Sep 09, 2001

World Conference Against Racism: UNPO Participation

A number of UNPO members, including Tibet, Eastern Turkestan, Ogoni and West Papua, sent their own delegations to attend the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR), held in Durban, South Africa, from 27 August - 8 September 2001.

A UNPO delegation attended the WCAR in Durban, South Africa to realize at least two prime objectives: to represent its members who normally enjoy very little opportunity to inform the international community of the extent of their constant victimization through severe forms of discrimination, exclusion and marginalization in all walks of life. Working closely with the Tibetan delegation, which was there in strength, UNPO utilized opportunities to inform governments, international organizations, NGOs, academics and civil society attending the conference about the plight of our members.
At the same time discussions were monitored through attendance of NGO Forum deliberations, including briefings, workshops and preparatory meetings, as well as receptions organized by UNPO members. One such example was a Caucus on Occupied Nations organized by the Tibet delegation.

A concise UNPO Racism Report, prepared by the Secretariat in The Hague, was distributed at the WCAR. Apart from citing UNPO's views on racism and discrimination in general, the report provides a survey of how UNPO members feel about their own situation; how they are continuously affected by state and majority-sponsored acts of racism and discrimination. The report cited the denial of equality of peoples (UN Charter Art. 1 (2), both at intra-state and international level, as the major form of racism imposed on UNPO members. Reference is made to the situation of the Uighurs, the Tibetans, Cabinda, Mapuche, and Nagalim, to mention a few. Furthermore, the report noted that in many cases UNPO members experience a deliberately enforced progressive erosion of the degree of self- determination they currently enjoy, brought about by, for example, acts of non-compliance with existing agreements and cease-fires, language discrimination, forced assimilation and the gradual destruction of their culture. In most cases the responsible state encounters resistance, which in turn, resulted in the use of force and/or other measures that violate UNPO members' fundamental rights. Ironically, constructive dialogue and negotiations between the respective government and the UNPO member could have avoided this. Acting on behalf of its members, the UNPO has strived to strengthen this, but has been continuously hampered by governments that refuse dialogue, or are unwilling to allow for any meaningful degree of self-government.

Against this background, it is evident that the exclusion of the whole issue of self-determination from the main agenda of the WCAR came as a serious setback to UNPO efforts and those of its members present. Furthermore, the little opportunity left to emphasize this critical issue was unfortunately clouded by serious differences and resistance emerging on reparations for colonialism and slavery, and the Israeli-Palestine conflict. These issues overshadowed the intended spirit of reconciliation at the WCAR, and left its participants with an even greater challenge to build peaceful co-existence in a world soon to be plagued by international terrorism.
In a sense UNPO and its members left the Conference even more disillusioned, angered by an outcome which once again did injustice to the most marginalized: indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and occupied nations. Apparently UN Charter Article 1 (2) recognizing the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples does not apply to indigenous peoples, denying this fundamental right to more than 400 million people, including almost all peoples who are being represented by the UNPO. Self-interests of certain UN state parties constitute the main reason for this. Do these parties realize that their conduct contradicts the rulings of the UN Human Rights Committee that has clearly and repeatedly recognized indigenous peoples as peoples in international law? Is it perhaps fear of secession by UNPO members that plays a dominant role in this? Are these governments aware of the fact that during de-colonization many of the current UNPO members and the peoples they represent were denied the right to determine their own future?

Much more could be said about this pressing issue, the most important aspect being the fact that an unjust environment is created, susceptible to violence, resistance and reprisal. Ironically, certain states were more concerned by loosing face than by thinking seriously about the dire state of affairs of marginalized groups who struggle for political, socio-economic, cultural and religious survival. The Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, for example, stated that if indigenous peoples are not afforded adequate access to lands and resources, they face economic, political and cultural extinction. We fail to see the connection with any threat of secession. Rather the UNPO sees an urgent call for just and equitable treatment within the states in which our members now live as vulnerable and threatened groups or nations.

After a decade of attempts to overcome almost insurmountable obstacles out there in the battlefields of international politics, the UNPO has no illusions on the importance of constructive dialogue and negotiations with friends and enemies alike, even if we may have sympathy with those who, out of desperation, do not see any purpose whatsoever in continuing negotiations for their eventual extinction. We believe that many small victories will bring about a big victory, and welcome, for example, governments in Latin America's commitment to from now on practice a policy of diversity in education and culture. We will consult with our member, Mapuche, on how this has strengthened their cultural self-determination in Chile.

On the whole, the WCAR may have produced a half-baked final declaration emphasizing a step back for most, if not all UNPO members, but nevertheless we have made many friends out there, and we have met many sympathizers at the WCAR who echo our own final declaration: "Estamos unidos como uno solo con ustedes en su lucha que continua"

The UNPO and its members wish to express our gratitude to the UN, and the host, South Africa, for organizing and facilitating the WCAR.