Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Constitutional Recognition of 'Regional' Languages

The status of the Breton language took an unusual turn last Thursday (22nd May), as a proposed amendment to the French Constitution was voted for by the French National Assembly in Paris.

The amendment states that the 'regional' languages of France are part of the heritage of France, but the new amendment will only apply to Article 1 of the Constitution and not the much disputed Article 2, which states that the language of France is French. The amendment has therefore received only a lukewarm response by Breton nationalist parties like the Union Démocratique Bretonne, because of its restricted nature.

Also campaigners are asking why, earlier this month, Members of the National Assembly rejected recognition of the 'regional' languages of France, only to seemingly change their mind with this latest amendment. The new amendment still needs to be ratified by the French Senate, which seems likely, but whether this new amendment will change anything in real terms remains to be seen.

Some, like 2007 French Presidential Candidate Francois Bayrou, see the amendment as an important step towards the ratification by France of the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages, but most, understandably, remain highly sceptical.

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UN criticises French state over minority language policy

The French government has once again come in for International criticism for its failure to give appropriate support and recognition to minority languages.

In its latest report (E/C.12/FRA/ CO/3… May 2008) the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says:

"29. The Committee remains concerned about the lack of official recognition of minorities within the territory of the State party. With specific regard to cultural rights, the Committee further notes with concern that some of these rights are not respected - such as the right to use a minority language, which can only be exercised in community with other members of the minority group.

30. The Committee notes with concern that the State party has not made sufficient efforts in the field of preservation and promotion of regional and minority languages and cultural heritage. The Committee also notes that the absence of formal recognition of regional and minority languages has contributed to the constant decline in the number of speakers of such languages."

The Committee goes on to recommend:

49. The Committee, while taking note that the recognition of minority groups or collective rights is considered by the State party to be incompatible with its Constitution, wishes to reiterate that the principles of equality before the law and prohibition of discrimination are not always adequate to ensure the equal and effective enjoyment of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights, by persons belonging to minority groups. The Committee therefore recommends that the State party consider reviewing its position with regard to the recognition of minorities under the Constitution, and recognise officially the need to protect the cultural diversity of all minority groups under the jurisdiction of the State party, in accordance with the provisions of article 15. In this regard, the Committee reiterates the recommendation formulated in its previous concluding observations(E/C.12/1/Add. 72, para. 25) that the State party (i) withdraw its reservation to article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and (ii) consider ratifying the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, as well as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

The full report of the Committee which covers a wide range of economic, social and cultural issues can be found at: http://www2. ohchr.org/ english/bodies/ cescr/docs/ co/E.C.12. FRA.CO.3. doc

The full text of the International Covenant on Economic, Social andCultural Rights can be found at: http://www2. ohchr.org/ english/law/ cescr.htm

J B Moffatt
Director of Information
Celtic League
26/05/08

The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on abroad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues.

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