Sep 29, 2006

"When Having a Problem You Cannot Solve - Enlarge the Context" - UNPO GS Speech

The Hague, 29 September 2006 - "Too frequently the right to self-determination is viewed naively as a rigid choice between all or nothing, between recognising an independent state or total denial of a cultural and political identity. Our work should be addressed to the broadest grey zone between the two extremes," says Marino Busdachin at International Legal Symposium.

Symposium: "The Right to Self-determination in International Law",  29 September – 1 October 2006, The Hague

Opening Session: Speech by Marino Busdachin, UNPO General Secretary

The subject of this conference seems to be especially important for the international community. It is fulfilling a major gap in the last years on analysing and debating the major question of the right to self-determination and its place in the context of the wider purposes of International Law.

Major conferences and studies in the 1990s found undoubtedly that the right to self-determination is conferred on peoples by international law itself and not by states. And, following, that its exercise must be given content in an International Law system of guarantees.

Nevertheless this argument is poorly considered in practice and the principles not implemented.

Territorial integrity and self-determination, two major principles enshrined in the UN Charter and as in documents such as the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, are  still and constantly in conflict. 

In the post-9/11 environment, the situation has deteriorated.

Of the over 60 armed conflicts within states active around the world a large part of them have, directly or indirectly, the issue of the denial of the right to self-determination as a key to the divergence.

Too many peoples and communities are denied basic cultural, civil and political rights. Cultural repression, the denial of the rights of peoples, political oppression and marginalization, and lack of democracy are causes of major insecurity.

Too frequently the right to self-determination is viewed naively as a rigid choice between all or nothing, between recognising an independent state or total denial of a cultural and political identity.

Our work should be addressed to the broadest grey zone between the two extremes.

Jean Monnet, the driving force behind the creation of the European Union never ceased to remark that “when you have a problem you cannot solve, enlarge the context.”

This is exactly what happened in the process of rebuilding Europe after the World War II, more than fifty years ago.

In the present world and in the current international context, deeply and heavily marked by interdependency between states or association of states, the right to self-determination, as with the principle of sovereignty and border sanctity, needs to be put under discussion, reconsidered and differently evaluated. 

The world’s nearly 200 countries contain some 5,000 ethnic groups. Two thirds have substantial minorities and indigenous peoples; ethnic and religious groups; as well as occupied countries or oppressed peoples. Often at least 10% of the population of countries consist of these groups and oppressed peoples.  

In a global world, territorial intrastate conflicts increasingly challenge international peace, security, and the promotion of democracy.

It deprives millions of peoples of their basic human rights.

In this new world the principle of, and the right to, self-determination acquires a new dimension within the interactive corpus of democracy, development and peace.

The Human rights exegesis has to adapt to these contemporary challenges, e.g. by considering an adjusted approach to the concept of self-determination in a broader sense, i.e. as an “ongoing process of choice in order to achieve, in different specific situations, guarantees of cultural security, form of self-governance and autonomy, economic self-reliance, effective participation at the international level, lands rights and the ability to care for the natural environment, spiritual freedom and the various forms that ensure the free expression and protection of collective identity in dignity as a fundamental people’s rights.” (1)

It is an absolute necessity to reaffirm that it is not the right to self-determination that ignites and fuels conflicts, but on the contrary, that it is the very denial of this right, which is firmly enshrined in international law and human rights law, which increases the global turmoil and the general disastrous mess. 

For over 20 years the UN system has produced a serious study and reliable debate on self-determination. It has become evident that the work is conceptually inadequate to address these new forms of self-determination. 

We need to act, in order to produce a reformulation or broadening of the idea that the process of self-determination would and could contribute to conflict prevention and resolution.

If not the right to self- determination will remain just a trap. As it has been for too many years and in too many dire situations.

In this way, the officially adopted Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples, and I underline that it has never become an universally accepted document, should start a process and should become an important segment of an international system of guarantees of international law.

This happened with the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which is working on crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes operating on the key on the principle of complementarity and having international jurisdiction. It was established after the UN Diplomatic Conference in Rome in 1998 and is ratified today by over 100 countries around the world as an International Treaty.

According to UN figures, there are more than 300 million indigenous people in the world, disseminated among some 6.000 indigenous communities. They are generally discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens, live in the poorest conditions, outcast from decent education, devoid of political rights on matters that affects them. 

In more appropriate terms, they are simply denied to be themselves.

The quest for justice and equal rights is growing, and growing yet again.

There has been some progress in international standard-setting and monitoring of respect for minority and indigenous rights, but substantially, much work remains to be done.

The equal guarantee to enjoy all human rights represents a key element in international human rights law, but still details and specifics of substance are missing or clearly insufficient. And this is as true for individual rights as group rights.

An urgent call for the establishment of judicial procedures for matching the standards is needed.

At present time, many peoples live under alien domination or domestic oppression. Stateless nations, ethnic groups split between different States and a very long list of violent ethnic conflicts ravages the world and crowd international agendas.

Atrocities and abuses by States or majorities against indigenous peoples and minorities have become a banality, ordinary news on the media.

Self-determination must be seen and exercised in a manner consistent with other principles of International Law and with the perspective of balancing different interests, and finalizing disputes in a peaceful settlement and with major respect for the human rights of others.  

Is this a compromise? Maybe! But I would like to welcome to any compromise that will allow the right of self-determination to be sorted out of the quagmire in which it has been kept for so long. 

Intergovernmental Organizations, the United Nations must seriously consider to open the door to the voiceless, the oppressed, the less fortunate.

UN bodies such the Trusteeship Council or Fourth Committee could be granted new roles in order to address the appeals by indigenous peoples and minorities.

Why not a seat with observer status at the UN General Assembly?

Grievances of indigenous peoples must be voiced and listened to in the major International Fora, - and the question of self-determination be enlisted in the International Agenda.

The changes arising from the process of globalization and interdependence could make it possible, for the first time after centuries. The disappearance of the absolute division between international politics and national politics could lead the indigenous peoples and minorities to become part in the State’s foreign policies.

This is our challenge. Today, it will be a challenge for modern States tomorrow.

Without prejudice and with an open mind, a compromise can be reached.

Time may not be important.

What is important, - is the direction taken.

Even an inch per day, but in the right direction.    

Symposium organised by:

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation

Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights


(1) Conclusion, Conference on “The Implementation of the right to Self-Determination as a Contribution to Conflict Prevention”, Barcelona, Nov. 1998