On Wednesday Aureli Argemí, President of CIEMEN and member of the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages (EBLUL), took part in the ninth session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. He urged member states to make the most of the fact that the year 2008 has been proclaimed the International Year of Languages and "to draw up a document protecting the human right of every individual to speak his or her own language".
In his speech, Argemí emphasized that linguistic diversity needed to be protected within the framework of human rights and not within that of cultural rights. "Languages do not have rights; but individuals do have linguistic rights. It is for this reason that we commonly distinguish between languages and cultures".
The CIEMEN President called on member states to begin preparing a United Nations Declaration of Linguistic Rights, which would complement the current Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ensure that the document is approved "as soon as possible".
In response to Argemí's speech, several delegates who have demonstrated their interest in the topic on previous occasions, headed by the ambassador for Mexico, announced that they would consider proposals to incorporate the ideas discussed in the speech in a future resolution.
The journey towards a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights has already been a long one. In 1996, 61 NGOs, 41 International PEN centres and 40 specialists from around the world approved a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (DUDL) in Barcelona, which represented a real milestone for the hundreds of organizations and public bodies that are engaged in the fight to preserve linguistic diversity. Last June, the organizations originally behind the DUDL held an event in Geneva to coincide with a session of the UN Human Rights Council and presented a draft resolution on linguistic rights. On Wednesday, Aureli Argemí, as a member of EBLUL, which has consultative status in ECOSOC, finally managed to bring the spirit of DUDL to an official UN event.
Image: Aureli Argemí during his speech in Geneva.