The Protocol to Ensure Language Rights

In 1996 the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights was signed in Barcelona. On its twentieth anniversary, since Donostia was to be the European capital of culture in 2016, Kontseilua proposed to the Donostia 2016 Foundation that a project might be carried out to contribute to safeguarding those rights. Hence on the 31 of March, 2015, the project commenced which led to the drafting of the Protocol to Ensure Language Rights.

An Organising Committee was set up in which six entities with international experience and reputations formed part: CIEMEN, LINGUAPAX, UNPO, ELEN, PEN INTERNATIONAL and ECMI. On December, 2015, we also established a Scientific Committee comprising experts in a variety of fields who would assist us in drawing up the Protocol and give academic value to the contributions from social entities.

So the essential idea was to set going a process involving social actors, entities and experts who would write a protocol to ensure equality between languages.

The method of work was fairly simple although the process became complicated because we aimed to bring together as wide a range of opinions as possible from language communities. The Scientific Committee analysed the articles in the seven areas contemplated by the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (general principles, public administration, education, socioeconomics, names, media and technology, and culture), identifying the rights contained in the Declaration.

Bases on this, dozens of social actors made contributions and proposed measures needed to safeguard these rights and indicators that can be used to evaluate their implementation.

This was the most exciting part of the process. Over a hundred entities representing more than thirty languages contributed material, proposing specific steps to safeguard language rights. Starting from their own situations and needs, each shared a common objective: to specify a roadmap to ensure the language rights of members of minority language communities.

Kontseilua received hundreds of contributions which were submitted to the Scientific Committee, which incorporated an academic dimension into the document. Once it was completed, the result was a document containing 185 measures.

After these measures had been established, the Organising Committee determined the general principles of the document, of which there are eleven: language rights, discrimination on account of language, language status and official languages, legislation, corrective measures, resources, positive discrimination, the principle of universality, linguistic oases and historical memory.

After listing measures relating to the general principles, the Protocol goes on to specify steps in each of the areas mentioned above.

As well as being a practical tool, we wish to reiterate the importance of the fact that the Protocol to Ensure Language Rights has come about in consequence of an initiative of civil society, and one of the purposes of the process was to present language communities as the subject of the project and establish the need for society itself to act as the guarantor of fair practices in language matters.

The hundreds of social actors who respond to the needs of their languages without political or institutional dependence are the mouthpieces of millions of speakers, and this is the strongest point of the Protocol to Ensure Language Rights.

This great strength was reflected in the act of presentation on the 17th of December in Donostia’s Kursaal conference hall, where the Protocol was ratified by a first group of signatories, consisting of a hundred actors from over thirty European language communities, all of whom will become their spokespersons, as will all the entities involved, for the building of a new Europe based on social well-being, peaceful coexistence and peace.