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5 Helsinki Monitor 26 (1994)
Minority Questions in the Council of Europe

handle is hein.journals/helsnk5 and id is 28 raw text is: Minority Questions in the Council of Europe
Petter F. Wille
The protection of minorities is a pressing issue in many parts of Europe. Minori-
ty questions are changing in scope and appearance as the new Europe of political
and economic integration evolves. Developments over the last few years have
reflected a tendency towards greater willingness to address minority issues
On the other hand, recent conflicts have again emphasized the need for
vigorous action to build trust and confidence between traditional antagonists on
the European scene. Any such efforts must be founded on a general respect for
individual human rights and freedoms, which must be shared by both sides in a
conflict. Beyond that, the task is to safeguard appropriate minority rights, taking
into account the great diversity of situations in which minorities find themselves.
It is a legitimate question, however, whether regional or international
regulation, through the adoption and supervision of human rights norms, will in
fact help alleviate frictions and improve the quality of life of these groups and
preserve their significant contribution to our cultural heritage. Equally, we can
question the contents of the norms. Is it enough to establish rules of non-
discrimination that benefit individuals, or must these be supplemented by special
rights and preferential treatment both for the members of minority groups and the
groups themselves?
Coexistence and Prevention of Conflicts
Most of the rules of contemporary international law relating to the protection of
minorities can, however, also be seen as belonging to the international law of
coexistence. This includes Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights which is the key provision concerning the protection of minorities
in current international law. It also includes the so-called 'soft law' provisions on
minorities adopted within the framework of the CSCE.
The CSCE commitments and mechanisms can be viewed both as a framework
of coexistence for participating states and as a framework of cooperation between
states aiming at the solution of problems which, in fact, concern all the European
states. The CSCE mechanisms provide states with the possibility of asking for a
rapporteur or rapporteurs in connection with fact-finding and the preparing of
proposals for solutions.
The office of the CSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM)
is an institution which deserves special attention and support. According to the
mandate, the High Commissioner is an instrument of conflict prevention who will
provide early warning and, as appropriate, early action at the earliest possible
stage in regard to tensions including national minority issues. The first HCNM,
Mr. Max van der Stoel, took office only in January 1993. In his brief period of
operation he has carried out his mandate with great skill and flexibility. His

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