Legislation protecting minorities

Two international texts protecting the minorities and their languages are now drawing the attention of minority peoples. These are the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities dating from 1992 and 1995 respectively.

Thanks to these two texts, a legislative framework for minorities is able to protect people, often in a position of weakness in the face of overwhelming majorities. Obviously these are not the only international instruments to defend the rights of minorities. State laws sometimes take minority directly into consideration, not least by entering into their constitutions the existence of national minorities and the multilingual nature of society.

European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

In practical terms, the European charter is the first real enterprise of Europe in favour of multilingualism, that is to say all the states that are members of the European council. This charter provides a variety of actions that the signatories agree to undertake to protect and promote historical regional languages. They must choose “à la carte” at least thirty-five of these acts. The following domains are involved and correspond to sensitive sectors in terms of multilingual policy: education, justice, public services, media, cultural activities, economic and social life. These different sectors correspond to areas of linguistic dissemination and transmission important to the survival of language.

Many states have now signed and ratified this document. It is valid only upon ratification. The first states to apply the charter were Norway, Finland, Hungary and the Netherlands from 1993 to 1996. They were the states that had already taken minorities into account in their legislation. It is true that certain states are particularly proactive in this area. This is true in the case of Hungary, which has the most complete arsenal to defend the thirteen minorities living on its soil. This policy in favour of minorities also has the stated aim of encouraging states to respect the Hungarian minorities present (Slovakia and Romania in particular).

Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

The framework convention is a document composing of 34 articles largely defining the rights of minorities, not only in terms of language but for participating in public debate and political life.

Today, whether in respect of one or the other of these two texts, a few member states of the Council of Europe put forward a strong preference to neither sign nor ratify it, namely France, Turkey and Greece. Portugal is a particular case: there is no established minority. The three others are evidence of a pathological blindness regarding the question of minorities. This negative attitude can have serious consequences, in particular the decline of regional languages, considered a universal cultural wealth.

Other texts…

Also, all the international organisations (UN, UNESCO, OSCE) make extensive reference to national minorities in the texts of Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being. Examples include the Bill of Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities, passed by the UN on 18 December 1992, the Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions by UNESCO, widely promoted in 2005 by France seeking to defend its cultural exception or the final Helsinki Act of 1975, which refers to national minorities and regional cultures.