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The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) was signed on February 1995 by 22 member States of the Council of Europe (not to be confused with similarly named institutions of the European Union).
The Council of Europe first discussed according specific protection for national minorities in 1949, but it was not until 1990 that the Council of Europe made a firm commitment to protect these minority groups. Recommendation 1134 (1990) contained a list of principles which the Assembly considered necessary for this purpose. The Parliamentary Assembly did in the beginning call for adoption of a protocol to the ECHR.
The Framework was to become active in 1998. The broad aims of the Convention are to ensure that the signatory states respect the rights of national minorities, undertaking to combat discrimination, promote equality, preserve and develop the culture and identity of national minorities, guarantee certain freedoms in relation to access to the media, minority languages and education and encourage the participation of national minorities in public life.
Article 25 of the Framework Convention binds the member states to submit a report to the Council of Europe containing "full information on the legislative and other measures taken to give effect to the principles set out in this framework Convention" (Council of Europe, 1994, 7).
The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities defines a national minority implicitly to include minorities possessing a territorial identity and a distinct cultural heritage.
By 2009, 43 member states have signed and 39 ratified this сonvention, but it has come under some criticism. First of all, not all member states of the Council of Europe have signed and ratified it. France and Turkey have done neither. Iceland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece have signed and have yet to ratify. Also, the provisions offer little new on already existing international treaties. Furthermore, they are hedged around with many phrases including 'as far as possible'.
Overall however, Phillips (2002) has argued that because the FCNM is flexible it has allowed such a great number of states to ratify it so quickly. Therefore it should not be considered a failure, but a start. Many authors agree with this arguing that it needs to be implemented in 'good faith' with the political will to support commitment to minority rights.
In the 2006 UK Government's draft 'UK Framework Convention Compliance Report', the Cornish ethnicity was the only group specifically mentioned as being excluded. On 6 Mar 2007 Andrew George MP raised the question in the House of Commons, "what consideration did the UK government give to the application on behalf of the Cornish for inclusion in the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities ?" In August 2008 it was announced by Cornwall 2000 that they propose to lodge a case for the proposed inclusion of the Cornish into the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities with the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Europe’s Framework Convention ‘Committee of Experts’ on minority rights (the Advisory Committee) and the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission have consistently come out strongly in favour of Cornish inclusion within the Convention.
Cornwall Council backs the campaign for the Cornish to be recognised as a National Minority in the UK. The council's chief executive Kevin Lavery wrote a letter to the Government in 2010, writing, "Cornwall Council firmly believes that the UK Government should recognise the Cornish as a national minority under the terms of the Framework Convention." Adding that, "Cornwall Council believes that the Government's current restricted interpretation is discriminatory against the Cornish and contradicts the support it gives to Cornish culture and identity through its own departments." Cornwall Council's support was made official council policy in 2011 with the publication of the Cornish National Minority Report 2, signed and endorsed by the then leaders of every political grouping on the council.
The UK Government has been criticised for admitting to signing the FCNM convention for the wrong reasons - not to fulfil Convention principles to protect national minorities, but in fact to, “underline its commitment to tackle racial discrimination”.
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