Return to Homepage


June 1996 - June 1997

Presented at

the 6th Ministerial Session

Riga 2-3 July 1997

The Commissioner of the Council of the Baltic Sea States

on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights,

including the Rights of Persons belonging to Minorities



In 1994 the Council of Europe prepared and opened for signature the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The adoption of the Convention is a very important step, whereby the Council of Europe has transfered the political commitments made by the European countries into legal obligations and, thus, created at least a first step to a comprehensive international system of protection of national minorities.

Principles of the Convention

The Convention is the first legally binding multilateral instrument devoted to the protection of national minorities. Although the provisions are in principle legally binding on the parties, the Convention is not aimed at defining justiciable rights and obligations regarding the protection of national minorities, but at providing programme-type principles setting out objectives for States.

The Convention does not recognize collective rights, but provides individual rights which should be enjoyed by persons belonging to the national minorities. The Framework Convention does not include the definition of the notion of "national minority" as it proved impossible to reach a consensus among the member states of the Council. The protection of national minorities rights is seen as part of the more general concept of human rights which should be applicable to every individual.

Ratification by the member states

Since February 1995, when the Framework Convention was opened for signature, thirty four countries have signed the Convention. However, it has not yet entered into force as only nine countries have so far ratified it (twelve ratifications is required in order for it to enter into force).

Some countries have made declarations to the Convention. The declarations made by Estonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Luxembourg and Germany all refer to a definition of the notion of national minorities.

Estonia gave its interpretation of the term "national minorities": a national minority may be composed only of the citizens of Estonia who reside on the territory of Estonia, who maintain longstanding, firm and lasting ties with Estonia, who are distinct from Estonians on the basis of their ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics and who are motivated to preserve their cultural traditions, religion or language, which constitute the basis of their common identity.

Denmark is about to ratify the Convention and will make a declaration to the effect that Convention shall only comprise the German minority in Southern Jutland. Furthermore, it intends to declare that the Convention is not applicable to the populations of the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Germany has also stipulated that members of the national minorities are to be German citizens. The groups to which the Convention will be applicable in Germany are the Danes, the Sorbian people and ethnic groups of the Frisians, the Sinti and Roma.

Luxembourg declared that there were no national minorities on its territory. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared that the Convention will be applied to the Albanian, Turkish, Vlakh, Roma and Serbian national minorities, living in its territory.

The other countries which have already ratified the Convention - Cyprus, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia and Spain - made no declarations.

On 3 June 1997 I wrote letters to all member states of the CBSS expressing my concern about the declarations already made, and urging that no further declarations limiting the applicability of the Convention be made. In my opinion, it is important, that the scope of the Convention is established during its further implementation and thereby providing a sound basis for the successful development of an international system of protection of rights of national minorities.