television broadcasting, they shall ensure, as far as possible, and taking into account the provisions of paragraph 1, that persons belonging to national minorities are granted the possibility of creating and using their own media.
- In the framework of their legal systems, the Parties shall adopt adequate measures in order to facilitate access to the media for persons belonging to national minorities and in order to promote tolerance and permit cultural pluralism.
- The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to use freely and without interference his or her minority language, in private and in public, orally and in writing.
- In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if those persons so request and where such a request corresponds to a real need, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible, the conditions which would make it possible to use the minority language in relations between those persons and the administrative authorities.
- The Parties undertake to guarantee the right of every person belonging to a national minority to be informed promptly, in a language which he or she understands, of the reasons for his or her arrest, and of the nature and cause of any accusation against him or her, and to defend himself or herself in this language, if necessary with the free assistance of an interpreter.
- The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to use his or her surname (patronym) and first names in the minority language and the right to official recognition of them, according to modalities provided for in their legal system.
- The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to display in his or her minority language signs, inscriptions and other information of a private nature visible to the public.
- In areas traditionally inhabited by substantial numbers of persons belonging to a national minority, the Parties shall endeavour, in the framework of their legal system, including, where appropriate, agreements with other States, and taking into account their specific conditions, to display traditional local names, street names and other topographical indications intended for the public also in the minority language when there is a sufficient demand for such indications.
- The Parties shall, where appropriate, take measures in the fields of education and research to foster knowledge of the culture, history, language and religion of their national minorities and of the majority.
- In this context the Parties shall inter alia provide adequate opportunities for teacher training and access to textbooks, and facilitate contacts among students and teachers of different communities.
- The Parties undertake to promote equal opportunities for access to education at all levels for persons belonging to national minorities.
- Within the framework of their education systems, the Parties shall recognise that persons belonging to a national minority have the right to set up and to manage their own private educational and training establishments.
- The exercise of this right shall not entail any financial obligation for the Parties.
- The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language.
- In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if there is sufficient demand, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible and within the framework of their education systems, that persons belonging to those minorities have adequate opportunities for being taught the minority language or for receiving instruction in this language.
- Paragraph 2 of this article shall be implemented without prejudice to the learning of the official language or the teaching in this language.
The Parties shall create the conditions necessary for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them.
The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities and are aimed at restricting the rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention.
- The Parties undertake not to interfere with the right of persons belonging to national minorities to establish and maintain free and peaceful contacts across frontiers with persons lawfully staying in other States, in particular those with whom they share an ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity, or a common cultural heritage.
- The Parties undertake not to interfere with the right of persons belonging to national minorities to participate in the activities of non-governmental organisations, both at the national and international levels.
- The Parties shall endeavour to conclude, where necessary, bilateral and multilateral agreements with other States, in particular neighbouring States, in order to ensure the protection of persons belonging to the national minorities concerned.
- Where relevant, the Parties shall take measures to encourage transfrontier co-operation.
The Parties undertake to respect and implement the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention making, where necessary, only those limitations, restrictions or derogations which are provided for in international legal instruments, in particular the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, in so far as they are relevant to the rights and freedoms flowing from the said principles.
In the exercise of the rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention, any person belonging to a national minority shall respect the national legislation and the rights of others, in particular those of persons belonging to the majority or to other national minorities.
Nothing in the present framework Convention shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity or perform any act contrary to the fundamental principles of international law and in particular of the sovereign equality, territorial integrity and political independence of States.
Nothing in the present framework Convention shall be construed as limiting or derogating from any of the human rights and fundamental freedoms which may be ensured under the laws of any Contracting Party or under any other agreement to which it is a Party.
The rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention, in so far as they are the subject of a corresponding provision in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms or in the Protocols thereto, shall be understood so as to conform to the latter provisions.
In Europe, national boundaries have not always been drawn so as to neatly outline areas of cultural purity, and indeed they could not have been, given that many areas of mixed nationality or cultural dominance have developed over the centuries. From the perspective of the Council of Europe, promoting the acceptance of national minorities is therefore not only a human rights issue but a security and stability issue. An example of the kind of instability that can result when coexistence of national groups is not peaceful is the conflict between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks co-inhabiting parts of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Military intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) resulted. Approximately one hundred thousand people died in the war and two million were driven from their homes.
The FCPNM's provisions are intended as a starting point for national legislation and government policies, including bilateral and multilateral treaties, rather than as a complete solution to the many-sided question of national minorities in Europe. The FCPNM itself provides for monitoring, not enforcement. As with several United Nations human rights bodies, the goal is to encourage good practices at the national level by credibly exposing abuses, praising progress, and making suggestions for specific improvements. To monitor treaty compliance, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe appoints eighteen experts, ideally "independent and impartial," to form an Advisory Committee. The treaty requires each signatory state to submit a report to the Advisory Committee describing what measures it has taken to put the FCPNM's provisions into effect. As of 2005, the Advisory Committee had reviewed thirty-five state reports and issued thirty-four Opinions or official reactions to the state reports. Working groups of the Advisory Committee also make international visits as part of the monitoring process.
It is notable that the FCPNM contains no definition of the term "national minority." This has created differences of opinion between the international bodies and certain member states: for example, France has declared that it contains no national minorities. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has stated that it "is unable to agree that France is a country in which no ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist." There is no set method for deciding which party is correct in a legally binding sense in such cases.
A uniquely trans-European national minority issue is that of the Roma, or gypsies. (The word "gypsy" is considered derogatory by some but not all Roma.) This ethnic group originated as migrants from northern India about a thousand years ago and is now found across Europe, in the United Kingdom, and even in the United States. The Roma have for centuries faced discrimination in almost every country where they reside as a national minority. The Advisory Committee has devoted special attention to monitoring the condition of the Roma and to helping states design measures for accommodating their presence in ways that fulfill the terms of the FCPNM and other human rights treaties.
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Klebes, Heinrich. The Quest for Democratic Security: The Role of the Council of Europe and U.S. Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace, 1999.
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European Centre for Minority Issues. "Implementing the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities." August 1999. 〈http://www.ecmi.de/download/report_3.pdf〉 (accessed May 6, 2006).