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The Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities: Analysis and Observations on the Monitoring Mechanism

1 March 1998

On 1 February 1998 the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities1 entered into force. This is an important milestone, since it is the first legally binding international instrument devoted to the plight of minorities. It is the result of a decision taken at the Vienna Summit of Heads of State and Government in October 1993 that the Council of Europe should transform the political commitments of the 1990 Copenhagen Document of the Conference for  Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and the 1992 United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities into legal obligations.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG), a London based international non-governmental organization (NGO) working to secure minority rights worldwide and to promote cooperation between communities, considers standard-setting in the field of minority rights and monitoring of implementation of these standards essential. It has been closely involved in providing advice to those who drafted the Copenhagen Document and the UN Declaration on (…) Minorities, as well in the creation of the UN Working Group on Minorities. MRG welcomes the entering into force of the Framework Convention and is committed to seeing it effectively implemented.

The Convention contains programme-type provisions setting out objectives as well as principles concerning issues such as association, cross-border contacts, education, equality, identity, language, media, participation, and religion. According to the Preamble, the Contracting Parties are to implement the objectives and principles through national legislation and policies. The provisions leave the States concerned a measure of discretion in the implementation of the objectives in order to enable them to take particular circumstances into account.

Although it is true that minority situations differ from country to country and consequently require different approaches, the danger is that the vaguely worded objectives and principles will be interpreted restrictively by the Contracting Parties. This flexibility to translate the objectives into national legislation and policies which best suit their specific situation, may possibly be used by Parties to escape their obligations. In this context, serious doubts have already been expressed regarding the impact of the Convention.

Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.

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