Oct 01, 2006

Self-determination Symposium Concludes

From 29 Sept. until 01 Oct. 2006 experts, activists and practitioners joined forces in the Symposium on “the Right to Self-Determination in International Law”, aimed at discussing issues imperative to indigenous peoples and unrecognised nations and groups worldwide.

Symposium on "The Right to Self-Determination and International Law"

The Hague, the Netherlands


Press Release


From 29 September until 01 October 2006, The Hague played host to a unique gathering of experts, activist, and practitioners, as the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) and Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights (HIHR) joined forces and executed a highly productive and dynamic Symposium on “The Right to Self-Determination in International Law.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s recent adoption of the U.N. Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and its pending debate in the UN General Assembly, marks the present as a crucial juncture in the international community’s position on oppressed peoples everywhere. Acknowledging the consequent importance of a substantive debate on the issue of self-determination, UN Special Rapporteur Prof. Rodolfo Stavenhagen partook extensively in proceedings, noting with lament that the issue of self-determination “has only recently become part of the debate on human rights,” and the importance of developing a clearer understanding of the many “Peoples” of our world. H.E. Judge Abdul G. Koroma of the International Court of Justice offered his perspective on the relevant international law, as well as the prospects for a future in which the issue of self-determination features more prominently on the international agenda.

The Symposium was however truly unique for its successful efforts to balance the contributions of legal experts and academics, against the experiences and thoughts of leading practitioners of self-determination. Mr. Johan Mikkel Sara, Vice-President, Sámi Parliament, Mr. Aqqaluk Lynge, President, Inuit Circumpolar Council (Greenland) and Mr. Jake Swamp, Chief of the Mohawk Nation, all gave voice to the disparity that exists between what States fear and what Indigenous Peoples aspire, emphasising that their aspirations most commonly concern issues relating to the exploitation of resources and lack of meaningful consultation.

Mr. Marino Busdachin, General Secretary UNPO, crystallised this sentiment in his own speech to the Symposium, stressing that “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,” and highlighting the need to address viable alternatives to these extremes.

In active participation at the Symposium was living proof of this reality, as a large delegation from the indigenous Khmer Krom of the Mekong Delta were in attendance. The Khmer Krom are at present under Vietnamese rule, and engaged in a struggle to preserve their very identity against concerted efforts of forcible assimilation and cultural persecution, focusing in particular on Khmer Krom Buddhist temples and Monks. Peaceful resistance within Vietnam has met with major Human Rights Violations, drawing increased international attention to the urgent need to expand the scope of international justice through a truly universal application of the right to self-determination.

The crucial work of this Symposium has already begun taking its next steps, closing with the unanimous approval of a Declaration, drafted by a number of the participants, including Special Rapporteur Rodolfo Stavenhagen, aiming to outline practical reforms, imperative to indigenous peoples and unrecognised nations and groups worldwide, needed to carry the conclusions of the Symposium forward.


Click here for: Symposium Programme & Declaration

Click here for: Symposium in Pictures