The protection of national minorities was thrown into the international arena in the aftermath of World War One. During the peace negotiations in Paris, it became clear that numerous ‘new’ national minorities would be created and an international watchdog was required. The end of the War saw the creation of the League of Nations and a number of international Minority Treaties to be monitored by the League of Nations’ Commission. However, events in Europe for most of the twentieth century prevented the international approach taking hold of the issue. At the global level, national minority rights gained some leverage with the establishment of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in 1979 under the auspices of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) adopted in 1966. In Europe, the arguably strongest step towards protecting national minorities was taken, almost three quarters of a century after the Minority Treaties, with the adoption of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) in 1995. Subsequently, the Advisory Committee to the FCNM was established in 1998 upon the entering into force of the instrument.
Today, the FCNM sits at the top of a pyramid of international law instruments that comprise the ‘family’ of minority rights documents, or what might be called a minority rights regime. The quest, which began with the decision of the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948 asking the Economic and Social Council of the UN to ensure that a study on ‘the problem of minorities’ be undertaken by the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, reached its climax in the UN system with the adoption in 1992 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. During this quest, the UN included minority rights protection in Article 27 of the 1966 ICCPR on the cultural rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. Outside the UN system, the momentum was kept when in Vienna in 1993 the Council of Europe decided to draft a document that would protect persons belonging to minorities, namely the FCNM. The ‘family’ also include important anti-discrimination provisions, such as Article 14 of the Council of Europe’s 1950 European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Article 21 of the European Charter for Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (2000).
Unlike at the time of the League of Nations, international politics is now quite accustomed to international watchdogs. Studies of international relations focus increasingly on the functioning and leverage of such institutions, especially institutions of the UN system, such as the Human Rights Committee and its reform. In Europe the focus has been on the European Court of Human Rights and its various reforms. However, very little research has focused on European monitoring bodies, such as the Advisory Committee to the FCNM. This gap has now been filled with a new book titled, Minorities, their Rights, and the Monitoring of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities issued by Brill Publishers. For more see the publisher or ECMI homepage.
Like in many parts of the world, Nordic policy-makers have been confronted with changes as a result of the globalisation of trade and market integration. Amid the change and turbulence, regions2 follow different paths. While some regions do relatively well, others are less successful. Territories with poor links to the sources of prosperity, or afflicted by migration, and lagging behind with respect to infrastructure and private investment may find it difficult to keep up with the general trend. Central governments are no longer the sole provider of territorial policy, and the vertical distribution of power between the different tiers of government may shift and need to be reassessed. Decentralisation of fiscal resources may be needed, in order to better respond to the expectations of citizens and improve policy efficiency. Public authorities need to weigh up current challenges, evaluate the strategies pursued in recent years, and define new options. In Europe this has put the focus on regionalisation in terms of the meso level between the state and the local community both intra-state and inter-state.
Collective autonomies and identity groups, such as traditional minorities, are potential participants in the mobilisation towards European regionalisation through regional co-operation. The participation of traditional minority autonomies is seldom discussed in relation to territorial management in Europe. Yet, several traditional minorities and indigenous people enjoying autonomous powers participate in regional co-operation efforts. in my recent article, “Nordic (Minority) Autonomies and Territorial Management in Europe: Empowerment through Regionalisation?” in the International Journal on Minority and Group Rights (Vo. 20) I discuss the involvement of Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands in the development and co-operation of macro-regions. Regional co-operation has long been a corner stone of Europe’s integration project, and macro-regions is the latest concept in the effort to strengthen regions economically in the wake of the onset of globalisation and indeed global economic crises. In contradistinction to the perceived notion of traditional minorities as conflict prone troublemakers, it is argued that in the effort to maintain the peace and overcome persistent challenges common to both majorities and minorities, traditional minorities are increasingly pro-active and working for the survival of their autonomous regions. This is manifested, among other, in the manner in which they participate – albeit unevenly – in regional co-operation aimed at economic development and integration.
See also, www.ecmi.de
Europe’s history of promoting religious tolerance is almost 500 years old, and the first policy of minority rights protecting the freedom of religion goes back to 1598 (the Edict of Nantes). Secular values have increasingly been promoted as state policy in many European countries since 1789. And after 1989, many European countries have begun to implement an international minority rights regime that protects both the freedom of religion and the right to culture of ethnic minorities. So, it is not that Europe does not have experience in trying to balance secular values and religious tolerance.
