On Friday, coinciding with the European Day of Languages, the President of CIEMEN, Aureli Argemí, outlined the course of action his organization has taken so far towards the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights by the UN. According to Argemí, two major milestones have now been achieved: an official document has been registered with the UN and a statement has been read before the General Assembly. Both successes have put the right of every individual to speak his or her own language firmly on the international agenda.
Throughout 2008, declared the International Year of Languages by the UN, CIEMEN has been lobbying the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in an effort to place linguistic rights on the agenda of the states that are currently members of the Council. Argemí said that, although there was "little resistance" during the initial phase of contacting HRC delegates, "few states consider the matter of linguistic rights to be a priority". Asked if some states had been reluctant to support the initiative, Argemí said that "there is generally a positive reaction to the proposal", but few states "dare to take the lead, because there is a perceived lack of consensus" on the issue.
Argemí also wanted to make it clear that the lobbying process "is not about linguistic policies", but about getting linguistic rights recognized as human rights, which he considers to be "the first step towards ensuring respect for linguistic diversity".
Although the CIEMEN President recognized that "the process is proving to be slower than expected", he said he was "moderately optimistic" about the future. The next objectives are to rally support among other NGOs and to "continue lobbying HRC member states". Argemí announced that the UN was planning to hold an International Day of Linguistic Rights next year.
The path towards a Universal Declaration
In early 2008, CIEMEN became aware of the need to take advantage of the fact that the year 2008 had been declared the International Year of Language and promote a discourse of linguistic diversity. CIEMEN is a member of EBLUL (European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages), which has consultative status in ECOSOC, and was therefore able to co-organize an event in Geneva in June to coincide with the Eighth Session of the UN Human Rights Council. The event, entitled "Linguistic Rights to enhance Human Rights", was attended by ambassadors, other representatives of member states, and members of NGOs. A draft resolution was presented in the hope that some states would adopt it and present it at the September session of the HRC.
A series of interviews with ambassadors has been running in parallel to the lobbying process, and the support of a wide range of states including Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Armenia and Nigeria has been secured.
Further progress was made in September, when Aureli Argemí, again representing EBLUL, took part in the plenary session of the HRC. In an oral statement, he called for the Advisory Committee to consider the topic and present a proposal for a Declaration, another necessary step along the path towards the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights to complement the current Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The origins of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights
CIEMEN has always considered the defence of linguistic diversity to be one of its main axes. CIEMEN's work in the early 1990s culminated in 1996 when 61 NGOs, 41 International PEN centres and 40 specialists from around the world came together in Barcelona to approve the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (DUDL). The DUDL was a major milestone in the defence of linguistic diversity, and despite not being linked to the UN, it has been adopted by hundreds of organizations and public institutions around the world.
- The videoclip of the speech is available in Spanish and in English. All the videoclips of the session are available here.
- The text of speech is available in English and in Spanish.
- Nationalia: Aureli Argemí presents the case for a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights in GenevaiProposal for linguistic rights resolution well-received by Human Rights Council ambassadors