European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

Linguistic Heritage


European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages


The Charter is the European convention for the protection and promotion of languages used by members of traditional minorities. It entered into force in 1998 and confirms together with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities the Council of Europe's commitment to the protection of national minorities.

 

A minority language will only survive if it is used everywhere and not just at home. Therefore, the Charter obliges States Parties to actively promote the use of these languages in virtually all domains of public life: education, courts, administration, media, culture, economic and social life, and transfrontier co-operation. The Council of Europe monitors that the Charter is applied in practice.

Several improvements in the situation of minority languages can be attributed to the Charter and recommendations made during the monitoring procedure. Examples include the recognition of minority languages which had previously not enjoyed any status (such as Croatian in Slovenia) or the right to use Frisian family names in the Netherlands. Denmark adopted several special arrangements for its German minority when merging municipalities in North Schleswig. In Northern Ireland, a licence for the broadcasting of private radio in Irish was allocated. Norway presented an action plan to ensure the use of Sami in hospitals, and Sweden established a right to use Finnish in relations with authorities and courts.

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From minority protection to minority promotion

Language is probably the most essential element of a national minority’s identity. When a minority loses its language, complete assimilation will usually follow. The Charter goes beyond minority protection and antidiscrimination, requiring its States Parties to also take active promotional measures to the benefit of minority languages.

By placing promotional obligations on the state, the Charter complements individual rights of minority language speakers ensuing from national and international minority protection. This adds momentum to the implementation of minority rights in daily practice. For example, even if persons belonging to a national minority have not yet invoked the right to learn their language because they are not aware of this right or do not want to be perceived as petitioners, the authorities must on their own initiative inform about the right and provide for minority language education to fulfil their obligations under the Charter.

Promoting ratifications of the Charter

Several member States of the Council of Europe have not yet acceded to the Charter. Among them, six States that committed themselves to signing and ratifying the Charter when acceding to the Council of Europe have not yet done so (Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia").

States preparing for ratification may make use of legal assistance provided by experts working with the Council of Europe. Such assistance has, for example, been provided within the Joint Programme “National Minorities in Russia” implemented by the Council of Europe, the EU and the Russian Federation from 2009 to 2012. As part of the programme, the application and monitoring of the Charter in Russia has been simulated in pilot regions, for example in the Altai Kray.

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Did you know that...

... the Charter protects minority languages even if they have very few speakers?