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Rights of minorities

Recommendation 1177 (1992)

Parliamentary Assembly
Assembly debate on 4 February 1992 (21st Sitting) (seeDoc. 6556, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Rapporteurs : MM. Brincat and Worms ;Doc. 6562, opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education, Rapporteur : Mr de Puig ; andDoc. 6558, opinion of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography, Rapporteur : Mr Cucó). Text adopted by the Assembly on 5 February 1992 (23rd Sitting).
1. History has transformed the continent of Europe into a mosaic of peoples, who differ according to language, culture, customs and traditions, and religious practice.
2. The mixing and overlapping of these peoples is such that it is impossible to define their geographical boundaries fully and exclusively. The national frontiers which emerged from two world wars did not achieve this. Nor will those of the future, whatever form they take.
3. In a democratic state there can be no second-class citizens : citizenship is the same for all. The first and last guarantee of this equality of rights and duties lies in scrupulous respect for human rights on the part of states and in the ratification by them of the European Convention on Human Rights.
4. Within this common citizenship, however, citizens who share specific characteristics (cultural, linguistic, religious, etc.) with others may wish to be granted and guaranteed the possibility of expressing them.
5. It is these groups sharing such specific features within a state that the international community has called ‘‘minorities'', since the first world war, without that term denoting any inferiority whatever in this or that field.
6. There have now been a very large number of petitions and declarations of principle by governmental and international authorities advocating the recognition, protection and indeed promotion of the rights of ‘‘minorities'', whether these be national, ethnic and cultural, linguistic or religious.
7. There have been more and more colloquies and conferences of every kind. The extreme diversity of situations has now been properly recorded, described and analysed, as have the very great variety of problems raised and the difficulties, both legal and political, involved in solving them.
8. All of this is no longer enough. These analyses and these conclusions that nothing can be done are no longer acceptable. There is an urgent need for international decisions and commitments which can be rapidly implemented in the area concerned. Peace, democracy, freedoms and respect for human rights in Europe are at stake.
9. It is this sense of urgency and this desire to come up with practical proposals which were the impetus for the colloquy held in Paris, at the Senate, on 13 and 14 November 1991, at the initiative of the Assembly's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. This colloquy was intended to be different from many of its predecessors, as its purpose was to suggest to the Council of Europe constructive action which could be put into effect rapidly.
10. The colloquy reviewed the work being done by the various European and international bodies, particularly the Council of Europe, the EEC, the CSCE and the United Nations. It examined the proposal for a European convention for the protection of minorities, drawn up by the European Commission for Democracy through Law, the draft European charter of regional and minority languages, currently before the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and the proposal for a European council of national, ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic minorities, presented by the International Federation of Human Rights.
11. The different intergovernmental organs of the Council of Europe will soon be required to give their opinions to the Committee of Ministers, so as to enable the latter to conclude its work on the draft European charter of regional and minority languages. The Assembly is aware of certain weaknesses already noted in this draft. However, as it does not wish to delay matters, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers conclude its work as quickly as possible and that it do its utmost to ensure the rapid implementation of the charter.
12. The Assembly has taken note of the terms of reference given to the Steering Committee for Human Rights by the Committee of Ministers. Under those terms of reference, consideration is to be given to the proposal for a European convention for the protection of minorities. However, although it contains an excellent definition of the rights to be guaranteed, the proposed convention appears to be deficient on the question of supervisory machinery. Therefore, the Assembly considers it preferable and urgent to elaborate an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and it welcomes the fact that the Austrian minister submitted the draft of such a protocol to his colleagues at the meeting of the Committee of Ministers on 26 November 1991.
13. In addition, although this can in no way substitute for a legal instrument, the Assembly recommends the drawing up and rapid adoption by the Committee of Ministers of a declaration setting out the basic principles relating to the rights of minorities, on which there is already international consensus.
14. The Assembly considers that such a declaration should serve as a basic reference against which applications for membership of the Council of Europe can be judged and which would underpin the positions adopted by the Council of Europe and the activities of the mediating body proposed below.
15. The Assembly recalls that it has already adopted a similar declaration in its Recommendation 1134 (1990). This recommendation, possibly supplemented by further work undertaken by other international bodies, in particular the CSCE, the EEC and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), should serve as a basis for the Committee of Ministers' declaration recommended by the Assembly.
16. In its Order No. 456 (1990), the Assembly decided to play a mediating and conciliating role in conflicts involving minorities whenever it was asked to do so. In order to strengthen this Council of Europe role, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers give the Council a suitable mediation instrument, associating the highest competent authorities at international and national level. This body would have power to do three things :
16.1 To observe and record : this would involve constant monitoring of changes in the situation of minorities in all the European states ;
16.2 To advise and forestall : it would also have the task of taking timely action to help states and minorities to define the rules governing their relations before open conflict developed ;
16.3 To discuss and mediate : in cases of open conflict, it would be expected to draw on its international backing and own achievements in making on-the-spot efforts to reconcile the parties to the dispute and to find lasting and peaceful solutions to the problems which oppose them.
17. In view of the extreme urgency of the proposed measures, the Assembly requests the Committee of Ministers to implement this recommendation before1 October 1992.