European Parliament Hearing, European Language Equality Network
Wednesday June 1st. EP Room 2Q2
Ves a la versió catalana.
First of all, I would like to thank the organisers and sponsors for having made this important hearing possible. We are discussing something very serious here today, and it is no surprise that Linguapax International, a non-governmental organization based in Barcelona and dedicated to the promotion and protection of linguistic diversity worldwide, is taking part in it. We believe that fostering harmony between linguistic groups is a crucial factor for peace within states and in the international community; and are convinced that putting an end to discriminatory practices is urgent.
We have to start the fifteen brief minutes I shall have (at best), to talk about «language rights» and about «language discrimination» by defining the two terms.
A «right» is «A moral or legal entitlement to have or do something».
From the latter, legal perspective a right only exists when it has been defined by law. In such a case, we should aim for the exercise of that right, not the right in itself, of course.
If «discrimination» is «The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex», then we can concentrate on such treatment in regard to speakers of different languages.
At an ELEN-organized meeting, some might think that the main text to refer to on language rights would be the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992), which EBLUL and many leading figures of the day pushed for stubbornly until it was opened for signature and ratification. Though it is a useful instrument (see for instance its conclusions and recommendations in regard to Spain), it is not really about “Language Rights and discrimination”.
Article 6, to be sure, says that
The Parties undertake to see to it that the authorities, organisations and persons concerned are informed of the rights and duties established by this Charter.
But in the whole of the rest of the text, only Article 9.1.a refers to “rights”. It says that the parties undertake «to guarantee the accused the right to use his/her regional or minority language / in criminal proceedings. The Charter lays down no other specific rights as such! Indeed, it is only in the Preamble that we find the most substantial reference to «rights»:
«Considering that the right to use a regional or minority language in private and public life is an inalienable right conforming to the principles embodied in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and according to the spirit of the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms»...
As far as «discrimination» is concerned, Article 7, para 2 of the European Charter states that
The Parties undertake to eliminate, if they have not yet done so, any unjustified distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference relating to the use of a regional or minority language and intended to discourage or endanger the maintenance or development of it. [The adoption of special measures in favour of regional or minority languages aimed at promoting equality between the users of these languages and the rest of the population or which take due account of their specific conditions is not considered to be an act of discrimination against the users of more widely-used languages.]
In basic terms, rights and non-discrimination boil down to specific applications of several universal rights laid down on international instruments:
… always in the context of (a) the aim of achieving full and free development of the individual human personality in conditions of equality; and (b) the fact that respect for a person's dignity is intimately connected with respect for the person's identity and consequently for the person's language.
To start with let us refer to several basic tenets of the matter at hand from a number of international instruments, using as the main source the Oslo Recommendations of which I shall speak in a moment.
“Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to the innate dignity of all human beings as the fundamental concept underlying all human rights standards. Article 1 of the Declaration states "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights...." [T]his article… provides one of the foundations for the linguistic rights of persons belonging to national minorities. Equality in dignity and rights presupposes respect for the individual's identity as a human being. Language is one of the most fundamental components of human identity. Hence, respect for a person's dignity is intimately connected with respect for the person's identity and consequently for the person's language.”
“Article 10(1) of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities stipulates that...
The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to use freely and without interference his or her minority language, in private and in public, orally and in writing.
Non-discrimination is clearly laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966):
Article 2 (1)
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
The Explanatory Note to the 1998 Oslo Recommendations reminds us that
“Article 19 of the Covenant guarantees freedom of expression which ... not only guarantees the right to impart or receive information and ideas of all sorts, regardless of frontiers, but also guarantees the right to do so in the medium or language of one's choice.”
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.]
The Oslo Recommendations also highlight the fact that “The Council of Europe [Committee of Minister]’s Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Information (1982) affirms the social dimension of this right.
"...the freedom of expression and information is necessary for the social, economic, cultural and political development of every human being, and constitutes a condition for the harmonious progress of social and cultural groups, nations and the international community. The imparting and receiving of information also suggests people acting in community..."
So much for these preliminary points.
To my mind the document that most thoroughly deals with these issues, in the framework of the speakers of «minoritised» languages (the terms used are plentiful!) is The Oslo Recommendations regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities commissioned and adopted by the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the OSCE in 1998, and of which I was fortunate enough to be invited to help draft.
It came shortly after The Hague recommendations regarding the education rights of national minorities (and explanatory note; 1996) of which I shall quote just the two first paragraphs:
1. The right of persons belonging to national minorities to maintain their identity can only be fully realised if they acquire a proper knowledge of their mother tongue during the educational process. [At the same time, persons belonging to national minorities have a responsibility to integrate into the wider national society through the acquisition of a proper knowledge of the State language.]
