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Committee tackles protection of minorities and language rights at Madrid hearing

17.09.2013 – The members of PACE’s Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination discussed the situation of minorities and the protection of language rights at a hearing in Madrid today.

“The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been the force that brought the minorities’ question forward, including by reminding member States that have not yet ratified the Framework Convention to do so,” stressed Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark, President of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. “The Framework Convention, as an integral part of the international human rights system, should be interpreted within the general boundaries of human rights (…). The exercise of minority rights should not interfere with the rights of others”, she continued. She also explained that the Framework Convention was implemented on an article-by-article basis. Ms Åkermark expressed concern with regard to racist attitudes against minorities in Europe.

Stefan Oeter, Chair of the Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, said 25 States had ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (39 have ratified the Framework Convention). “The Charter was not drafted as a human rights instrument, but States have an obligation to take measures in order to preserve languages. The Charter is a technical instrument, proposing concrete measures.” There was no definition of the languages covered by the Charter in order not to arbitrarily leave out any language. Mr Oeter highlighted the crucial importance of the right to education in one’s language.

Committee members also discussed Spanish language policy at an exchange of views with the participation of Rafael Rodríguez Ponga, Secretary General of the Cervantes Institute, and Fernando Rey Martínez, President of the Council for the promotion of equal treatment and non-discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin. The discussion was held in preparation for a report on the situation and rights of traditional national minorities by Ferenc Kalmár (Hungary, EPP/CD).