Since the Congress in Lugano (1987), PEN Català has been gaining prominence within PEN International’s working committee, formerly known as the Translations and Programme Committee. This Committee was, in fact, born in Barcelona during the Assembly of 1978 but, spent the early years of its existence somewhat latent, lacking in dynamism and real activity, and struggling to get off the ground. In Lugano, the Catalan PEN centre put forth a proposal to celebrate an extraordinary three-day meeting in Catalonia in order to calmly debate the function and the scope of said Committee. The meeting was held in Andorra in December of 1988 and the result was the strengthening of a Committee that from then onwards was called the Translations and Linguistic Rights Committee. The strategy of periodically holding the Committee’s meetings in the Catalan territories (Gandia, 1990 and Mallorca, 1993) produced differing results, but above all the prospect of working to redefine and put together an intellectual project in favour of languages that find themselves in a situation like Catalan.
Lluís Jou presented an important document in Gandia, “The Rights of Minority Languages and their legal protection”, a declaration on “Linguistic Rights” was written and the Committee’s work regarding allegations of “Linguistic Rights’” violations was defined with a commitment to transform it into an organisation that serves in its defence. As a logical result of this new role for the Catalan centre, three things happened:
- The Committee makes the decision to change its name and stay as the Linguistic Rights and Translations Committee, definitively abandoning the burden of having a ‘programme’ function, where there was too much ambiguity.
- The Catalan PEN centre obtained the presidency, firstly with Isidor Cònsul and later on with Carles Torner.
- The challenge of organising a Global Conference in Barcelona on the issue of Linguistic rights was raised in 1996.
With the collaboration of CIEMEN, the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia and the participation of seventy PEN centres and NGOs from across the world, the conference approved a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (UDLR) which was fully accepted by PEN International. It was also accepted by several governments around the world and is currently pending approval by UNESCO. In order to watch over this future process, a follow-up committee of the Universal Declaration was created to overcome the obstacles on the path to achieving the stated objectives.
One of the Translations and Linguistic Rights Committee’s achievements is having taken the issue of Linguistic Rights right to the very heart of PEN International which has, in turn, taken it on as one of its most important roles to date.
The Dalai Lama’s letter in support of the UDLR:
“I have had the honour of receiving a copy of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights and I would like to support it. I believe that all communities of speakers have the right to preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage. Encouraging and promoting these values will help with extending linguistic and cultural diversity in our world.
6th December 1996″.