May 09, 2019

UNPO Helps Organize European Forum on Minority Issues

On 6 and 7 May the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) helped to organize the “European Regional Forum on Education, Language and the Human Rights of Minorities.” Held at the European Parliament, the Forum was convened by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues to discuss issues related to the education of minority languages, providing regional insights and recommendations that will be discussed during the 12th UN Minority Forum in Geneva. Various UNPO members participated in the event, where they were able to voice their concerns to a uniquely diverse audience. Throughout the Forum the human rights of minority groups to linguistic education in their mother tongue were highlighted, further calling upon European member states to take the necessary steps to protect these rights in an appropriate and equal manner.

On the 6th and 7th of May 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr Fernand de Varennes, convened the “European Regional Forum on Education, Language and the Human Rights of Minorities.”   As education and the language of minorities has been one of the four key thematic priorities of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, it was announced in November 2018 that, for the very first time, three regional forums are to be organized in 2019. As their discussions will inform the recommendations of the 12th UN Minority Forum in Geneva, the establishment of regional forums represents a significant improvement with regards to the recognition and operationalization of the rights of linguistic minorities.

The Forum was organized by the Tom Lantos Institute in Hungary, in collaboration with a number of other organizations, including the UNPO. The UNPO was selected by the Special Rapporteur as the “local partner” for the organization of the event and entered into a partnership agreement with the Tom Lantos Institute to be a “co-organizer”.

Aiming to provide regional insights in order to address minority language education in its specific regional contexts and realities, the European Regional Forum primarily focused on four specific subthemes:

  • The fixed position of education in, and teaching of, minority languages in international human rights obligations;
  • The effective implementation of the right to minority language education in public policies;
  • The pedagogical value and significance of multilingualism, as well as its positive impact on the wider society;
  • The cost-effectiveness of minority language education and its relation to resource and management approaches.

All of these themes have also been of significant interest to UNPO, whose members from Chameria, Brittany, Catalonia, Savoy, Crimean Tatars and Lezgins – all constituting (linguistic) minority status in their respective countries – participated in the European Regional Forum. Key messages delivered by representatives from these UNPO members were echoed throughout the event, highlighting the widespread prevalence of the addressed issues in the context of Europe.

Most notably, as the Greek and French governments do not recognize the existence of ethnic minorities and refuse to accord them funding and control over their linguistic education, it has been stressed during the Forum that these European Member States have been failing to adhere to international standards regarding the protection of minorities and their human rights. As highlighted by many participants, this continues to violate the fundamental human rights of minorities and endangers both their cultures and European diversity.

The Forum was unique in the sense that it brought together representatives from UN and European Union (EU) human rights mechanisms, EU Member States, civil society organizations as well as from minority groups themselves. Accordingly, the issues that were central to this forum were addressed from a wide range of different perspectives, thereby fostering a truly inclusive dialogue.

This issue of inclusivity was also one of the key themes that resonated through the recommendations of panellists and speakers. Pertaining to minority language education, it was stated throughout the Forum that the ultimate goal should be to create inclusive societies in which the human rights of all groups – minority and majority – are protected on a consistent and equal base. In this sense, minority language education promotes inclusion and wider socioeconomic cohesiveness by fostering multilingualism.

As such, the Forum emphasised the need for the accommodation of diversity in Europe. This has been assessed through a broad lens, thereby also applying to other minorities, especially to migrant groups. Accordingly, the conditions of minority language education are not static, but are continuously transformed as a result of migration to and from a country. As was argued by many panellists and speakers, minority rights no one-size-fits all approach can or should be applied, but rather the changing needs and interests of various groups in society should be continuously assessed and addressed.

Critically, it was unanimously recognized throughout the Forum that minority languages do not constitute a threat, but are in fact, enriching to any society and to personal development. Whereas investment in education is a relatively small short-term cost, it provides significant socio-economic gains in the long-term. This also applies to the local level, from which followed the recommendation that both parents and teachers should be made aware of the significant personal, communal and societal benefits of multilingualism.

Ultimately, the Forum, being the first of its kind, explicitly highlighted the need for European states to recognize their positive obligations to provide minority language education that is qualitative and provided in an equal manner. As Special Rapporteur Dr Fernand de Varennes stated in his concluding remarks, ‘we have to redouble efforts to protect and promote the human rights of those who are the most vulnerable, [...] and this involves minorities’.

UNPO views this Forum as a significant step towards the wider recognition and protection of minority rights both in Europe and the rest of the world, for which it will continue to campaign. Finally, UNPO expresses its hope and confidence that the recommendations from this event will be duly discussed during the 12th UN Forum in Geneva so that the Forum’s recommendations can ultimately be transformed into practical tools that truly foster equality.