UNPO Celebrates its 27th Year as Champion for the Unrepresented
27 years ago, a group of representatives from 15 nations and peoples gathered in the Peace Palace in The Hague, with a single aim: to create a platform for the unrepresented. The group was formed of delegates representing indigenous peoples, minorities, occupied nations and other disenfranchised peoples. With a commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy and non-violence in the pursuit of universal human rights and peace for their peoples, the delegation founded the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO).
Nearly three decades later, UNPO has grown to a membership organisation of over 40 members and our work is as crucial as ever.
The rights to self-determination, freedom of expression and freedom of speech are continually denied to minority and unrepresented peoples throughout the world. The UNPO principle of self-determination is increasingly relevant today, as peaceful self-determination movements are violently repressed, even within the EU, as demonstrated by the situation in Catalonia. The heavy handed response by the Spanish state to Catalonia’s independence referendum, a democratic and peaceful process, sent shockwaves throughout the international community even though most actors including the European Union hesitated to take a strong stand in fear of Spain’s disapproval.
As information technology and social media continue to grow, so does the use of both to promote human rights and to violate them. Technology is used by political dissidents and protestors to unite them and spread their message; whilst being used by oppressive regimes and states to control and target those who speak out against them. The persecution and detention of human rights defenders is a priority focus of UNPO and continues to be a prevalent issue. Although a continuous uphill battle, there are success stories such as the recent release of Oromo opposition leader, Dr Merera Gudina, after a year imprisonment. The work of UNPO helps to raise the profile of these cases and enables the international pressure for their release.
Integral to the work of UNPO is to promote the ignored and silenced voices of our members to be heard. UNPO strives to create a platform for minorities and indigenous peoples by continuing to engage with the various UN bodies and with MEPs in the European Parliament, in order to raise awareness and dialogue. The launch of both the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America Friendship Group [November 2017] and the Uyghur Friendship Group [October 2017] with the European Parliament are positive results of this collaborative work between UNPO and MEPs.
UNPO’s commitment to raising the voices of minorities extends to those who are often silenced most: women and girls. Gender equality has been at the forefront of media coverage and debate at the turn of 2017/2018 and this topic was discussed at length in the UNPO General Assembly meeting in Edinburgh [July 2017]. UNPO Members made strong commitments to advance gender equality within both their individual work and their representative body.
In today’s world, the threat to unrepresented nations and peoples comes not only from states, but evermore from trans-national corporations and the promotion of trade and business over human rights. The livelihoods of countless indigenous peoples are threatened with continual land grabs, intimidation and pollution of the environment vital to their existence. Global trade deals further create obstacles for minorities to overcome, as demonstrated by the potential negative impact of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project on Gilgit-Baltistan, Sindh and Balochistan.
As each year passes from the formation of UNPO, the challenges we face continue to develop and change. With the continual growth of our organisation, we rise to meet these challenges on behalf of those we represent, driven by our founding principles: democracy, human rights, self-determination, non-violence, tolerance and environmental protection. Our Members continue to struggle for the respect of their rights and as their struggles continue, UNPO will strive to ensure their causes are visible to the international community.