Declaration by the Committee of Ministers
on human rights in culturally diverse societies

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 1 July 2009
at the 1062nd meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe,

Noting the existence of culturally diverse societies in Europe and underlining that diversity is a source of enrichment;

Recalling the principle of equal dignity of all human beings from which derives the principle of equal enjoyment of human rights by all members of society;

Reaffirming that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated;

Being convinced that the existing international human rights standards provide a solid common basis for social cohesion and the peaceful and harmonious development of societies;

Recalling that pluralism and social cohesion are essential elements for our democratic societies; they are built on the genuine recognition of and respect for diversity and fair treatment for everybody;

Recalling that diversity calls for tolerance and non discrimination, and that it cannot be invoked to justify human rights infringements;

Recognising the importance of intercultural dialogue and taking into account the Council of Europe’s White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue (May 2008);

Underlining that human rights are an essential basis for policies and action of public authorities as well as a common value basis for relations between individuals and between groups in socially inclusive societies;

Underlining that living in a democratic society entails rights and duties for all its members;

Stresses the obligation for member states, as the ultimate guarantors of the principle of pluralism, to secure everyone’s effective enjoyment of human rights, especially those enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the respect of this obligation is of particular importance towards those who are more vulnerable to discrimination;

Emphasises that, in order to reconcile respect for different identities with social cohesion and avoid isolation and alienation of certain groups, it is indispensable to regard respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as a common basis for all: no cultural, religious or other practices or traditions can be invoked to prevent any individual from exercising his or her basic rights or from participating actively in society, nor shall anyone’s rights be unduly restricted on account of their religious or cultural practices;

Calls on opinion leaders, including political leaders, to speak and act resolutely in such a way as to foster a climate of respect through dialogue based on a common understanding of universally recognised human rights, and calls on member states to adopt practical measures to that effect, such as promoting education as a key to dialogue and mutual understanding, and supporting social inclusion, notably with respect to participation in the decision-making process;

Emphasises that the preservation and promotion of a democratic society based on respect for diversity requires resolute action against all forms of discrimination. Racial and xenophobic violence is a particular affront to human dignity, and requires special vigilance and a vigorous reaction from public authorities;

Recalls that the prohibition of discrimination may be accompanied by appropriate measures, such as through action plans, support programmes or any other government action, to ensure the realisation of the human rights of all;

Recalls that freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion are among the foundations of democratic societies and are instrumental for the pluralism which characterises them. These rights are closely interrelated and equally fundamental in a democratic society;

Draws particular attention to the fact that freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential conditions for the progress of society and for the development of every human being, including in the context of culturally diverse societies. Freedom of expression applies not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population. At the same time, the exercise of freedom of expression is not without any duties and responsibilities, and if it involves in particular incitement to hatred and violence, it will not be protected;

Underlines that when freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion are at stake, states must strive to strike a fair balance between them, while ensuring that any restriction be prescribed by law, necessary in a democratic society and proportionate to a legitimate aim.


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