The focus on this presentation is on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and in specific on its content and monitoring mechanisms. As Social inclusion was a key issue of the meeting and the Advisory Committee was developing a Commentary on its Article 15 that relates to participation in social and economic life, this was a focus of this presentation.
Work of the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention For the Protection of National Minorities ( FCNM):
Thank you for this invitation to join you in Turin at this valuable meeting of the ETF.
It is a great pleasure to join this meeting of the European Training Foundation and to represent the Council of Europe Advisory Committee.
When the Advisory Committee began its work in 1998 it became clear that it was important that there should be synergies between key international actors and government to tackle the challenges posed by social exclusion of many but not all ethnic minorities in Europe. This is particularly true in the Western Balkans in the quest to build peace and stability following the violent conflicts over the last two decades. Personally it’s a great pleasure to help in a very modest way bring together some of the thinking of the European Union and Council of Europe as I have worked closely with each on a number of programmes in the Western Balkans.
The focus on this presentation is on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and in specific on its content and monitoring mechanisms. The meeting will cover social inclusion of ethnic minorities in the Western Balkans. As the Advisory Committee is developing a Commentary on its Article 15 that relates to participation in social and economic life this will be a primary focus of this presentation; it takes advantage of these deliberations, shares ideas with this expert group and seeks to stimulate a discussion about the best approaches in this domain. All the States of the Western Balkans have ratified the FCNM and under Article 15 State Parties are obliged to
“create the conditions necessary for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them”.
Appended to this presentation is the adopted Commentary on Education for background information for those who wish to have a copy. Furthermore the COE own website contains a host of valuable information on the FCNM work , while there is a considerable body of work on Social Cohesion , especially of Roma, that is also evidenced on the COE Website .
This presentation however will limit itself to the FCNM and its article 15.
2. FCNM Monitoring Mechanism.
Many at this expert meeting will know that there is an agreed mechanism to monitor the way in which States parties implement the FCNM. Each State is obliged to present a report to the COE Advisory Committee of independent experts, who visit the State, meeting minorities and government, before they present an Opinion on the implementation of the FCNM. States then provide a Comment on the Opinion, both are then published on the COE website and a resolution on future actions is adopted by the Committee of Ministers. Consequently there is one set of Opinions, Comments and Resolutions on Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FRYo Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo, and two sets on Croatia. These provide a rich collection of information and analysis on the social inclusion or exclusion of national minorities in the Western Balkans. They are considered a valuable source of information by the European Union,
An important element in the monitoring of the FCNM is the active participation of national minorities in the process, ensuring that in the Advisory Committee’s own work it follows the spirit of Article 15.
When preparing state reports or other written communication required under the Framework Convention or other international treaties pertaining to minority questions, States should respect the principles of Article 15 of the Framework Convention and consult national minorities in this process. In this and other contexts, it is important that the privileged interlocutors, such as official consultation bodies, are not perceived as exclusive interlocutors but that the state authorities include also other groups, including critical minority NGOs, in the consultation process. It is often advisable to include the comments made by minorities and civil society directly in the State Report.
For the credibility of the consultation process, it is essential that its transparency is ensured and that the States make the Opinions of the Advisory Committee available to national minorities as early and as widely as possible. The authorities should ensure that these and other monitoring documents, including the draft state report, are made available in local languages so that minorities can take part in the process in an inclusive manner.
The State Parties are encouraged to set up a system of regular consultation providing an opportunity for minority representatives to discuss their concerns between the monitoring cycles of the Framework Convention, at follow-up seminars and other occasions.
Processes and confidence building are seen as important parallel activities to achieving specific products. They can play an important part in ensuring that the nature and the quality of an initiative is appropriate but also play an important part in encouraging a mutual ownership and endeavour to bring about sustainable achievements.
3. FCNM Content
3.1 Articles 4, 5 and 15.
Three articles of the FCNM are closely interconnected and between them explore the relationship between assimilation, integration or separation policies towards national minorities.
Under Article 4 states must guarantee to persons belonging to national minorities the right of equality before the law and of equal protection of the law. In this respect, any discrimination based on belonging to a national minority is prohibited. Additionally States undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority.
Under Article 5 States undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage. States must refrain from policies or practices aimed at assimilation of persons belonging to national minorities against their will.
Both Article 4 and Article 5 are often associated with the Opinions formed on effective participation under Article 15, that was referred to earlier.
3.2 Issues identifies on participation in economic and social life.
Data collection as a precondition for effective policies to improve participation
in socio-economic life.
State Parties should, on a regular basis, collect data and gather accurate information on the educational and socio-economic situation of persons belonging to national minorities, broken down according to age, sex and geographical distribution, while ensuring that the related data protection guarantees are respected. The availability of reliable data is an important condition for the development of well-targeted and sustainable measures that meet the needs of the persons concerned. Methods ensuring adequate personal data protection should be used. Methods of collection of such data should be agreed in close cooperation with representatives of the national minorities concerned.
