February 11, 2017

UNPO Celebrates 26th Anniversary

Photo taken during UNPO's 1995 General Assembly

On 11 February 2017, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) celebrates the 26th anniversary of its foundation. This event gives the organisation an occasion to reflect on the developments that the world and UNPO Members have experienced over the past year. Even though the current context is in many respects very challenging, UNPO is looking forward to another year of small steps forward and great achievements for the rights of the Nations and Peoples it represents.

On 11 February 1991, the Covenant of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization was signed by representatives of 15 Nations and Peoples at the Peace Palace in The Hague. The delegates aimed to establish an entity that would effectively represent not only them, but any unrepresented Nation or People committed to pursue a diplomatic and non-violent path to protect and promote their human and cultural rights. Since 1991, UNPO has worked with more than 90 Nations and Peoples from all continents, including indigenous peoples, minorities and unrecognised or occupied territories.

The past year, the twenty-sixth for UNPO, has seen the world face tremendous changes, be they political, social, economical, or even environmental. The rise of nationalisms, the slow disengagement of some States from multilateral policy-making and terrorism have led to more crackdowns on the rights of UNPO Members, who have once again suffered from countless injustices. Iraqi Turkmen, Assyrians and Yazidis remain under threat due to ISIS’s operations and the various parallel conflicts on Iraqi soil. In the name of “national security”, peoples such as the Uyghurs in China or the Khmer Krom in Vietnam experience increased surveillance, restriction of their fundamental liberties and violent repression on a daily basis.

UNPO Members have had to adapt to this difficult context, while continuing to live and to struggle for the respect of their rights. In doing so, they remained driven by the principles which brought them together within UNPO: democracy, human rights, self-determination, nonviolence, tolerance, and environmental protection.

The upcoming year does not promise to be simpler, as the most recent political changes make us foresee. Forthcoming electoral deadlines – in France, Iran, and in many other countries such as Germany or the Netherlands – are far from being reassuring, as fear of anything different seems to be the main element driving the choice of too many voters. Isolationist nationalism is on the rise, especially among American and European politicians. This ideology usually leaves no space for minority, regional and indigenous voices to express themselves and to fully enjoy their rights and is strongly opposed to the rights of many people who are fleeing conflict zones and situations of oppression to seek a better life in Europe and North America.

Some glimpses of hope though, as UNPO’s twenty-sixth year of existence has also borne good news and improvements for the situation of unrepresented Nations and Peoples across the world. On 18 May 2016, world-renowned antislavery activist Biram Dah Abeid and his fellow human rights defender Brahim Ould Bilal were released from prison by the Mauritanian authorities, after 20 months spent behind bars, also thanks to international pressure and many campaigns that UNPO and IRA-Mauritania, our member, have carried on together. On 17 December 2016, the Donostia Protocol to Ensure Language Rights, protecting and promoting regional and minority languages in Europe, was released and made public after two years of work. A few days ago [6 February 2017], the Catalan peacefully demonstrated in the streets of Barcelona, demanding a referendum in order to democratically exercise their right to self-determination and opposing the Spanish State’s approach to deny and ridicule this right.

In challenging times, it is up to us all to continue to promote the values of tolerance and peace, while remaining firm and demanding the respect of everyone’s fundamental rights. Throughout these 26 years, UNPO and its Members have demonstrated their resilience, perseverance and capacity to adapt to a changing global environment. Our organisation remains strongly committed to raising their voices.