May 29, 2007


This is a country that has failed to implement any of the recommendations of a six-year-old report to a U.N. committee dealing with key human rights issues; a country that stands almost alone in refusing to ratify international agreements on the same topic. Are we talking about the United States? Or Israel? Or perhaps Iran, or Syria, or Zimbabwe?

No, it's France. At least I think this is what's going on -- the only reports that I've been able to find are a 5/22/2007 story by David Hicks on the Eurolang site ("France fails to implement UN recommendations on 'regional' languages"), which seems to be the same as an article dated 5/23/2007 on the site of EBLUL (the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages); and a 5/16/2007 story in Le Journal du Pays Basque ("Un rapport accablant sur la politique linguistique en France remis à l’ONU").

From the article by Hicks:

EBLUL France are at the UN in Geneva this week calling for the implementation of its 2001 Report on ‘regional’ language rights in France to the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Six years later and France has failed to implement any of the Report, despite UN recommendations to do so.

One of the specific recommendations in 2001 was to ratify the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and Charter on Regional or Minority languages (ECRML). According to Hicks, France is now one of three (out of 47) affected countries who have not done so: the other two are Turkey and the Principality of Andorra.

Turkey's festering issues with linguistic minorities are well known. A few months ago, Bill Poser noted that "Turkey continues suppression of Kurdish", and asked "Do they really think that no one will notice, or do they just not care about joining the European Union?" But maybe this stuff matters less to the Europeans than he thinks, or at least to the French. In the case of the Principality of Andorra, the crucial factor seems to be that "Andorra is a co-principality with the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell, Spain as co-princes", as the wikipedia article explains.

You can read more about this in the 2007 report of EBLUL-France. I don't know, really, how reasonable EBLUL-France's demands are, or how accurately they describe the French government's (lack of) response. Their side of the story certainly makes sense, but I haven't been able to find any response from the French authorities, or any discussion of the issues by third parties. As far as I can tell from a series of web searches, the report in Le Journal du Pays Basque is the only French-language news item on the EBLUL-France report that has appeared anywhere in the world. On behalf of the citoyens of la France, the journalistes have apparently decided that this is a non-story.

[Update -- Geraint Jennings (Maître-Pêtre des Pages Jèrriaises) writes:

One of the reasons why the EBLUL report hasn't made waves of tsunami proportions is that the constitutional prohibition on recognition of regional languages of France is well known. All the associations and activists, civil servants and politicians have been through the arguments so many times over the years. Out of the three frontrunners in the presidential election, basically Royal and Bayrou were in favour of ratifying the European Charter (by means of constitutional amendment if necessary), and Sarkozy against (while sitting on the fence by sounding positive about regional languages but denying the need for legislation or constitutional change).

The story is rumbling on in local media during the ongoing parliamentary elections, with local candidates being asked to declare the extent of their support or otherwise for the regional languages of the areas they're standing in. Two weekends ago, I myself was part of a delegation from Jersey invited by Norman-language associations to contribute to a debate on the language question with candidates standing in mainland Normandy (we were there really to be able to provide our experience of running a official state-funded language office).

Have you seen the website Worth a look for the ongoing candidate signatories on the regional languages question.


Posted by Mark Liberman at May 29, 2007 07:53 AM