Sensitivity of public services to the socio-economic needs of minorities
Participation of persons belonging to national minorities in socio-economic life is sometimes hampered by administrative obstacles and by a lack of sensitivity on the part of administrations and public services, including social institutions, employment services and social services providers, to the specific needs and difficulties encountered by these persons.
State Parties should therefore take measures to prepare the staff of public services to provide adequate responses to the needs of persons belonging to national minorities.
Moreover, State Parties should promote the recruitment, promotion and retention in the administration and public services of persons belonging to national minorities.
Information on public services and welfare institutions needs to be made easily accessible and available, where appropriate, in the languages of national minorities.
Participation of persons belonging to national minorities in socio-economic life
in depressed regions and sectors of activity
Persons belonging to national minorities often live in border areas and other regions at a distance from political and economic centres of activity, and they can thus be confronted with more difficult socio-economic situations than the average population. In such circumstances, the State Parties should take specific measures to increase participation in economic life of persons belonging to minorities living in economically depressed areas, such as rural, isolated and border areas, war-damaged areas or regions affected by de-industrialisation.
State Parties should ensure that economic rehabilitation programmes and regional development initiatives targeting depressed regions are designed and implemented in a manner that benefits also persons belonging to national minorities living in these regions. In order to ensure this, studies should be undertaken to assess the possible impact of development projects on persons belonging to national minorities. Particular attention should be paid to the situation of women and youth of national minority background.
The authorities should ensure that persons belonging to minorities are involved in the preparation, implementation and assessment of policies and projects likely to have an impact on their economic situation and the situation of the regions where they live compactly.
In post-conflict situations, particular attention should be paid to the socio-economic situation of persons belonging to minorities who have been discriminated against on account of their ethnic background and were barred from employment. Specific measures should be taken to suppress the consequences of past discrimination and promote the participation in socio-economic life of these persons.
Persons belonging to certain national minorities continue to occupy specific economic niches and pursue traditional activities and trades, which are sometimes difficult to pursue in a rapidly changing economic context. State Parties should remove undue obstacles, including excessive regulations, hindering the practice of economic activities that are specific to certain minority groups. This concern should be borne in mind when new regulations in this area are considered.
At the same time, comprehensive policies should be developed to promote the participation in economic life of persons who pursue economic activities that are likely to disappear, in order to avoid their exclusion from the labour market.
Restricted access to land and property
Obstacles in obtaining access to property (whether residential, commercial or agricultural) can have a disproportionate effect on persons belonging to national minorities, aggravating their economic difficulties and unemployment situation.
Unequal access to property, including land property, is sometimes connected with privatisation processes, which have in some cases had a disproportionate impact on persons belonging to vulnerable minority groups. The State Parties should therefore ensure equal and fair access to privatisation processes, as these have long-term implications for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in economic life. The authorities should in particular ensure transparency of the process and set up mechanisms of evaluation and monitoring of the impact of privatisation so as to avoid direct and indirect discrimination against persons belonging to national minorities.
Difficulties in having access to property can also result from armed conflicts and subsequent displacements of population. State Parties should ensure that property claims by persons belonging to national minorities are processed and implemented in an efficient and transparent manner and do not result in discriminatory outcomes.
Violations of land rights or limitations imposed on land usage by indigenous people, whose economic situation is closely connected to land usage, can undermine their participation in socio-economic life. In order to prevent this, persons belonging to indigenous peoples should be closely involved in decision-making affecting land use in their traditional areas of residency.
Residency and other requirements limiting participation on the labour market
Residency requirements, which in some State Parties are a condition imposed by employers for recruitment, or for registering and running a private business, can affect in a disproportionate manner persons belonging to certain national minorities, especially when persons belonging to national minorities face particular difficulties in registering their residency due to administrative or other obstacles. Such problems can also hinder access to basic social rights, such as healthcare, unemployment services and pension entitlements. Persons belonging to national minorities that have a nomadic lifestyle also face obstacles to participating in socio-economic life connected with residency-related requirements that are not adapted to their lifestyle.
State Parties should therefore take resolute measures to suppress undue restrictions in access to the labour market, including restrictions linked to residency registration requirements, which particularly affect persons belonging to some national minorities. Access to basic social benefits and to certain public services should not be hampered by undue residency requirements. At the same time, State Parties should make sure that residency registration processes are accessible and do not discriminate, directly or indirectly, against persons belonging to national minorities.
Lower housing standards and spatial segregation as a limitation
Substandard housing conditions, often coupled with the physical/spatial separation of persons belonging to certain national minorities, considerably affect their ability to participate in socio-economic life and can result in further marginalisation and social exclusion of these persons.