However, it is important to note that tolerance is essentially a negative response that does not require any acceptance or positive action on behalf of actors. The notion of tolerating a tradition that is foreign or perhaps disquieting is not transformative but rather static and supports a status quo. The fact that tolerance does not require actors to try to understand the other point of view is therefore not a policy that will promote change.
While a policy promoting status quo need not be a problem, if it promotes a good policy, the problem in Europe is that the policy in those western countries now experiencing xenophobia is biased towards one religion, or group of religions, the Christian-Judeo tradition. Xenophobia is less pronounced in the countries that were dominated by the Ottoman Empire which provided protection for non-Muslim religious minorities. With Western Europe becoming more multi-faith as a result of immigration, the questions are (1) how to adjust the understanding of religion to include all religions, and (2) how to readjust secular policies to promote equality among religions?
What is lacking in Europe is a political will to improve the understanding of religions as well as the guts to rethink the secular. If the general public were better educated about the religions of the world, politicians might not get very far with condemning non-Christian religions and Europeans might begin to accept non-European religions. And if the notion of the secular as enshrined in constitutional frameworks were redefined to promote equality among religions as opposed to hierarchy of religions, courts would have material to adjudicate in a fair manner.
With regard to the German court ruling on male circumcisions, prominent German politicians have spoken out against the ruling – the sincere intentions behind this remain to be evaluated. However, laws are changed by politicians not judges. In France, former President Sarkozy wanted to initiate a national debate on the secular (laïcité) but apparently with the disingenuous intention of preserving Christian hegemony. Hence, non-Christian groups did not play along. However, norms are changed through inclusive public deliberation.
The answer to the question is that Europe has the historical experience and a modern international legal framework to balance the two. But national laws and national norms need to be adapted to modern circumstances through political means.
I made this comment to The Morningside Post, see here
A number of countries in Europe have adopted legislation or policies that pertain to kin-minorities living outside the territory of the state. While a number of the new democracies in Eastern Europe after 1989 incorporated statements in their constitutions indicating concerns for nationals living outside the mother state, ten European countries have taken explicit unilateral action to adopt public law legislation or regulations in favour of kin-minorities outside the mother state. Not all of these actions have extra-territorial reach, nor do all appropriate specific funds. Some address the financial side of minority life.
Beneficiaries are mostly individuals, whereas some pieces of legislation support activities and/or institutions. Most authorize an entity in the mother state to be in charge of implementing the measure, and most provision for special status of members of minorities in both the home state and the mother state.
However, international law does not sanction unilateral legislation as a means to protect minorities. Only in the event that no other measure or mechanism can secure the protection, does international law reluctantly sanctions legal unilateralism. And in such cases, both parties to the issue must agree and consent. This Working Paper examines ten unilateral measures in force in Europe and puts them in the perspective of international law.
Read more about this in ECMI Working Paper© #60 titled, European Minority Rights Law: Unilateral Legislation in Favour of Kin-Minorities available now on www.ecmi.de.
It is commonly known that international normative frameworks serve to elevate the rights of specific beneficiaries to a level where state power is forced to react to relevant normative claims. On the one hand, a government can choose not to respect the rights in question, but in doing so it takes a public and international stand against the willingness of protecting beneficiaries. If, on the other hand, a government decides to sign up to the international normative framework, it agrees to periodical review of its behaviour in relation to the beneficiaries of the framework. This latter relationship is often difficult and tense depending on the domestic situation related to the specific issues protected by the normative framework. So, for instance governments that have adopted an official language will find it difficult to accept the right of minority groups to speak a different language than the official one in public affairs. In the oversight and monitoring of a normative framework governments are thus required not only to co-operate in the review process but also to explain why rights of beneficiaries are not protected.
In the area of minority right protection, the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) adopted in 1995 is the main instrument in Europe serving to ensure protection of national minorities. Recently, the FCNM has come under pressure due to delays in the monitoring procedure which has otherwise experienced a good start since 1998 when the instrument went into force. It appears that in the final step of the monitoring process, the adoption of resolutions to inform governments whether they are indeed complying with the requirements of the instrument, governments set to receive instructions from the Council of Europe have interferred informally through academic channels to change the wording in their favour, or simply to prevent the adoption of resolutions. This puts the FCNM in a new paradigm of inter-state relations not yet seen in minority relations in the life of the Council of Europe.
Read more about the countries in question and about the monitoring process in general in my study: The re-politicization of European minority protection: Six cases from the FCNM monitoring.