Minority protection is a term from constitutional and international law that refers to the freedom and equality of minorities and their protection from discrimination . The specific interests of ethnic minorities , the disabled or homosexuals are protected internationally by human rights , in particular by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , and at the state level by the individual rights enshrined in the respective constitution .
Protection of minorities by the League of Nations
The first international agreement for the protection of minorities comes from the Congress of Vienna in 1815. After the partition of Poland , attempts were made to guarantee the Polish populations in the Prussian , Austrian and Russian states certain rights. The December constitution of Austria-Hungary of 1867 codified the general rights of the citizens of the monarchy in its article 19 “Equal rights for all tribes of the state”; Each “tribe” was granted an inviolable right to preserve and care for their nationality . The peculiarity of this constitutional provision was that this right did not belong to the individuals, but the tribes were designated as legal holders . Subsequent international agreements only speak of “religious” minorities and only of “civil” rights , but not of “political” rights .
As a by-product of the territorial changes caused by the First World War , the rights of minorities were also established in the Paris Peace Accords. These territorial changes, which divided Eastern and Southern Europe into new states, were intended to give all ethnic groups in European countries the right to national self-determination . The minorities were now the "unfortunate remnant [...] who could not be granted their own nation-state or an association with the area in which they were a majority and a nation [...]." One insisted on the formulation of the Minority agreements on the fact that there are no “national” minorities, but only “racial, religious and linguistic minorities” so that they do not have a national right of self-determination. Previously, minorities were understood as parts of the people who lived separately from the majority of their own people on foreign territory, but were of course protected by the state of their majority as far as possible. Now the concept of minorities has been reinterpreted: minorities should now see themselves as a minority within a majority people. They were no longer officially represented by any state, but only placed under international protection.
The Polish minority treaty, also known as “the small treaty of Versailles”, which was signed on June 28, 1919 between the Entente and Poland, is considered to be the first minority treaty with specifically developed protective rights provisions. The contract is seen as a template for the other minority contracts that were subsequently concluded. In most cases, the agreements on the protection of minorities were simply incorporated as individual provisions into the respective main agreements of the Paris suburb agreements.
As a result of the Polish minority treaty, a number of bilateral treaties were concluded immediately after the First World War and in the interwar period :
- Treaty of St. Germain- en-Laye, 1919, between Austria , Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia
- Treaty of Paris, 1919, on Romania
- Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine , 1919, on Bulgaria
- Treaty of Sèvres , 1920, on the protection of minorities in Greece
- Treaty of Trianon , 1920, on Hungary
- Agreement between Poland and the Free City of Danzig , 1920
- Peace of Dorpat with an agreement between Finland and the Soviet Union on the Finnish-speaking population of East Karelia , 1920
- between Finland and Sweden via the Swedish-speaking Åland Islands in 1921
- Agreement between Lithuania and the victorious powers of May 12, 1922 on the occasion of the annexation of the Memel region into the state of Lithuania
- German-Polish agreement on Upper Silesia , expired in 1922, 1937
- Treaty of Lausanne , 1923, on the protection of minorities in Turkey
Around 25 to 30 million people in post-war Europe lived under these minority statutes. Most of them dealt with the use of the mother tongue in public life and the exercise of political and cultural human rights. They did not contain obligations of the minorities towards the state in which they now lived.
The peace treaties were followed by very sharp and bitter conflicts, which led to close civil wars in all affected countries . Because of the nationalist attitudes prevailing at the time, most of the states concerned were not prepared to keep the treaties. The UN predecessor League of Nations , which was charged with monitoring, lacked the necessary skills and the willingness to enforce enforcement. Direct intervention was out of the question and the League of Nations could not change the laws of nation states. In the League of Nations statesmen emphasized that no country could be expected to legally protect groups who wanted to keep a special position forever and were not assimilable . Europe's minorities finally organized themselves in the European Nationalities Congress , which was supposed to take on the task of representing the interests of all minorities, regardless of their nationality, vis-à-vis the League of Nations. That did not succeed because national interests prevailed. The minorities saw themselves as belonging to the states in which they as a people formed the majority. This is how the German minorities in Romania and Czechoslovakia agreed with the German minorities in Poland and Hungary , and this is how all groups behaved. The new element of the minority protection treaties, namely the guarantee of rights by an international body , failed.
During the time of National Socialism , all minority rights were completely devalued and a racist re-population and Germanization policy was pursued in its domain. For example, in order to create German living space in Slovenia, so-called “racially inferior” people were to be murdered on the spot or deported to concentration camps, “not capable of Germanization” were to be resettled to Serbia and Croatia, and Slovenes were to be resettled in areas of the Soviet Union that were depopulated after the victory.
Protection of minorities by the UN
After the Second World War , the United Nations first tried to replace the protection of minorities with the more effective individual protection of human rights. The protection of minorities was deliberately excluded from international politics for a long time. Only in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of December 19, 1966 was the right of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities protected. Political minority rights are not mentioned in it. A human rights committee was set up to oversee government obligations.
Another UN organ, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities , also deals with minorities. This committee developed u. a. the Declaration on the Rights of Minorities , which obliges states to preserve and promote the identity of national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic minorities by adopting appropriate measures. Those belonging to such minorities must be guaranteed the right to free use of their language in private and public spheres and an appropriate participation in decisions that affect them.
