European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
Many European countries have on their territory regionally based autochthonous groups speaking a language other than that of the majority of the population. This is a consequence of historical processes whereby the formation of states has not taken place on purely language-related lines and small communities have been engulfed by larger ones.The demographic situation of such regional or minority languages varies greatly, from a few thousand speakers to several million, and so does the law and practice of the individual states with respect to them. However, what many have in common is a greater or lesser degree of precariousness. Moreover, whatever may have been the case in the past, nowadays the threats facing these regional or minority languages are often due at least as much to the inevitably standardising influence of modern civilisation and especially of the mass media as to an unfriendly environment or a government policy of assimilation.
For many years various bodies within the Council of Europe have been expressing concern over the situation of regional or minority languages. It is true that the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in its Article 14 lays down the principle of non-discrimination, in particular outlawing, at least with respect to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention, any discrimination based on such grounds as language or association with a national minority. Important though this is, however, it creates only a right for individuals not to be subjected to discrimination, but not a system of positive protection for minority languages and the communities using them, as was pointed out by the Consultative Assembly as long ago as 1957 in its Resolution 136. In 1961, in Recommendation 285, the Parliamentary Assembly called for a protection measure to supplement the European Convention to be devised in order to safeguard the rights of minorities to enjoy their own culture, to use their own language, to establish their own schools and so on.
The Charter is designed to protect and promote regional or minority languages as a threatened aspect of Europe’s cultural heritage. For this reason it not only contains a non-discrimination clause concerning the use of these languages but also provides for measures offering active support for them: the aim is to ensure, as far as reasonably possible, the use of regional or minority languages in education and the media and to permit their use in judicial and administrative settings, economic and social life and cultural activities. Only in this way can such languages be compensated, where necessary, for unfavourable conditions in the past and preserved and developed as a living facet of Europe’s cultural identity.
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages provides for a monitoring mechanism to evaluate how the Charter is applied in a State Party with a view to, where necessary, making recommendations for improvements in its legislation, policy and practice. The central element of the monitoring mechanism is a Committee of independent experts, established in accordance with Article 17 of the Charter.
Click here for the documents related to the monitoring mechanism.
The biennial report of the Secretary General to the Parliamentary Assembly
Once every two years, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has to present to the Parliamentary Assembly a detailed report on the application of the Charter. This ensures that the members of Europe’s parliaments are kept informed about the application of the Charter, enabling them to bring political pressure to bear if necessary to encourage national governments to take appropriate measures.