Aug 04, 2020

UNPO General Assembly: "Self-Determination Critical to Sustainable Development"

On 3 August 2020, the XV General Assembly of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization adopted a resolution on the implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goal 16. The resolution highlights positive instances within the past six years where self-determination issues have been freely put to a vote. In this context, the text urges the international community to recognize that such forward-thinking actions present the best opportunity for the full realization of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including in particular SDG Goal 16 to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies and to support more such efforts in the future.


The UNPO promotes the importance of self-determination as a fundamental human right. Often misunderstood, the right to self-determination is at the heart of true implementation of  all other human rights, as well as the creation of an effective international world order capable of responding to issues of global concern. When we look at the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16, which requires all member states of the United Nations “to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”, UNPO sees the promotion of the right to self-determination as a fundamental step without which SDG16 cannot be achieved.

In this framework, the UNPO is pleased that a handful of peoples around the world have been able to freely and peacefully hold a referendum on their political status, such as the case of Scotland, New Caledonia and Bougainville, a former UNPO member. In other circumstances, however, agreements on the self-determination of unrepresented nations and peoples or attempts to have a vote on such self-determination have been consistently frustrated. Even worse, in some cases, legitimate, nonviolent self-determination movements have been criminalized.

Reflecting on the positive instances within the past six years, the XV General Assembly of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) adopted a resolution on 2 August 2020 in which it congratulates the governments of the United States of America, United Kingdom, France and Papua New Guinea for facilitating such expressions of the desires of their constituent nations and peoples, as well as the the people of the District of Columbia for their successful vote on Statehood at the US House of Representatives. UNPO now hopes that the United States of America enables the people of Guam, and in particular the indigenous Chamorro people, to hold a plebiscite that would enable them to express their desires as it relates to self-determination.

While it commends positive steps, the resolution condemns episodes in which states have used their criminal justice system against the non-violent self-determination movement, such as the case in Spain with Catalonia. It also sheds light on the cases where peace accords have not been fully implemented, such as the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord and the framework agreement of the Indo-Naga issue. The resolution also makes reference to the situation in Ethiopia, calling the government in Addis Ababa to re-engage in dialogue and negotiation with its national communities, particularly with regards to the embattled Oromo people.

Finally, the UNPO General Assembly extends its solidarity to the Sahrawi people and urges the United Nations, African Union and their member states to support the people of Western Sahara and the fulfillment of the promise of a referendum and recognition of the decolonization of Western Sahara.

Photo: Voters in the Pacific island chain of Bougainville flocked to the polls on November 23 at the start of a long-awaited referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea Newsroom NZ/Getty