The achievements and future challenges of protecting the rights of national minorities were at the center of a high-level conference in Strasbourg organized by the Council of Europe under the Hungarian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. Persons belonging to national minorities face particular difficulties in accessing their human rights, and the challenge has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her opening speech, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, referred to the reform of the Council of Europe’s tools to help national minorities to preserve and develop their cultures and languages and to participate fully in public life: the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages - the only two legally binding international treaties in this field. The reforms carried out since 2018 to streamline the work of the two mechanisms “are being put in place and are bearing fruit,” she said.
The Secretary General also noted that the action of the Council of Europe on national minorities is particularly necessary with new issues arising, such as COVID-19. “Despite the efforts of governments, NGOs and the media to support the disadvantaged and fight hate speech and disinformation, in many cases the help was not there,” the secretary general said, citing the lack of information, advice and health services related to the coronavirus. in regional and minority languages. Less than half of Member States were offering online education in these languages during the first lockdown in spring 2020, preventing equal access to learning. Many Roma and Travelers, particularly affected by the pandemic, have been denied access to basic health care and sanitation, have been stigmatized and have been seen as scapegoats.
“The pandemic has shown how easy it is for prejudice, contempt and misinformation to resurface,” concluded Pejčinović Burić, stressing that the Hungarian authorities have chosen a pivotal moment to make this important topic a priority of their presidency.
Gergely Gulyás, Minister, Head of the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of Hungary, said: “The Hungarian Presidency has made the effective protection of national minorities a top priority, not only because of the high number of national minority communities in the member states of the Council of Europe. The identities and cultures of national minorities enrich the societies in which they live and these identities must be further preserved and respected.
“The protection and support of the rights of national minorities is essential to ensure peace and stability in Europe, since a large part of European society belongs to a national minority group with a different cultural, linguistic and religious identity”, a- he stressed.
More information about the conference