State Parties should develop comprehensive sectoral policies to remedy housing problems affecting particularly persons belonging to some national minorities. In doing so, they should ensure adequate and effective participation of the persons concerned in decision-making on housing and related programmes, designed to improve their socio-economic situation, in order to ensure that the needs of these persons are adequately catered for. Such policies must be adequately funded.
In implementing housing policies, the authorities should also pay particular attention to avoiding practices that perpetuate the separation of persons belonging to national minorities. It is equally important to clarify the role of local authorities in housing matters, if necessary by means of legislation.
Access to health care
Persons belonging to certain national minorities face particular difficulties in having access to health care, a situation which results from different factors, such as discrimination, poverty, geographical isolation or linguistic obstacles. Problems in obtaining access to health care have a negative impact on the participation of persons belonging to national minorities in socio-economic life.
State Parties should ensure the effective involvement of persons belonging to the minorities concerned in the design, implementation and evaluation of measures taken to tackle problems affecting health care, so as to better respond to their specific needs.
Participation in cultural life.
The effectiveness of the participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural life is closely linked to their participation in public affairs, as well as social and economic life.
Access to the media for persons belonging to national minorities and the possibility to create and use their own media is a key element in the participation of national minorities in cultural life.
Processes of decentralisation can play an important role in creating the conditions necessary for the persons concerned to participate effectively in cultural life. Autonomy arrangements giving wide powers to persons belonging to national minorities in the sphere of culture, education and research, also enhance their effective participation (see the findings under the section on participation of national minorities through autonomy arrangements).
The authorities are required to consult national minorities while preparing and implementing cultural and educational policies affecting national minorities. When creating channels for the allocation of public funds for the cultural activities of national minorities, the States should ensure that persons belonging to national minorities are involved in such structures and can provide input to the decision-making processes.
3.3 Issues identified under participation in public affairs:
There may be some discussion in this expert meeting on the nature of active citizenship and the inclusion of members of national minorities individually and collectively. Some of these issues have been reviewed during monitoring missions and the initial draft for the Commentary includes the following issues
Design of parliamentary electoral systems
Reserved seat system
Language proficiency requirement
Setting up consultation mechanisms
Representativeness of consultation mechanisms
Types of Consultation mechanisms
Role and function of consultation mechanisms
Participation in public services and the judiciary
Participation through specialised governmental bodies
Participation through specialised governmental bodies
Participation through decentralised or local government
Participation through cultural autonomy
4. Some outstanding dilemmas for FCNM and social inclusion
4. 1 Gaps in the first draft of the Commentary.
This document notes some of the first reflections and will evolve over this year as the discussion in the Advisory Committee develops. The Committee will want to be participatory in forming its Commentary consequently any reflections from this expert group and other discussions over the next six months will be particularly valuable and may help to ensure that the Commentary is a useful tool for practitioners and experts in the Western Balkans.
4.2 Identification of and diversity within Communities
The FCNM is very specific in referring to “persons belonging to national minorities”, it does not include collective rights per se but some individual rights (e.g. Participation) can only be effectively enjoyed in community with others. Further more every person belonging to a national minority has the right to chose to be treated or not to be treated as such and no disadvantage must come from this choice.
It is too easily forgotten that within minority communities there are distinct differences inter alia of age, gender, education, training, income, and their geographical location in urban and rural areas in isolated or concentrated communities. Furthermore there is often considerable diversity in life styles, attitudes and political affiliations, while minorities often identify themselves in distinct ways (e.g. Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians) and self identification can change over time, particularly around times of conflicts.
4.3 Post conflict environments.
In the conceptual framework of minority rights there are many tensions. One of these that can be acute during a conflict is the balance between the identity as a member of a State sharing human values and the identity as a member of a national minority with specific differences. The careful balance to achieve integration drawn between assimilation on the one hand and separation on the other is made much more challenging with the emotional history and the exaggeration of differences during conflicts mobilized around ethnicity. This is a particular challenging in the Western Balkans and reinforced by certain politicians eager to retain their constituency support.
5. Concluding Remarks:
It is particularly appropriate for the ETF to consider the issues of Ethnic minorities and social inclusion in the Western Balkans as many States in the region are entering into dialogue with the European Union on their accession. There will be inevitable delays but this problem also offers opportunities to tackle some of the issues of social exclusion of national minorities that were found to be too challenging to deal with immediately after violent conflicts. Training and employment are key concerns of members of all communities and effective action here, if sensitively planned, can bring communities together and achieve concrete results in unemployment and under-employment, one of the most problematic issues in the Western Balkans.
The Advisory Committee is happy to work with the ETF and this expert group on the above issues. It looks forward to a sharing of experience and the prospect of mutual support and advice as initiatives on these important issues develop.
Ethnic Minorities and social inclusion in the
Western Balkan countries
1st Experts Meeting
Torino, 31 May-1 June 2007