Strasbourg, 1 February 2023

Statement from Petra Roter, President of the Advisory Committee

A quarter-century is a significant milestone in any lifetime, and especially so in the case of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Twenty-five years means we in the Advisory Committee have entered five cycles of monitoring, we have carried out five country visits to nearly every state party and to Kosovo[1], and written five opinions on almost all of them. We have written four thematic commentaries which explain and detail education, participation, language rights and the scope of application of the Framework Convention.

This industrious record gives us a significant jurisprudence and contributes with each new opinion to the development of minority rights in international law and to the contemporary understanding of how diversity ought to be managed through minority rights so as to achieve the goals of the Framework Convention. The Advisory Committee with its many independent experts who participated in its work since its formation can be rightly proud of this record.  

The violent break-up of Yugoslavia consolidated the resolve in the Council of Europe to draft a dedicated legally binding treaty for the protection of national minorities. We can see that the key principles and rights set out in the Framework Convention are as relevant today as they were in the 1990s. The Framework Convention has firmly established universal minority rights as human rights and their implementation as a matter of joint international concern: rights of persons belonging to national minorities, regardless of how these communities are referred to in individual states, are to be protected and access to them ensured by authorities at all levels.

The Framework Convention aims to enable persons belonging to minorities to be equal in law and in fact, to be able to preserve, promote and develop their identities and to be able to participate effectively in all walks of life in diverse societies in which they live and contribute to. But, crucially, it also paves the way for societal integration and coherence, and as a result, for peace and stability within states and the international community. Such societal integration must be a mutually adaptive process based on acceptance and recognition of minorities as an integral and valued part of these societies. And this requires efforts from everyone – the authorities at all levels, and from the majority population and persons belonging to minorities. The Framework Convention is an instrument for diverse societies, more than just a treaty for minorities and persons belonging to them.

Across Europe, solid minority and anti-discrimination legislation is now in place and our recommendations continue to be used, not only by the authorities to whom they are directed, but also by civil society and minority organisations to advocate for their rights. Our recommendations are intended for the authorities to guide them to ensure access to minority rights, and to help them achieve societal integration. States thus need to embrace the value of diversity and their minorities. This forward-looking goal is based on the promises of the Framework Convention and very much grounded in the experiences of the difficult European history and the many instances of nationalist, populist identity politics that is scapegoating minorities and viewing them as a ‘problem’.

Unfortunately for an instrument which came into the world in the wake of violent conflict, 25 years on it bears witness once again to war in Europe. The Russian Federation’s misuse of minority rights as a pretext for the aggression against Ukraine shows this most clearly. As the Advisory Committee said in 2021, the plight of persons belonging to national minorities and indigenous peoples in Ukraine – in particular the Crimean Tatars who have had to flee their homes once again – is a stain on Europe’s conscience.

The Advisory Committee has continuously stressed the importance of the Framework Convention’s core principle that the prime responsibility for ensuring access to minority rights for persons belonging to minorities lies with the state where minorities reside. This is where trust starts to be built. Key elements of this responsibility are fostering trust in inclusive institutions, effective equality of the process and outcomes, including in such important areas as education and effective participation of persons belonging to minorities in decision-making, whilst taking into account intra-community diversities. States should be able to accommodate diversity and accept it, rather than view it as a problem, or a threat. Such fear and mistrust have never produced good results throughout European history, and we should bear this in mind today. Nationalist narratives purporting to proclaim national unity serve to exclude national minorities and other communities or persons belonging to them. Identity politics that seeks to divide people and communities does not serve the principles and aims of the Framework Convention.

Besides these, we have seen other longer-term challenges over these 25 years which have more recently reached boiling point: climate change is a prominent example. From the Arctic to the Caucasus, climate change is affecting the ability of persons belonging to national minorities to effectively participate in economic and social life of their countries, as traditional industries and ways of life are threatened. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the inequalities and effects of poverty and long-term exclusion of persons belonging to most marginalised minorities. The unprecedented development of new technologies, including in the media, bring not just new opportunities, but also pose many risks. Neither all minorities nor all persons belonging to them are equally able to profit from those opportunities or equally exposed to the risks.

The Advisory Committee now systematically examines the position of women belonging to national minorities and their experiences of intersectional discrimination. Increased political awareness of gender issues has led to too little action: societies need to give women belonging to national minorities the tools to participate in their societies on an equal basis, so they can address their specific needs and pursue their interests. Likewise, young people from national minorities need these same opportunities, and the specific needs of the elderly including in access to health and care have to be addressed effectively. Managing diversity through minority rights thus has to take account of intra-community diversities and be adjusted according to the specific needs and interests of various segments of communities.

Roma and Travellers continue to know antigypsyism and anti-nomadism. Whilst we have observed some good examples in improving access to housing, education and healthcare, Roma and Travellers across Europe continue to face worse education and healthcare outcomes, and many continue to live in unacceptable housing conditions. The importance of teaching the Romani language(s) is also too often overlooked, as is the right to effective participation. States need to do more to address these issues. Whilst many states have welcomed refugees from Ukraine, Roma from Ukraine have not always received the same welcome as others in the same situation. Marginalisation of these communities needs to be addressed more systematically and more effectively.

An anniversary is an opportunity to look back and reckon with the past, to assess the achievements, and what we could do better. These past 25 years offer ample opportunity for reflection, and all of us interested in furthering minority protection should consider what might have been done better, and how we can all improve our efforts and the results of our our collective work in the future.

An anniversary is thus also an opportunity to look forward and ask what the next 25 years should look like. Above all, our societies will need to learn more about our diversity and appreciate it as an integral and valued part of who we are in Europe. Managing diversity requires efforts and commitment from everyone, and its positive effects are to everyone’s benefit. The Advisory Committee will strive to contribute its part to this process, with independent advice to the authorities on how to best achieve the goals on which the Framework Convention has been built, based on mutual respect, inter-cultural dialogue and ensuring effective access to minority rights for all persons belonging to minorities. The Advisory Committee remains firm in the conviction that the Framework Convention provides us the tools to continue to do better, to keep making the case for progressing minority rights, and re-establish peace, security and stability in Europe.


[1] All references to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.