MINELRES: Address of AC FCNM President to PACE Monitoring Committee

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Thu Nov 26 17:24:41 2009


Original sender: MINELRES moderator


PACE Monitoring Committee - Paris 
18 November 2009

The Economic Crisis and the risk to the rights of vulnerable minorities
protected under the Framework Convention for the Protection of national
minorities:                                                     

Introduction

As President of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities, let me thank you and your colleagues for this opportunity to
exchange views with yourselves and my counterparts in the European
Social Charter and the European Commission against Racism and
Intolerance on the impact of the current economic crisis on vulnerable,
national minorities. 

You, Mr. Chairman, and the Parliamentary Assembly, in its resolution
1619 (2008), emphasized the need to identify ways to optimize synergies
between the Council of Europe monitoring bodies. This is a constant
challenge, as we are all busy with our own agendas, but your lead here
today is crucial to ensure complementary, reinforcing actions among all
human rights monitoring mechanisms, while emphasizing our unique
strengths to improve the situation of the most vulnerable groups. Indeed
we have already had a valuable discussion with our counter parts earlier
this morning.

We base our work and analysis today on two key factors. Firstly the
Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has been
ratified by 39 states and secondly our country monitoring visits provide
us with a breadth and depth to the work in our specific field. 

I would like to thank you, M. Serhiy Holovaty, for choosing this theme
of discussion, which is of particular priority to the Advisory
Committee, since the recent economic crisis has placed at risk the legal
protected rights of persons belonging to national minorities. 

Commentary on Effective Participation.

The Advisory Committee in its Opinions has often expressed concerns and
recommendations on the social and economic difficulties faced by persons
belonging to national minorities and currently these concerns are
growing.

Article 15 of the Framework Convention obliges State's Parties
 "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." 
This is complemented by article 4 ,which aims to ensure the
applicability of the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Participation in social and economic life is one the important themes
addressed by our recent Commentary on Article 15 of the Framework
Convention that draws on a decade of monitoring and visits in 39
countries. 

The Commentary highlights the perspective that effective participation
in social and economic life is essential for enhancing social cohesion,
reducing tensions, while ensuring the development of a truly democratic
society. In the Advisory Committee's view, effective participation
requires States not only to remove the barriers preventing minorities
from equal access to economic sectors and social services, but also
requires States to take positive measures of support and promote their
effective participation in the delivery of benefits and outcomes. I hope
this Commentary can be made available to the Committee and can be of use
for you within your own parliaments.


Advisory Committee's identification of some Main issues:

Anticipating this discussion in Paris today, two weeks ago during the
plenary session of the Advisory Committee, I invited members to hold a
"tour de table" on this subject focusing on the economic crisis and
national minorities.
A number of important points emerged:

1. Differentiation and the need for reliable data.

The Advisory Committee agreed that there were significant differences in
the impact of the economic crisis upon different "traditional" national
minorities and "newer" minorities in each and every country.
Consequently it is difficult and sometimes dangerous to generalise on
where the main problems are and which minority is particularly affected. 
Some circumstances were obvious, but it is clear that reliable data is
needed on the current economic situation of national minorities in all
State Parties, identifying probable developments and assessing the most
appropriate possible targeted responses. 

The Advisory Committee has systematically invited State parties to
collect data regularly, disaggregated by age, sex and geographical
distribution, and gather up-to-date information on the socio-economic
situation of persons belonging to national minorities . It will be
obvious to all of us here that the collection of such data should be
made in accordance with international standards of personal data
protection. 


2. The disproportionate impact on some national minorities. 

Economic crises usually impact disproportionately negatively upon the
most socially excluded and economically marginalised; they often have
less resources, both personal and financial, to be able to adapt or cope
with the stresses. They are often of a lesser priority for government or
to those individuals and institutions that do have social and economic
capital. 

Many members of some minorities, including Roma, are particularly
vulnerable in the current economic crisis, especially the many that
worked casually in the construction industry or received remittances
from family members working abroad. 

Unemployment and part time employment has grown and is growing in many
countries and is having a disproportionate impact on some minorities.
Members of the Advisory Committee reported on some budgets in the
minority education field being reduced, which will lead to fewer
opportunities for some minority communities. It some cases it is having
a disproportionate impact on positive measures to reduce past
discrimination and on the prospects of mainstreaming pioneering models
of good practice developed by civil society organisations and local
authorities. 

Budgets for kindergartens, teaching assistants and outreach workers are
often being considered as optional, despite being highlighted as crucial
for the integration of some vulnerable minorities by the Council of
Europe's Education Division. Vulnerable minorities include many
impoverished Roma, whose mother tongue is the Romani language, and who
particularly need this form of educational support.

Access to social and economic rights can be in danger, but access to
civil and political rights can also suffer indirectly. For example, in
some countries, it seems that fewer resources are available for
providing opportunities to learn the state language or to improve
professional skills. Furthermore there are trends to reduce the
resources provided for translation of judicial acts, and interpretation
services that would reduce equal access to justice for members of
minority communities. In a few States' Parties the budgets of
institutions that safeguard the effective participation of minorities
are being disproportionately cut and in some cases institutions have
been closed.


3. The need for economic understanding and investment.

However not all is gloomy. Some foresighted governments have ring fenced
expenditures on minorities and are investing in the future. Others have
increased expenditures on education and training to encourage short term
expenditure, as an investment for future income.

Furthermore cross boarder trade has increased significantly in some
circumstances, notably on the boundary of the Euro zone, responding to
exchange rate changes. Members of national minorities are already
playing a significant but unheralded role in promoting trade using their
multi-culture and multilingual talents. Furthermore, as economies grow
again, many of them will bring talents and contribute to filling labour
shortages in other countries- as well as at home-, while sending
remittances back to their families to spend and invest.

However it is crucial to develop a more profound understanding of the
economic situation of national minorities and how targeted education,
training and investment in them can lead not only to greater social
inclusion, alongside the realisation of minority rights , but also lead
to major economic advantages for society as a whole. 

Consequently the Bureau of the Advisory Committee is encouraging the
Council of Europe to stimulate other actors, to promote action
orientated research to identify where minorities do or could make
positive contributions to the economies of Europe. 

It is important to be positive and creative here and present the dynamic
contributions of minorities, showing areas where investments in human
and financial capital may lead to benefits for all of society. The
current economic crisis can provide an opportunity to create a new
paradigm in the future.

Mr. Chairman, we would be delighted to cooperate with yourselves and
colleagues of ECRI and the European Committee of Social Rights to
develop this and similar initiatives. Furthermore we would be happy to
consider a request to share with you regularly our key recommendations
included in our country Opinions.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Alan Phillips
President
Framework Convention 
Advisory Committee 
Council of
Europe

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