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The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities: A Policy Analysis

1 September 2002

In the 1990s, major wars erupted in the former Yugoslavia and in the Caucasus, while violence continued in the Basque Country, Corsica and Northern Ireland. In other parts of Europe, serious political tensions have developed around minority issues, for example, between ethnic Russians and ethnic majorities in a number of countries of the former Soviet Union, and between ethnic Hungarians and ethnic majorities in Romania and Slovakia. Distrust between different ethnic groups has been used by political leaders to reinforce their positions of power and, on occasion, this has resulted in conflict between ethnic groups. The major conflicts have subsided but latent tensions exist in many places.In most countries there is intolerance and prejudice towards asylum-seekers, immigrants and towards certain ethnic minorities. In particular, discrimination against the Roma has continued across Europe at government and community level. Xenophobic political parties of the right have attracted growing support in parts of Western Europe and their attitudes are often left unchallenged by the State.In Central and Eastern Europe, some States often place Roma children in schools for those with severe learning difficulties. Many Roma children come from poor families, and some do not speak the official language well, but excluding them from mainstream education exacerbates their problems rather than addressing them. In southern Europe, some States deny the existence of whole communities. If the Framework Convention on National Minorities (FCNM) is properly applied, it will put an end to this, and to many other injustices and humiliations.The FCNM was designed to create a legally-binding Convention to protect national minorities, and to promote tolerance throughout society. The FCNM’s Preamble refers to the protection of national minorities as being essential to stability, democratic security and peace. It emphasizes the components of a pluralist and genuinely democratic society. It also identifies the need for tolerance and dialogue to enrich society. Today, many people, both individually and collectively, are excluded politically, socially, economically and culturally. The effective implementation of the FCNM is essential for the development of a stable and inclusive Europe.Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has played an active role in promoting international standards to protect minorities and to foster intercommunity harmony. These are identified in the FCNM’s Preamble as sources of inspiration for the Convention. Consequently, MRG became actively involved with the FCNM – the first legally binding, multilateral instrument devoted to the protection of national minorities – lobbying States to ratify the Convention and in 1998 published a critique of the FCNM. MRG believes that the FCNM is important for minority protection in Europe, and also creates a valuable global precedent.The fifth anniversary of the Convention’s entry into force is now approaching. The monitoring cycle has been completed for many States, follow-up initiatives have begun and a major second round of reporting will begin in 2004. This policy paper reviews developments, examines how far MRG’s recommendations of 1998 were met and identifies key recommendations for the future. The initial draft of this paper was circulated to MRG’s partners and was a focus of a regional policy workshop on the FCNM held in Budapest in April 2002. Consequently, the recommendations in section 6 of this paper already enjoy broad support.

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Alan Phillips