INTERNATIONAL LAW: DOCTRINE, PRACTICE, AND THEORY
A. KEY PRECURSORS TO THE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS REGIMES
) Protection of Minorities
Even in early international law, various treaties included provisions requiring states parties to
protect certain minorities within their borders. In the early modern period, these minorities
were often religious rather than ethnic in nature. Examples include Protestants in the West-
phalia treaty system and Christians in treaties between European powers and the Ottoman
Empire in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the League of Nations system
included a number of treaties protecting religious, ethnic, and linguistic minorities in Eur-
ope, particularly those found in regions of Central and Eastern Europe that had been part of
the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to the end of World War I. In the wake of
that conict, the Allied powers redrew many national boundaries but also sought to impose
measures to protect such minorities from discrimination or persecution, and to permit them
to pursue education in their own languages, in their (sometimes new) countries of residence.
The League of Nations system included a dispute resolution procedure, allowing complaints
to be brought to the Council of the League of Nations by wronged minorities. This procedure
sometimes led to referrals of questions of law to the Permanent Court of International Justice
(PCIJ). Important PCIJ decisions on minority rights include the Rights of Minorities in Upper
Silesia (Minority Schools) judgment and the advisory opinion on Minority Schools in Albania.
The League system of minority protection evaporated prior to World War II, but successor
mechanisms exist, including, for example, the High Commissioner on National Minorities
within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE is a
regional intergovernmental organization centred in Europe but with Canada and the United
States among its participating states. The oce of the High Commissioner on National
Minorities was created in to prevent ethnic conict, which has been a major source of
large-scale violence in modern Europe. The mandate of the oce “involves containing and
de-escalating tensions involving national minorities within the OSCE area and alerting the
Organization to risks by providing early warning and early action where a situation has the
potential to turn into conict.” The High Commissioner acts independently of all parties
concerned and does not deal with individual complaints.
Another European intergovernmental organization, known as the Council of Europe, spon-
sored the rst (and so far only) multilateral convention specically focused on the protection of
the rights of national minorities, giving eect to a desire expressed in the s to transform
the political commitments embraced by the OSCE into legal obligations for European states.
As for the general international legal position, the rights of ethnic, religious, and linguistic
minorities are also recognized by the leading international instrument for the protection of
civil and political rights, discussed below. A declaratory text oers additional guidance.
(Germany v Poland), () PCIJ (Ser A) No .
() PCIJ (Ser A/B) No .
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, “Mandate,” online: www.osce.org/hcnm/.
Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, February , UNTS , ETS
No , () ILM , in force February ( states parties).
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, December , UNTS , Can TS No
, () ILM , in force March , art ( states parties).
Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities,
GA Res /, UN Doc A/RES// (), reprinted in UN GAOR, th Sess, Supp No , vol I at
–, UN Doc A// ().