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Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, 1996

Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, 1996


The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights was adopted during the World Conference on Linguistic Rights in 1996. It was an initiative of the Translations and Linguistic Rights Commission of the International PEN Club and the CIEMEN (Centre Internacional Escarr. per a les Minories étniques i les Nacions) with the moral and technical support of UNESCO.

The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights is a fruit of a long and complex process of reflection which began in September 1994 when the promoting bodies (the International PEN Club's Translations and Linguistic Rights Committee and the Escarré International Centre for Ethnic Minorities and Nations) ordered it to be written by a team of experts from various fields and working spheres. Forty experts from various countries participated in the elaboration of the first twelve drafts.

The Declaration considers the collective and individual dimensions of linguistic rights to be inseparable and interdependent because languages are constituted within a community and it is also within the community that persons make individual use of them. Thus the exercise of individual linguistic rights can only be made effective if equal respect is granted to the collective rights of all language communities and groups.

Achieving a successful balance between the linguistic rights of communities, groups and persons who share the same space is vital to harmonious social relations but it is also a matter of extraordinary complexity. Consequently the Declaration focuses on the rights of language communities which are historically established in their own territory in order to set up a scale of references, to be applied in each individual case, of the rights of language groups with different degrees of historicity and self-identification, as well as those of individuals living outside their native community.

The variety of factors that condition the position of languages, the difficult convergence of community, group and individual interests and the necessary interrelation between linguistic rights and other fundamental rights, make it impossible to define equal measures to be applied in all cases. This is the reason why the Declaration, although underlining the unavoidable obligations of public power, is centred around rights and not around obligations or prohibitions; it puts the emphasis on seeking solutions adapted to each case starting from a democratic consensus.

Although the practice of linguistic rights may depend on the available resources, it would be unfair to negate the validity of these rights by claiming a lack of means. For this reason, the Declaration reminds us that to apply rights so universally recognized today such as the right to life, health, work and education it requires considerable financing; it asks for a unified international commitment which would compensate, also in this domain, the deficits and promote the rights of the most disadvantaged people.


Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, 1996

September 2010