This Keynote presentation was made at the Aland Island international Conference (Finland) convened by the Peace Institute for the Finnish Government,the Council of Europe, the High Commissioner on National Minorities to mark the 20th anniversary of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention. (see CoE minorities Website )
Its key recommendations include
- where States clearly do not implement the Framework Convention in good faith the Council of Europe Secretary General should work closely with other key actors, including the OSCE HCNM watch carefully for windows of opportunity for change and then take action with others.
- States that promote minority rights should also play a constructive role in exerting peer group pressure on states that deny minority rights to help guarantee stability and long term democratic security throughout Europe.
- A local ownership of the Framework Convention must be built. This is needed , especially among civil society, minority communities and helpful officials, who in the long term are likely to have the greatest impact in promoting minority rights.
The full text is given below:
The independence of monitoring bodies at times of resistance to minority and human rights. Dr. Alan Phillips Former President of FCNM Advisory Committee 31/03/2015
Thank you Mr. Chairman
In the 1990s, when I was the Director of Minority Rights Group International, early each year I would visit Finland, Sweden and Norway. It was to recharge my batteries in countries that supported human rights; it was to discuss with foreign ministries the forthcoming UN Commission on Human Rights; thirdly it was to be of assistance to the three aid ministries in spending their budgets. Many suggested that I should go beyond Helsinki, Rovaniemi and Turku and visit the Aland Islands. At last I have, thanks to this generous invitation today.
In the short time available in a one day conference, I will be succinct. I apologise that this will lead to generalisations and simplification in a highly complex area that Francesco Palermo, [the Advisory Committee President,] so eloquently described.
There is one common denominator that unites all 39 States that are party to the Framework Convention, their governments, politicians and legislature have ratified an instrument of international law that is legally binding domestically. They have done so voluntarily, undertaking to guarantee the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, accepting that the Convention should be applied in good faith and supporting the independence and impartiality of expert members of the Advisory Committee. [They also recognised that the protection of national minorities is essential to stability, democratic security and peace in this continent.]
Professor Michael Banton an eminent sociologist and long standing member of CERD wrote:
“ international action against racial discrimination is the struggle to extend the rule of law. It is a highly political struggle because it is about cajoling states to give up some of the sovereignty. They are reluctant to do so, unless they can get something in exchange”.
There has always been some resistance to minority rights, so why did so many states ratify the Framework Convention almost two decades ago? How can states be motivated today to promote minority rights and their independent monitoring? What will they get in exchange?
Some ratifying States took a principled position. [They saw the benefits of ratification for their own minorities and supportive of effective integration. It provides scope for the progressive realisation of rights and well as internationally agreed limit to these. They may also want to reflect existing values of their own society and thereby encourage other states, including neighbours, to ratify and follow their lead. State knew of the high reputation of the Council of Europe for its human rights conventions while, since 2000, some may have been influenced by the quality of the evidence and analysis of the Advisory Committee.]
Some other States were more reluctant, but responded democratically to the representations and pressure exerted by civil society groups, including minorities. Some states were motivated by a desire to join the Council of Europe and the European Union, some wanted to limit the “involvement” of neighbouring states on “kin” minorities, while some wanted to gain international prestige in response to peer group pressure.
Times have moved on. Nevertheless there are important lessons that we can still learn from the past, not least the remarkable Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the confidence-building processes that followed. The human dimension basket that was negotiated provided space for civil society organisations in the Warsaw Pact countries to develop independent human rights monitoring mechanisms. This strategy ensured that when a window of opportunity occurred with emerging democracies in 1989-1990, it could be seized locally by civil society [including national minorities] and internationally by the CSCE and others. Timing, local ownership by governments and minorities alongside collective international support remains crucial for promoting minority rights and preventing conflicts today.
The Framework Convention has a unique monitoring mechanism; it is the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, which reflects the highly political nature of minority rights in some circumstances. As we all know, it is “assisted by” an Advisory Committee of independent and impartial experts that form Opinions.
At times of financial stringency there is a temptation to seek too many economies that may threaten the perceived independence of the Advisory Committee and the clear separation of responsibilities. It is crucial that the Advisory Committee’s judicial character and powers must be clearly separated from the executive powers of the Secretary General and also separated from the political and legislative powers of member States.
The quality of the Opinions must never be compromised. It is essential to monitor complex topics including the social and economic issues of groups such as the Roma and gender disadvantage. The skilful work of the Secretariat and the direct dialogue developed by the Presidents of the AC with the Committee of Ministers over many years has led to the Opinions being formed independently. These Opinions are closely mirrored by the Resolutions of the Committee of Ministers. Consequently this potential weakness of the monitoring mechanism became a strength.
Nevertheless this subtle mechanism is always vulnerable to the politics of individual states and how much support is given to the Chairman of the Rapporteur Group on Human Rights. He needs clear support, continuous vigilance and concerted action from states, not least Finland and Sweden.
The Committee of Ministers agreed that its monitoring mechanism should be as transparent as possible. This implies not only good information and targeted training, but monitoring visits that are participatory, that engage minorities, that explore their real conditions in situ and are accompanied by the speedy production and dissemination of Opinions. It requires the timely adoption of Resolutions, good quality translations of Opinions into local languages, and the use of well-known and easily accessible websites. Dialogue is needed with minority communities, all of these can be jeopardised by a lack of resources and lead to monitoring fatigue by civil society (including minorities), with the Framework Convention becoming less relevant with a diminished impact.
It is crucial to anticipate that in some states the leadership will be highly resistant to minority rights.
There have been extreme occasions where the advisory committee monitoring group has been overtly followed, and one case when an elderly academic, who was paid by the CoE to translate the Framework Convention, was imprisoned for this work. Despite the representations of the Secretary General, he died in prison in Azerbaijan. In such circumstance the Committee of Ministers must take an uncomfortable stand to protect human rights defenders in an appropriate and dynamic way. It is excellent to hear that Finland is promoting the protection of human rights defenders.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I suggest that where States clearly do not implement the Framework Convention in good faith the Secretary General should work closely with other key actors, including the OSCE HCNM, identify “synergies” and watch carefully for windows of opportunity for change. Supportive States should also play a constructive role in exerting peer group pressure to help guarantee stability and long term democratic security throughout Europe.
It is crucial to build a local ownership of the Framework Convention, especially among civil society, minority communities and helpful officials, who in the long term can have the greatest impact in promoting minority rights. We have much to learn from them and that is another reason why it is a pleasure to come to the Aland Islands.
[Alan Phillips…Vice President AC FCNM 1998-2002 , President 2006-2010.]