Statement to Council of Europe Conference on strengthening civil society input into the Framework Convention monitoring process
Presentation to Council of Europe Consultation Meeting with NGOs on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM)
Chris Chapman – Minority Rights Group International
NGOs’ strategies for using the FCNM to support their advocacy work
- Difficulties of media coverage – tendency of mainstream media to misunderstand/misrepresent minority issues – wariness of minority representatives towards media for this very reason – difficulty to get media interested in FCNM because it is seen as quite a dry issue and quite marginal. Need to nurture contacts with 2 or 3 good journalists who understand the issues, invest some time in this – but shouldn’t be journalists from marginal, intellectual publications. Some NGOs prioritise work with media because of the great influence they have in their societies. Media are frequently blamed for perpetuating stereotypes.
- Be aware of different roles of media in different countries – we tend to think media influences political life but some said that it is the other way around, and that they have to influence politicians in order to change media representations. Use “hooks” to get media interested – e.g. in Kosovo, the final status negotiations.
- Do NGOs understand what the FCNM and COE are? Evidence is that only very small number of specialised NGOs are aware. NGOs don’t understand what these mechanisms are and how they can be useful. Need for public institutions to promote awareness. Need to raise awareness with NGOs who are not specifically working on minority rights but on related themes such as culture, or children’s rights.
- Raising awareness of minority NGOs about the FCNM – need for materials in minority languages (or at least national langs, as opposed to English/French). Meetings (for ex. FCNM Advisory Committee (AC)) should not just be in capitals – many minorities are geographically isolated.
- Importance of range of training programmes – some in regions, some in capitals, some in Strasbourg – the direct contact with COE staff, AC members and diplomats is very important, to make it “real” and it provides a stimulus to keep working on the issues on returning home. Interpretation is important especially if English is working lang. Inclusive events can be a tool for dialogue and reconciliation.
- What can CoE, INGOs, agencies do? Support websites, Training of Trainers, and other training initiatives. There needs to be an assessment of what the various key sectors of society already know about the FCNM and reporting mechanism.
- Internet very important tool – need for materials on websites in local, regional and minority languages. The CoE minorities secretariat leaflet on the FCNM is an excellent, user-friendly document that journalists would find useful as an introduction to the main issues – but it’s not easy to find on the website. Should be link to it from minorities homepage, or a dedicated FCNM page with the text of the leaflet in HTML format rather than PDF. (NB MRG could also do more in this regard! Don’t have a user-friendly FCNM page).
- Many existing initiatives tend to focus on Eastern Europe. This is often due to the priorities of donors – very difficult to get funding for work in W. Europe. But this is exploited by governments such as France and Greece, the latter said FCNM is irrelevant in EU now.
- Both MRG and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have training programmes on using and strengthening the work of UN treaty monitoring bodies – useful model that Council of Europe could look at for FCNM.
- NGO strategies – awareness raising campaigns – for example targeting specific themes which are much neglected e.g. minority women’s rights. Work to raise awareness with institutions that are in frontline for minorities e.g. social services, police. Trainings for trainers are also effective as multipliers of knowledge. In some countries NGOs have to be very careful because there is suspicion of their role – as agents of foreign powers for example – so if they then promote minority rights that can be counterproductive. Prioritise lobbying on implementation of the AC recommendations.
- Initiatives on the FCNM tend to be dissipated – but how to coordinate – in our experience it is difficult to have a centralised coordinated initiative especially if funds are involved – can lead to more conflict – but we should seek a mechanism for coordination, possibly with decentralised funding, but coordinated, joint planning and strategy. Could lobby for a major donor to set up a funding line for such work – like the EU’s CAP programme on the Article 13 directives, but needs to have more coordination because even the CAP is very disjointed.