Sep 19, 2017

UNPO Side-Event Discusses Barriers and Difficulties Faced by Minority Representatives at the UN

On 13 September 2017, the Society for Threatened Peoples, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and Tibet Justice Center organised a side-event to the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Under the title “Minorities’ Participation at the UN” representatives of different unrepresented nations gave account of their first-hand experience as human rights activists at the UN and in particular of the difficulties that they themselves, as well as their colleagues, faced in accessing UN fora or taking the floor.

The audience was welcomed to the event by Mr Hanno Schedler (Society for Threatened Peoples), host of the event. Dr Fiona McConnell (University of Oxford) explained to the audience the role of the ‘Unrepresented Diplomats’ Project and the different activities that it entailed. While consulting diplomats and representatives of minorities and indigenous peoples, the organisers saw a pattern of increasing difficulties in accessing UN fora, ranging from accreditation problems, to people being expelled with no reason and no official explanation. Other reported episodes include intimidation of representatives, reprisals against family members or coalitions of States interrupting representatives during their speeches through illegitimate points of order.

Ms Iona Liddell (Tibet Justice Center) presented to the audience both the ‘Training Pack’ for unrepresented diplomats, a useful instrument to organize and facilitate trainings on advocacy skills, as well as the UNPO-TJC-Oxford report on State-bullying tactics, which will contain a compilation of some of the incidents described above, as well as some recommendations for the different actors involved.

In her speech, Ms Mona Silavi ( Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation) focused on the lack of space for ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples in the UN system. She reported about her difficulties in entering the UN premises, as well as raising the issue of the Ahwazi people in Iran. Due to the way the UN is structures, groups that are not recognized as UN Member States rarely get the chance to speak, while Member States are able to use their unlimited speaking time to extensively argue against cases briefly introduced by minority representatives. 

The next speaker, Mr Dolkun Isa ( World Uyghur Congress) also addressed the issue of state-bullying and in particular referred to the oppression of the Uyghur people and other minorities by China. Emphasising China’s powerful role in the UN system, Mr Isa expressed disappointment for the country’s ability to influence and even silence UN Member States as well as UN bodies, in view of the country’s growing political and economic power. He especially reported about his own experience: stopped from speaking at international conferences and even recently expelled from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that serves as proof of China’s influence. He underlined how countries such as his are undermining the founding principles of the UN as an organisation open for all to voice their concerns and address human rights issues. The UN’s shift to economic concerns instead of humanitarian issues could pose a threat not only the most vulnerable populations but eventually to all of humanity.

Lastly, Ms Juweira Ali (Ogaden People’s Rights Organisation) brought attention to the dangerous position human rights activists find themselves in as representatives of minority communities. She gave account of harassments and threats by national authorities to stop activists from reporting human rights violations at fora such as the Human Rights Council, even on UN premises.

During the discussion, a representative of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) additionally outlined that reprisals and intimidations at the UN have become more frequent and more severe and pointed to research projects on the same topic from other human rights organisations.


You may download the training pack for Unrepresented Diplomats from our website!