Celebrating Twenty-Five Years Advocating for Unrepresented Nations and Peoples
UNPO founders in front of the Peace Palace in The Hague in 1991
The implementation of the United Nations Charter is one of the main challenges faced by the international community. While in theory the wording of the treaty lays the foundations of a progressive international system based on the rule of law and human rights, in practice the systemic and blatant disregard for the fundamental rights of peoples across the world continue to threaten world peace. In stark contrast with the Charter’s provisions, many of its very signatories have over the years been intensifying their policies of oppression, forced cultural assimilation and economic exploitation, putting at risk the fate of nations and peoples with a distinct ethnicity, language or religion living within their borders.
Against this backdrop, twenty-five years ago today, delegates of 15 unrepresented nations and peoples gathered at the Peace Palace in The Hague to launch a ground-breaking political experiment. On 11 February 1991, the Covenant of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization was signed, aiming 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 on the basis of self-determination, democracy and mutual tolerance – the core principles of the newly founded organisation. UNPO thus took on the challenge to counter the lack of adequate representation at the international level, serving as the voice of unrepresented communities at existing international organisations in their relations with other States, but also as a bridge between communities facing similar struggles. Since 1991, UNPO has worked with more than 90 nations and peoples from all continents, including indigenous peoples, minorities and unrecognised or occupied territories. Some of the organisation’s early days’ members now sit at the United Nations as independent States, while many others have seen their human rights or self-governance improve.
UNPO's first mission to Rwanda, September-December 1994
On a sadder note, despite many significant achievements, the struggles of many unrepresented communities continue to go unnoticed. The troubled situation in the Middle East, as well as other recent events and political changes all around the world have put some communities in greater danger than they were a few years ago. Increasing injustice, slow-paced global development and many complex and painful conflicts make UNPO’s mission - to be a platform for unrepresented nations and peoples and to promote their human rights and self-determination through non-violent means - more important than ever. Additionally, most people see countries as homogenous environments, overlooking and simultaneously threatening the incredible cultural, linguistic and religious diversity that exist within the borders of most States. In order to achieve peaceful co-existence of different communities within the realities of today’s world, UNPO draws attention to the concept of self-determination, one of the principles of modern international law.
UNPO Conference on Indigenous Rights at the Brazilian Parliament, November 2014
Enshrined in international treaties, self-determination is a powerful but highly politicised concept by definition, scope and especially application. Above all, it is a principle that evokes opposite sentiments: on the one hand, it legitimises the aspirations of oppressed communities to control their own destinies, allowing them to protect their cultures, homelands, identities and human rights. On the other hand, wrongfully underpinned by the stigma of secessionism, most States and intergovernmental organisations fear that the application of this principle threatens the sovereignty and territorial integrity of existing States. In the past twenty-five years, UNPO has consistently focused efforts to untangle this misconception. While major players in the international community perceive the struggle for self-determination as a source of potential tensions, conflicts and instability, our organisation has sought to enlighten the debate and clarify that, contrary to popular perception, the struggle for self-determination does not necessarily imply the wish to secede from an existing State to create a new one. In fact, the principle simply refers to the right of all peoples to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Thus, the exercise of this right can result in a variety of outcomes, ranging from political independence to full integration within an existing state. Whichever the chosen path, safeguarding the right of every community to decide their own future is precisely what ensures stability: it is the denial of self-determination of peoples, be it through cultural repression, violation of land rights or political marginalisation, that is more likely to cause insecurity and conflict, rather than its implementation.
UNPO XII General Assembly in Brussels, July 2015
From the days of the fall of the Soviet Union and of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - the context in which the organisation was founded - until today’s era of rapid globalisation and internet revolution, UNPO has been working to promote human rights as a global norm, while trying to reach some of the most overlooked areas and communities of the world. Throughout this quarter of a century, UNPO has organised dozens of conferences, advocacy meetings, workshops, missions, trainings, demonstrations and other activities, as well as published thousands of pages of reports, briefing notes, articles, research material and news. Additionally, through its crowdfunding campaigns and larger development projects it has brought hope through vocational trainings and opportunities of empowerment to some of the most disadvantaged communities in the world.
Building upon its 25 years of experience in this field, UNPO will continue to work to make the voices of unrepresented communities heard, starting once again by its founding principles: democracy, self-determination, human rights, non-violence, tolerance and environmental protection.
VilaWeb, a Catalan news website, also published an article on the occasion of UNPO's 25th anniversary.