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Rights, responsibilities, and/or duties

It is the role of the state to develop policy, legal, and institutional frameworks within which the legitimate claims of all may be voiced, negotiated, and peacefully resolved. As noted, the HCNM has consistently argued that minorities also have duties as part of a balanced ‘two-way’ approach which requires everyone to contribute to the building of a peaceful integrated society. The HCNM approach to integration is reflected in the title of the Guidelines which significantly refers to integration ofsocieties, which implies that members of all communities should take part in the process of integration, as distinct from the expectation that minorities will integrate into a majority-dominated society. The emphasis on the responsibilities of all, including minorities, coincides to some extent with the ‘rights and responsibility’ discourse that has developed in Western European states such as the UK in the last decade. This dictates that minorities not only have rights, but also have a responsibility to play an active role in society and to integrate. This coincidence of terminology is unfortunate in that their approach to integration is often conceived as more of a one-way process (in contrast to the HCNM’s) whereby it is only the minorities who are expected to do the integrating.

Politically, the requirement for minorities to contribute to the integration process on an equal basis with others can be regarded as a (probably desirable from a cohesion perspective) part of their ‘social contract’ with the state. However, HCNM recommendations and guidelines are rooted in international law and under international human rights law individual duties (that pertain to all individuals not just members of minorities) are limited to requirements to respect the rule of law and the rights of others. There is no duty to contribute to integration processes per se. Debate in elaborating the Guidelines centred on whether minorities should be singled out as having a ‘responsibility’ or (stronger) ‘duty’ to integrate and on what exactly those responsibilities should entail.

Many experts consulted argued that minorities do not have a duty to integrate per se, but should be encouraged to do so through the creation of genuine opportunities for inclusion and participation. Indeed, persuasive arguments can be made to minorities for why they should make the most of opportunities to participate and contribute (not least that it benefits them). Thus, inclusion and interaction should be encouraged and the benefits of a shared national/community life promoted, but individuals cannot be required to ‘opt in’. It was also generally agreed that insofar as any responsibilities are invoked in terms of ‘active citizenship’ or participation, these should be shared responsibilities and apply across the board and not just to certain (minority) groups. Some also suggested that wider society has a responsibility to make minorities and new migrants feel welcome. HCNM recommendations should therefore acknowledge the need for, and aim to promote, a common sense of belonging and responsibility amongst different communities within a state. Approaches that bring together, and assign responsibilities to, a range of public and private actors (including, e.g., employers and unions in an employment context) were considered to be potentially useful in developing a shared sense of responsibility. The final text reflects this approach of shared responsibility without singling out minorities, but is stronger in its wording ascribing duties (rather than responsibilities) to all members of society. The explanatory text, while reiterating that duties of members of society should be shared by all, asserts that: ‘Minorities should participate in all aspects of government in their country of residence and their involvement should not be restricted to areas that specifically concern them.’5 This goes well beyond what the international standards require and is to a certain extent an inversion of the minority’s right to public participation into a duty. It is true that in


some states there is a duty to vote that is imposed on all eligible voters, however no particular groups in this regard are singled out in such policies. This debate on rights and duties reflects the challenges of endeavouring to respond to prevalent national or regional discourses regarding ‘integration’, while staying true to the spirit and letter of relevant international standards. It also demonstrates that the development of soft law does not always follow a steadily more progressive trajectory.

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