ANALYSIS The rights of national minorities are increasingly challenged today due to rising nationalism, populism and xenophobic movements across Europe. In a report to the European Council, concern is expressed over xenophobia, islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-ziganism. The report also deplores the wide-spread failure of mainstream politicians and others to condemn intolerant discourses and hate speech targeting national minorities.
Trends and Challenges for minority protection in Europe
The Framework Convention for the protection of National Minorities Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (coe.int) is one of the most comprehensive treaties designed to protect the rights of persons belonging to national minorities. Its application in the 39 countries which have ratified the convention is monitored by the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the protection of National Minorities under the Committee of Ministers. Every two years the Advisory Committee presents a report to the Committee of Ministers with an assessment of the situation for the protection of human rights of persons belonging to National Minorities. The report is based on the opinions and country visits made by the 18 independent experts who constitute the Advisory Committee.
The report for the period 2018-2010 focuses on the link between genuinely democratic societies and the protection of minority rights. The full version can be found in the Twelfth activity report of the Advisory Committee.
Xenophobia on the rise but many mainstream politicians fail to condemn hate speech
The rise of nationalist, populist and xenophobic movements in Europe continues. Over the past two years the Advisory Committee has frequently been confronted with situations in which political representatives use, or fail to condemn, intolerant discourse or even hate speech targeting national minorities. We have observed a rise in islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-ziganism, and a use of historical narratives to exclude and cast doubt on the place of national minority groups in our societies.
Intolerance threatens inclusiveness and thus democracy and security at large
Intolerance hurts the overall climate of tolerance and the enjoyment of equal human rights. It also weakens democracies as it intimidates persons belonging to national minorities and dissuades them from seeking an active role in the public debate. This is a cause for real concern as it threatens the inclusive nature of European societies, which is an important precondition for democratic security and stability in Europe.
The Advisory Committee has therefore decided to focus its activity report on efforts towards what the preamble of the Framework Convention calls “genuinely democratic societies”. Genuinely democratic societies are societies where everyone – minorities and the majority alike – can voice their concerns in public debate and influence decisions. They are inclusive societies where the human rights of everyone are respected.
States are obliged to promote mutual respect and prosecute alleged crimes
Article 6 of the Framework Convention outlines both what needs to be done and the goal for genuinely democratic societies. It provides that States Parties shall encourage tolerance and intercultural dialogue and take effective measures to promote mutual respect and understanding and cooperation among all persons living on their territory.
Based on our monitoring of the Framework Convention and experiences during country visits we would like to point out some concrete measures which we believe will help to achieve this goal.
It should be pointed out that national legal frameworks have largely improved across many states to better protect minority rights. This is an important and positive development. But the implementation of those rights and the follow-up of the effect of the legislation needs to be improved.
What measures then need to be taken? Built on our experience they are:
- Persons or groups who self-identify as belonging to national minorities need to be met by an open and inclusive approach from the State when the Framework Convention is applied, with no arbitrary exclusions.
- Authorities need to systematically and in a timely manner condemn all instances of intolerance, particularly in public discourse and they need to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of alleged crimes.
- Institutions which have the task of dealing with complaints of discrimination must be perceived as independent by all. Furthermore, to build confidence among persons belonging to national minorities, they need ample resources to reach out to minorities and deal effectively with their complaints of discrimination.
- Education is vital to foster tolerance, intercultural dialogue, mutual respect and understanding. To achieve this, the appreciation of diversity, multiple perspectives on history, and knowledge of the historical and cultural contributions of national minorities to society should be taught to all children in school and included in school curricula, books and other teaching materials and in teacher training.
States should actively involve minorities in action plans, strategies and legislation
Most importantly, states parties should actively seek the involvement of national minorities in the drafting, implementation and evaluation of action plans, strategies, legislation and in decisions, particularly those affecting the national minorities.
The Advisory Committee has positively assessed many consultative mechanisms over these two years, including minority councils, minority and government joint fora, and representation in parliaments. These structures formalise minority participation in a clear way.
But states Parties should not only formally provide for the participation of persons belonging to national minorities they should also ensure that their participation has a substantial influence on decisions which are taken. In practise this is not always the case.
Land use – states should give persons belonging to minorities real influence
The views of indigenous peoples on the use of the land they traditionally inhabit are often neglected. State parties should strive to give persons belonging to minorities a real influence on decisions and to reach solutions which leads to a shared ownership of the decisions taken. That way compromise solutions can be reached which everybody can stand behind. It will lead to fewer conflicts and to more stable and inclusive democracies.
