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.


Scientific Committee

The Scientific Committee which has been set up to prepare the text of the Protocol is a group of seventeen recognised experts, intellectuals and researchers with experience in a variety of disciplines who work in different fields. One of this commission’s main purposes will be to make sure that a fair balance of viewpoints is represented in the Protocol. The main job of the Scientific Committe is to make quality contributions to the Protocol. A document of this nature needs to be scientifically sound, so we require support and assessment from recognised experts.



Alexandra Büchler: Director of Literature Across Frontiers and excutive board member of the UK Translators’ Association. Culture and literature.

Dr Robert Dunbar: Professor, University of Edinburgh. Masters in Law. Scottish Gaelic language specialist. Chair of Celtic Languages, Literature, History and Antiquities. Vital niches and legal dimensions.

Ewa Chylinski: Tbilisi, Georgia. Territorial director for the Caucasus of the ECMI (European Centre for Minority Issues). Programme developer in the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Eastern Europe, grassroots entities.

Dr María Pilar García Negro. Professor, University of A Coruña. Member of the Scientific Committee of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights and one of the authors of the Declaration. Historical perspective.

Johan Häggman: Former adviser to the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages and adviser to the European Parliament and the European Commission. European institutions.

Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones: Professor of Media and Creative Industries at Aberystwyth University, Wales. Director of the Mercator Institute for Media, Language and Culture. Media and new technologies.

Dr Davyth Hicks: General secretary of ELEN (the European Language Equality Network) and director of Eurolang. European institutions and grassroots entities.

Dr Iñaki Martínez de Luna: Doctorate in sociology. Lecturer at the University of the Basque Country until 1989. Head of the Basque Government’s sociolinguistic research bureau from 1986 to the present.

Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin: Gaelic research professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Director of SOILLSE (the National Research Network for the Maintenance and Revitalisation of Gaelic Language and Culture). Legal dimension, human rights, vital niches.

Miquel Strubell: Former director of the UOC-Linguamón Language Diversity chair. Occasional adviser to the Council of Europe. Lecturer in sociolinguics and language planning. Education, language policy.

Dr Ferran Suay: Doctorate in psychology. Professor of psychobiology at the Universitat de València. Member of ACPV (Acció Cultural del País Valencià). Assertiveness, citizen empowerment, psychological dimension.

Dr Iñigo Urrutia: Lecturer in administrative law at the University of the Basque Country. Thesis on language rights and school systems. Law, education, media, socioeconomics, comparative law.

Dr Fernand de Varennes: World expert on minority human rights. Writer on ethnic conflicts, migrants and other topics. Author of reports for the UN and UNESCO. Internationally recognised authority on human rights and language rights.

Dr Jaume Vernet: Professor of constitutional law at Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, and member of the Consell de Garanties Estatutàries de Catalunya. A major legal expert in Catalonia.

Durk Gorter Doctor in Humanities 1993 from the University of Amsterdam. 30 years+ of research experience. Research line: Multilingualism in Educational Contexts; Comparative studies of European minority languages; Linguistic Landscapes in educationComes from the posts of Professor of Sociolinguistics of Frisian at the University of Amsterdam and Head of the Social Sciences Department of the Fryske Akademy, Ljouwert/Leeuwarden, The Netherlands.



In March, 2015 the organising committee stipulated the references for drawing up the Protocol. The 1996 Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights is to be the Protocol’s chief guide. Another fundamental reference document will be UNESCO’s 2003 report, “Language Vitality and Endangerment,” which lays down specific evaluation indicators. Besides these two main references, the following documents or charters will also be taken into consideration by the Protocol for the Safeguarding of Language Rights:


  • Universal Declaration of Humarn Rights (1948)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Politicar Rights (1966)
  •  International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
  •  Proclamation of Teheran (1968)
  •  UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
  •  Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992)
  •  Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)
  •  Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (2007)


  • Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950)
  • European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (1992)
  • Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1994) UNESCO
  • Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001)
  • Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005)


  • Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities (1996)
  • Oslo Recommendations Regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities (1998)
  • Lund Recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities (1999


  • EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
  • Treaty of Lisbon
  •  Report with recommendations to the Commission on European regional and lesser used languages – the languages of minorities in the EU – in the context of enlargement and cultural diversity
  • European Parliament resolution on 11 September 2013 on endangered European languages and linguistic diversity in the European Union


  • PEN INTERNATIONAL: Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights


  • The Roadmap for Linguistic Diversity