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Protecting and Promoting Cultural Rights under the Council of Europe’s Framework for the Protection of National Minorities
September 29,2016   By:chinahumanrights.org
Protecting and Promoting Cultural Rights under the Council of Europe’s Framework for the Protection of National Minorities
 
Dr Elizabeth Craig
 
Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research
 
Email: Elizabeth.Craig@sussex.ac.uk
 
It is now over quarter of a century since the initiative was taken for the development of the European minority rights regime.  This began with the inclusion of a section on minority rights in the Copenhagen Document adopted by the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (now the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on 29 June 1990.  The Council of Europe then took forward the translation of these political commitments into legally binding obligations, a process which culminated in the adoption of the FCPNM for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNPM) on 10 November 1994.   The FCPNM is often perceived as an instrument primarily about the protection of cultural identity, although it does also impose obligations on States also in relation to the promotion of substantive equality.   It therefore provides a useful focus for consideration of the role of cultural rights within the European minority framework.  The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was also adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe in the early 1990s.  According to the Explanatory Report, its ‘overriding purpose is cultural’ and ‘designed to protect and promote regional or minority languages as a threatened aspect of Europe’s cultural heritage’.   However, its primary focus is on the protection of regional and minority languages, rather than the rights of speakers of such languages.  
 
The focus in this paper is on the approach to cultural rights under the FCPNM, although references will also be made where appropriate to the Languages Charter.  The paper starts off by discussing the significance of the decision to opt for a FCPNM rather than additional protocol on cultural rights to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  It proceeds to consider approaches by States to ratification and to the scope of application, as well as the system established to monitor compliance with the obligations therein.  The rest of the paper will then focus will be on the substantive approach to cultural rights, and on current debates over the role of integration within a minority rights framework. 
 
The aim of this paper has been to provide a critical overview of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as a regional human rights treaty specifically focused on the protection of minorities and of their rights.  The Council of Europe has recognised that there is not a ‘one size fits all approach’ to the question of minority rights, and the ACFC has adopted flexible and pragmatic approach to its role in assisting the Committee of Ministers in monitoring the progress made by States.  Minority rights remain under threat, and the ACFC therefore has a key role to play in ensuring that the cultural rights of minorities remain on the agenda, and that States are held to account in their approach to the protection of minorities within their territories, and of their rights.