Follow-up to assess effects is necessary
Only rarely is legislation evaluated to assess whether it has had this effect. This is regrettable as on numerous occasions, and the Advisory Committee has pointed out the importance of proper evaluation through independent research and the need to follow up of the effect, with the participation of persons belonging to national minorities.
Roma – often most vulnerable and poor communities
It is imperative to include all, even the most vulnerable communities such as Roma in many member states to effectively participate in democratic processes. The Advisory Committee thus recalls that states must take measures to address basic obstacles, such as poverty, low levels of education, social exclusion and spatial segregation. This includes capacity building for national minorities to facilitate negotiations with authorities and assistance with economic means to attend meetings.
The key is respect and open dialogue!
Finally, an important precondition for effective participation by persons belonging to national minorities in public affairs is an open, respectful and substantive dialogue. This dialogue needs to take place between minorities and the majority, as well as between minorities and the authorities. It is for the state to facilitate such a dialogue.
We in the Advisory Committee can contribute to the dialogue between minorities and the authorities. We are a monitoring mechanism, but we can also be a tool for enhancing participation in states. During country-visits we listen to both sides: civil society including persons belonging to national minorities and state representatives. During follow-up meetings when the Committee of Ministers has decided on their recommendations for immediate action we can -facilitate discussions between minority representatives and state and local authorities on concrete measures to implement the recommendations and share good practices from other states.
The Advisory Committee can thereby support efforts towards more genuinely democratic societies in Europe, where national minorities and the majority together build strong and inclusive societies for all.
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Stora utmaningar I fråga om skydd av minoriteter i dagens Europa
Över stora delar av Europa utmanas idag minoriteters rättigheter, skriver Marie Blomquist Hagsgård som är ordförande i Europarådets rådgivande kommitte som kontrollera efterlevnaden av konventionen som skyddar europeiska minoriteter. The Framework Convention for the protection of National Minorities Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (coe.int)
Så även om lagstiftning förbättrats och skärpts i flera länder så är efterlevnaden många gånger bristfällig.
Hotbilderna är omfattande; främlingsfientlighet, islamofobi, anti-seminitism, anti-ziganism samt växande nationalism och populism.
I texten framhålls hur minoriteters utsatthet inte bara består i extrema gruppers agerande utan också i att politiker, media och människor i allmänhet inte aktivt står upp till försvar för människor som tillhör utsatta minoriteter.
Intoleransen som drabbar minoriteter skadar respekten generellt för mänskliga rättigheter och undergräver också demokratin som bygger på att alla röster ska kunna höras och att alla ska kunna påverka de beslut som fattas.
Den konvention som nämns här har ratificerats av 39 länder och innebär att berörda länder åtagit sig att handla enligt konventionens stadganden.
Därmed har de berörda staterna åtagit sig att aktivt uppmuntra tolerans och interkulturell dialog och främja ömsesidig respekt och samverkan mellan människor som bor i landet.
Konventionens övervakningskommitte består av 18 fristående experter (huvudsakligen jurister) och spelar en aktiv roll genom att besöka länder och föra samtal med berörda aktörer. Bland annat anordnar och deltar kommittens medlemmar i möten där minoriteter och statliga och andra aktörer kommer till tals i granskningen av mänskliga rättigheter för minoriteter i landet men också möten där konkreta åtgärder för att öka tolerans och ömsesidig förståelse diskuteras.
Bland de frågor som ofta står i fokus är individers rätt att själv bestämma om han eller hon vill definieras såsom tillhörande en minoritet, att stater systematiskt arbetar mot intolerans och hatbrott och lagför påstådda förövare.
Dessutom lyfts utbildning och aktiv involvering av minoritetsrepresentanter i frågor om åtgärder som rör minoriteter. Vidare påpekas att det kan kräva ekonomiskt stöd till särskilt utsatta grupper, som roma-befolkningar för att dom ska kunna påverka sin egen situation.
Bland de mer komplicerade frågor som diskuterats märks markrättigheter som kan röra gruvdrift med mera – frågor som skapat starka känslor i den svenska debatten.
Nyckeln till konstruktiva lösningar ligger menar artikelförfattaren är dialog, ömsesidig respekt och delaktighet, i enlighet med de demokratiska principer som bygger starka och inkluderande samhällen.
Sammanfattning: Gerd Johnsson-Latham