Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (1996), the first sentence of which appears above, lays the foundation for its central and most contentious claim: language communities, not just individuals, have rights.
Once this was agreed by all the parties involved in the drafting process, Carles Torner notes in this interview, ‘then everything fell into place’, but, equally, ‘we all knew that by acknowledging collective rights…we were condemning the Declaration‘, ensuring it would be unacceptable to many state authorities and almost impossible to make a text of international law.
This may be frustrating, Torner adds, but, given the inspiration it continues to afford marginalized communities around the world, the Declaration remains not just a landmark document in the history of human rights but a ‘utopian vision into what could be international law’. After all, ‘the issue is not whether or not you reach a utopia. It is all about the process, the pilgrimage you are making toward articulating it.’
Carles Torner, a leading Catalan writer and human rights activist, is currently Executive Director of PEN International. In this extended interview, which addresses a number of themes central to this site and the associated book (see Second Proposition), he discusses what it is to be a poet and an activist, the background to his involvement with organisations like PEN and UNESCO, the part he played in the formulation of the Universal Declaration in the 1990s, and the role he continues to play in its future. You can read the full interview here. It was conducted as part of the Writers and Free Expression project.
See also Torner’s essay ‘The Mother Tongue of Babel‘ (21 November 2019) from which the following quotation comes:
June 1995, Gandia, in the País Valencià. What shall we call it, this collective subject? Is it the nation? The people? The Kurdish, Aymara, Mayan, Inuit people…? The Mapuche, Quechua, Tibetan, Maori nation? We arrive at a consensus, make it public here in Gandia, and decide what the first article of our declaration will be: we will call it linguistic community.