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A National Minority Denied

The framework convention for the protection of national minorities (FCPNM) is a treaty produced by the Council of Europe a pan European body that extends to 47 member states.

The Council of Europe

The aims of the COE are:
- to protect human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law;
- to promote awareness and encourage the development of Europe's cultural identity and diversity
- to find common solutions to the challenges facing European society: such as discrimination against minorities, xenophobia, intolerance, bioethics and cloning, terrorism, trafficking in human beings, organised crime and corruption, cybercrime, violence against children;
- to consolidate democratic stability in Europe by backing political, legislative and constitutional reform.

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of 1994 entered into force on 1 February 1998. Thirty-nine States are currently Party1 to it including the UK Although not the only instrument to be developed within the Council of Europe relevant to the protection of national minorities, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is certainly the most comprehensive document in this area. Indeed, it is the first ever legally binding multilateral instrument devoted to the protection of national minorities in general. The Framework Convention sets out principles to be respected as well as goals to be achieved by the Contracting Parties, in order to ensure the protection of persons belonging to national minorities, whilst fully respecting the principles of territorial integrity and political independence of States. The principles contained in the Framework Convention have to be implemented through national legislation and appropriate governmental policies. It is also envisaged that these provisions can be implemented through bilateral and multilateral treaties. The main operative part of the Framework Convention is section II, containing specific principles on a wide range of issues, inter alia:

- non-discrimination;
- promotion of effective equality;
- promotion of the conditions regarding the preservation and development of the culture and preservation of religion, language and traditions;
- freedoms of assembly, association, expression, thought, conscience and religion;
- access to and use of media;
- linguistic freedoms:
- use of the minority language in private and in public as well as its use before administrative authorities;
- use of one's own name;
- display of information of a private nature;
- topographical names in the minority language;
- education:
- learning of and instruction in the minority language;
- freedom to set up educational institutions;
- transfrontier contacts;
- international and transfrontier co-operation;
- participation in economic, cultural and social life;
- participation in public life;
- prohibition of forced assimilation.

So what do the Cornish have to do with all this you might be asking? Well lets examine the opinion of various organisations including the COE.

First we could start with our very own Council for Racial Equality in Cornwall who has this to say: http://www.crec.org.uk/index.php/Main/Constitution

'Cornwall' - Cornwall retains a unique and distinct constitutional relationship with the Crown, based on the Duchy of Cornwall and the Stannaries. For other purposes it is recognised as a Celtic region or nation and enjoys its own national flag.

Then we could take a look at the Commision for Racial Equality’s shadow report (30th March 2007) produced to advise the government on the FCPNM: http://www.kernowtgg.co.uk/shadowreport.pdf

Meaning of national minorities under the Convention - The position of the CRE is that the government’s approach to the meaning of national minorities only by reference to racial groups that have been recognised as such in case law is too narrow and creates arbitrary distinctions and is not reflective of the purpose of the Convention.

The CRE is concerned that the government was very late in producing its second report to the Council of Europe, which was due on 1 May 2004 but was not received until 22 February 2007, almost three years late. The government has provided no explanation in its report as to why the report has been delayed. As a result of the delay beyond two years from the date the second report was due, we note that the Committee of Ministers authorized the Advisory Committee to commence monitoring fulfillment of the UK government’s obligations under the Convention in September 2006.4 The long delay in reporting in our view inhibits the aim of periodic reporting and responding to recommendations of the Advisory Committee. We are also concerned it may demonstrate a lack of political will to fully implement the Convention in practice and promote the importance of the Convention in British society.

The position of the CRE is therefore that in relation to the meaning of “national minorities” the government should take a broader approach than only using the criteria of a racial group that has been recognised in case law and should reconsider its position on groups such as the Cornish and Muslims.

Finally what do the Council of Europe themselves have to say?: http://www.coe.int/T/E/human_rights/minorities/

The United Kingdom maintains its position that the scope of the Framework Convention is confined to the protection of “racial groups” as defined in the Race Relations Act 1976, which in turn is a matter for the Courts to interpret. The Advisory Committee welcomes the fact that the “racial group” criterion, as interpreted by the Courts, has allowed a wide range of groups to benefit from protection under the Framework Convention, including minority ethnic communities, the Scots, Irish and Welsh, Sikhs, Jews, Gypsies and Irish Travellers. On its own, however, the “racial group” criterion may result in exclusions from the Framework Convention’s scope of application of groups that have legitimate claims to be covered.

The Advisory Committee notes that the Government of the United Kingdom has not accepted the representations made by Cornish organisations and individuals concerning the possible inclusion of the Cornish under the Framework Convention’s scope of application. These representations, which began as the submission of information concerning the Celtic identity and the specific history, language and culture of the Cornish, have gained in magnitude over the years, culminating most recently in an application for judicial review concerning the Government’s non-inclusion of the Cornish in the second State Report. The Advisory Committee considers that the “racial group” criterion, which requires a Court to determine liability in a claim of racial discrimination, appears to be too rigid to accommodate the situation of the Cornish, whose “separate identity and distinctiveness” is recognised by the Government of the United Kingdom in their second State Report.

The Advisory Committee encourages the Government to consider this question also in relation to the Cornish, whose claims for recognition under the Framework Convention deserve further examination, in consultation with the persons concerned.

The Advisory Committee also notes that Cornish organisations and individuals have criticised the decision not to include a separate tick-box for Cornish in the census test question, which, in their view, prevents the Government from obtaining accurate data about the strength of Cornish identity.

While recognising the limitations in terms of space and capacity to process information in the context of a census, the authorities are encouraged to identify ways of improving the scope and accuracy of data concerning non-visible minority ethnic communities, if necessary, by means other than a census, and to consider the proposals of other groups, including the Cornish.

All seems fairly clear so one has to ask why the government is so reluctant to recognise the Cornish under the FCPNM? Both the governments own CRE and the Council of Europe suggest that this could be done but so far - silence – Why?

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