30 Neth. Q. Hum. Rts. 3 (2012)

handle is hein.journals/nethqur45 and id is 1 raw text is: COLUMN
ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS
As various minority rights related anniversaries are coming up now at the beginning of
the second decade of the 211t century, it is appropriate, as one does on those occasions,
to take stock of related developments and reflect on present and upcoming challenges.
It has been twenty years since the creation of two specific minority rights instruments -
firstly the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities, which set out legal norms, and secondly the OSCE High Commissioner on
National Minorities (HCNM), which aims to address shortcomings in the protection
of national minorities. During those past twenty years, a great diversity of views have
been expressed on the adequacy and even the relevance of this developing system of
minority rights, which has focused on national minorities and for which the impetus
was largely the threat to peace and stability in the processes and aftermath of the
dismantling of the Soviet Union and the Yugoslav Federation. The question can then
be legitimately posed whether the system that has emerged continues to be the right
path to follow for the protection of minorities in Europe's multi-ethnic societies and
whether the norms that have been established can be sustained and progress can be
made in developing them further and implementing them in practice.
The arguments that minority rights are an integral part of human rights, and
that democracy, rule of law and human rights are inevitably linked have become self-
evident truths. In addition to the rights-based arguments the political imperative
of democracy as the rule of the people, implying that government should be
representative, participatory and accountable, also underlines the necessity of an equal
role of all members of society, majority and minority alike. The rule of the majority
has to be combined with safeguarding the interests of the minorities or else there is no
democracy, nor can good governance be ensured. Regardless of the type of argument
chosen and the discipline it emanates from, the recognition that using majority position
to ignore legitimate minority interests is abuse of power and as such unacceptable has
become standard in both political contexts and courts of law. But if it is commonplace
to argue that minorities must have equal say in our societies and polities, the question
of whether this is to be achieved by ensuring respect for specific minority rights or by
other means is far less clear. Challenges to the very conceptualisation and rationale
behind minority rights as the rights of persons belonging to national minorities
should be taken seriously not only as an intellectual duel, but ultimately for ensuring
the effectiveness of the approach in achieving the aim itself.
An argument frequently heard against the rights of national minorities is that the
groups included are supposedly narrowly defined and end up being unduly privileged
Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol 30/1, 4 10, 2012.
 Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), Printed in the Netherlands.    3

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