International and European Framework

International and European Framework

The respect and protection of minorities is enshrined in both European and international law. Both the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 2) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 27), two basic texts on international human rights, mention the right to one’s cultural, religious and linguistic identity, free from discrimination.

At the European level, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Art. 22) also includes a provision to respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.

Click on the links below to learn more about other legal instrument relating to essential minority rights:

Language Rights

The rights of Kosovo’s minority communities to use their own language, as well as to education and freedom of expression, are closely related, a fact recognised by international and European law.

According to Article 58.2 of the Constitution, Kosovo is obliged to respect the standards in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (hereinafter ‘the European Charter’), which sets forth that states should adopt policies that ensure “the provision of appropriate forms and means for the teaching and study of regional or minority languages at all appropriate stages” .

However, this promotion of minority languages and cultures should not be understood as a one-sided defence of minorities against an encroaching majority, but rather as a tool for promoting mutual understanding among communities, both majority and minority. Hence, states should also “make arrangements to ensure the teaching of the history and the culture which is reflected by the regional or minority language” , also for non-speakers of the concerned languages.

The European Charter further requires the state to take “resolute action to promote regional or minority languages in order to safeguard them”. Most importantly, these steps are taken against the backdrop that “every person belonging to a national minority has the right to use freely and without interference his or her minority language, in private and in public, orally and in writing”. Thus, the right to education in one’s minority language, and the use thereof, can be seen as a springboard towards fuller, more meaningful participation of both majority and minority communities. As a logical continuation, the European Charter also goes further in establishing that “persons belonging to national minorities are granted the possibility of creating and using their own media”.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the Kosovo authorities’ responsibilities are not merely a vague promotion of minority languages in society. Institutions are required to respect minority languages in their relations with the population, namely “in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if those persons so request and where such a request corresponds to a real need, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible, the conditions which would make it possible to use the minority language in relations between those persons and the administrative authorities” .

The OSCE has designed some of the most comprehensive standards for the protection of language rights. Two OSCE documents have important significance in the domain of language rights. The first, the Copenhagen Document, includes detailed provisions on the use of languages as well as on non-discrimination and education. Although it is not legally binding, it does have important soft law and political implications and many consider it to be more advanced than other instruments. The second document, the Oslo Recommendations, is a practical policy tool that provides states and other actors with a detailed reference point in the development of effective minority language policies, including in relation to the use of languages in education, religion, media, community life and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as in communications with public authorities, in judicial proceedings and in the operation of private businesses.

Rights of National Minorities

The Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) is one of the most important international legally-binding instruments designed to protect the rights of people belonging to national minorities.

The Convention entered into force on 1 February 1998 and aims to promote the full and effective equality of people belonging to national minorities in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, together with conditions that will allow them to express, preserve and develop their culture and identity. It covers the following areas: the right to a distinct identity; effective equality; preservation and development of distinct identity; non-discrimination; political rights; freedom of religion; media rights; linguistic rights; educational rights; participatory rights; and free trans-boundary contacts. The rights and freedoms as set out in the FCNM are directly applicable to Kosovo.

Although Kosovo is not a signatory to the Convention, it is subject to a specific monitoring arrangement in conformity with a 2004 Agreement between UNMIK and the Council of Europe. Currently, reporting to the Council of Europe is carried out by UNMIK, through OSCE Kosovo. The monitoring arrangement takes place every five years and involves three main phases. First, UNMIK prepares a report on Kosovo’s compliance with the FCNM to the Council of Europe; second, an independent commission (the Advisory Commission) provides an expert opinion on the report issued by UNMIK, which is also given a chance to comment on this opinion. Finally, a resolution is adopted containing conclusions and recommendations to Kosovo concerning the implementation of the Framework Convention.

Property, Social and Labour Rights

Property Rights

Although there is no international convention focusing specifically on property and housing rights of minorities, several international treaties have acknowledged these groups’ vulnerabilities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognises the right to own property and the right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing…”. Furthermore, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination guarantees “the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of […]: the right to own property alone as well as in association with others; […] the right to housing”. It is also explicitly stipulated in international law that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence”[International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.The right to property is also recognised in Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Health and Social Benefits

Ensuring equality of well-being for everyone is at the core of international human rights instruments. The UDHR lays down the right of all people to social security, while the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (not legally binding in Kosovo) guarantees the right “to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. As a consequence, the state is also responsible for “the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness”. Furthermore, the International Labour Organisation, in its Invalidity, Old-Age and Survivors’ Benefits Convention (not legally binding in Kosovo), requires the state to take measures to “secure to the persons protected the provision of old-age benefit”.

Labour Rights

Given the importance of a person’s working conditions in securing their own rights, including the right to a decent standard of living, particular attention should also be paid to labour rights. The ICESCR is the main international legal instrument on this issue and, although not legally binding in Kosovo, has important soft law implications. In accordance with the ICESCR, everyone has the right to “fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind” and to “safe and healthy working conditions”. Although members of minorities are not specifically granted special protections according to international labour law, states are indeed requested when necessary to include anti-discrimination measures in their national policy, “designed to promote, by methods appropriate to national conditions and practice, equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating any discrimination in respect thereof”.

In this perspective, “special measures designed to meet the particular requirements of persons who, for reasons such as sex, age, disablement, family responsibilities or social or cultural status, are generally recognised to require special protection or assistance, shall not be deemed to be discrimination”. It is therefore acknowledged that minorities can, and when necessary, should benefit from special treatment in order to fully enjoy their rights. This also includes the right to form, join and organise freely into trade unions , and to strike if they consider their labour rights are not respected.