A UN working group on indigenous peoples has been set up since 1985, since indigenous people are usually minorities in a nation. A key result was a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of September 13, 2007.
Protection of minorities in Europe
As in all western states , members of minorities in Europe are protected by individual law , not by collective law. Protection is enshrined in constitutions and in international treaties . Accordingly, minorities are not recognized as groups with their own rights. “ Ethnic group rights ” can only be granted through international treaties.
In the 1970s, the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe ( CSCE ) began to deal with the minority issue. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and because of the subsequent minority conflicts in Eastern Europe and the various regionalist currents in Europe, the Council of Europe also began to deal with the protection of minorities under international law in the 1990s .
Protection of minorities in Germany
In addition to religious freedom and other things, the German Basic Law also has direct reference to the general rules of international law . In addition to the ius cogens and recognized general legal principles, these rules also include universally applicable customary international law . The indirect protection of individual rights is based on the principle of equality and the prohibition of discrimination in the Basic Law, which apply to everyone, whether they belong to minorities or not.
Copenhagen Conference "On the Human Dimension"
On June 29, 1990, the CSCE adopted the “Copenhagen Final Document on the Human Dimension” - a milestone for the anchoring of human rights in Europe under international law. The Copenhagen documents are not binding under international law, but only agreements that are intended to serve as a rough guide for the member states of the OSCE .
Part IV of the Copenhagen documents goes into detail on the collective rights of persons belonging to national minorities: They should be able to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms in full equality before the law . In addition, the OSCE member states should undertake to “take special measures to ensure equality with other nationals”. A person should also be granted the right to decide for themselves whether or not they belong to a national minority.
The final document of the Copenhagen documents also contains the so-called individual minority rights : use of the mother tongue, free practice of religion, guarantee of cross-border contact with members of one's own ethnic group, freedom of association, the right to exercise cultural activities, school instruction in the mother tongue or with the mother tongue as the language of instruction, Protection and promotion of the identity of national minorities and the establishment of local and autonomous administrative units.
Expert meeting in Geneva
In July 1991, experts from the CSCE member states met in Geneva to discuss minority issues. It turned out that some of the participating countries of the former Eastern Bloc ( Bulgaria , Romania , Yugoslavia ) wanted to go back below the standards adopted in Copenhagen . They were encouraged in their request by several western countries ( France , Greece , Turkey ). The final declaration contains a sentence that de facto turned all previous efforts to protect minorities under international law into obsolescence : "[the states] acknowledge that not all ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious differences necessarily lead to the formation of national minorities" . This restriction allowed France or Turkey to insist on their position that there were no national minorities in their countries and therefore no need to give them any special protection.
European Convention for the Protection of Minorities
On February 8, 1991, the Venice Commission (European Commission for Democracy through Law) submitted a draft to the Council of Europe for a “European Convention for the Protection of Minorities”. In contrast to the two documents mentioned above, the term “minority” is clearly defined here and it is made clear that foreign nationals should not be included. Belonging to a minority should depend on the decision of the individual . Furthermore, a collective right of minorities is recognized and obligations are imposed on states that correspond to a combination of individual and group rights.
European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
The Committee of Ministers passed a convention on November 5, 1992, which took a total of eleven years to develop. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages contains provisions "for the protection and promotion of minority languages in schools, administration, in court and in the media".
However, the charter is not binding. The signatory states can choose which of the provisions they want to apply. They also decide for themselves which minority languages in their country they want to apply the Charter to. A reporting system serves as the only control, there are no penalties for non-compliance with the commitments made.
Responsible for the delays and the non-binding formulated conventions are some European states that do not want to recognize the rights of their minorities due to their own perception of “ state ” and “ nation ”, including in particular France, Great Britain , Greece and Turkey. These countries fear that the recognition of minorities and minority languages on their territory will endanger national unity. They take the position that the principles of equality laid down in the respective constitution are sufficient protection for members of minorities.
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- Sebastian Bartsch: Protection of minorities in international politics. League of Nations and CSCE / OSCE in a new perspective . West German publisher: Opladen 1995, ISBN 3-531-12786-1 .
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- Humanrights.ch: Topic dossier on minority rights and the rights of indigenous groups
- Minority Rights Group International (English)
- Minority Protection Treaty between the Main Allies and Associated Powers and Poland. Versailles, June 28, 1919 , text in German
- Polish Minority Treaty of June 28, 1919 , text in English
- Hannah Arendt : Elements and origins of total domination . Anti-Semitism, imperialism, total domination. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1986 (11th edition 2006), ISBN 978-3-492-21032-4 , p. 565.
- Minority Protection Treaty between the Allies and Associated Main Powers and Poland , Versailles, June 28, 1919
- Article 26 in the Statute of Autonomy over the Memel area of May 8, 1924
- Cf. German-Polish Agreement on Upper Silesia (Upper Silesia Agreement, OSA) of May 15, 1922, RGBl. 1922 II, p. 238 ff.
- See e.g. B. Gerhard Jochem, Slovenia becomes German , in: Die Zeit from October 11, 2012.
- Published in: Website of UNA (PDF)
- Hahn in: Frowein / Hofmann / Oeter, The Minority Law of European States , Vol. 1, p. 67; Walker in: Hinderling / Eichinger, Handbook of Central European Language Minorities , p. 18.
- Boden, p. 30.
- Boden, p. 31.