2. In applying international instruments which may benefit persons belonging to national minorities, States should consistently adhere to the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination.
The basic idea behind the Oslo Recommendations is that international instruments define rights, and fix obligations, that are of universal applicability and therefore also to speakers of minoritised languages, or to members of national minorities that speak a language other than that of the State. So despite the title, the rights do not belong only to such minorities.
* Insofar as existing standards of minority rights are part of human rights, the starting point for the consultations was to presume compliance by States with all other human rights obligations including, in particular, equality and freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and of association, as well as all the rights and freedoms of persons belonging to national minorities.
* It was also presumed that the ultimate object of all human rights is the full and free development of the individual human personality in conditions of equality.
Consequently, it was presumed that civil society should be open and fluid and, therefore, integrate all persons, including those belonging to national minorities.
Insofar as the use of language is also a fundamentally communicative matter, the essential social dimension of the human experience was also fully presumed.
* The resultant Oslo Recommendations Regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities attempt to clarify, in relatively straight-forward language, the content of minority language rights generally applicable in the situations in which the HCNM is involved.
Note – and I'm sure I won't be the only person to point this out – that the rights do not apply to the language as such. Moreover, rights are apportioned to individuals, rather than to the national minorities as such; and this is underlined by constant references to «persons belonging to national minorities».
A quick aside. When I read Psychology at university, for me the word «discrimination» had a neutral, technical meaning: «The ability to distinguish between different stimuli». In this context, however, we are talking about a second, more popular, meaning: «The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex»... or language, we may add. When the Oslo Recommendations list «equality and freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression [and] freedom of assembly and of association», these apparently distinct rights are all closely related to the central issue of discrimination.
A document on rights such as the Oslo Recommendations might be expected to refer to them in every one of its 20 articles. In fact it only does so in 11 of them. In the rest logical consequences for the application of these rights are laid down.
There is no time to go into them individually, so I shall jump to some final remarks.
- 1) Persons belonging to national minorities have the right to use their personal names in their own language according to their own traditions and linguistic systems.
- 2) Similarly, private entities such as cultural associations and business enterprises established by persons belonging to national minorities shall enjoy the same right with regard to their names.
- 4) Religion: In professing and practising his or her own religion individually or in community with others, every person shall be entitled to use the language(s) of his or her choice.
- 6) All persons, including persons belonging to national minorities, have the right to establish and manage their own non-governmental organisations, associations and institutions.
- 8) Persons belonging to national minorities have the right to establish and maintain their own minority language media.
- 12) All persons, including persons belonging to national minorities, have the right to operate private enterprises in the language or languages of their choice...
- 13) In regions and localities where persons belonging to a national minority are present in significant numbers and where the desire for it has been expressed, persons belonging to this national minority shall have the right to acquire civil documents and certificates both in the official language or languages of the State and in the language of the national minority in question from regional and/or local public institutions.
- 16) States in which persons belonging to national minorities live should ensure that these persons have, in addition to appropriate judicial recourses, access to independent national institutions, such as ombudspersons or human rights commissions, in cases where they feel that their linguistic rights have been violated.
- 17) All persons, including persons belonging to a national minority, have the right to be informed promptly, in a language they understand, of the reasons for their arrest and/or detention and of the nature and cause of any accusation against them, and to defend themselves in this language, if necessary with the free assistance of an interpreter, before trial, during trial and on appeal.
- 18) In regions and localities where persons belonging to a national minority are present in significant numbers and where the desire for it has been expressed, persons belonging to this minority should have the right to express themselves in their own language in judicial proceedings, if necessary with the free assistance of an interpreter and/or translator.
- 21) Detained persons belonging to national minorities shall have the right to use the language of their choice in communications with inmates as well as with others. Authorities shall, wherever possible, adopt measures to enable prisoners to communicate in their own language both orally and in personal correspondence, within the limitations prescribed by law.
The Oslo Recommendations regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities are as valid today as they were in 1998. The accompanying Explanatory Note refers to all the basic international instruments developed up till then in the field of human rights, and is a valuable source of background information. Moreover, to my knowledge no relevant legally binding instrument has come into force since that time.
So I encourage you to read them, and to keep the text on your bedside table!
The speakers of “minoritised” languages we are talking about today are, after all, both human beings and also Europeans. To the degree that legislation imposes the use of other languages (for instance, a constant bombardment at EU level, as Plataforma will probably explain), and that there are many examples of public and private discrimination – and even prejudice – against the use of these languages, their speakers (including learners) are being treated as second rate citizens. This we simply cannot accept. As Europeans. And as human beings. Thank you.