Feb 10, 2021

Sustainable & Peaceful Societies

The UNPO has observed that State actors are increasingly resorting to concepts of 'national unity' to justify repressive actions against minorities, indigenous populations and self-determination movements. This includes reference to constitutional provisions which place national unity on equal or greater footing to human rights. Such justifications are increasingly being used not only by the States enacting repressive measures, but also by other States in their justifications for not taking strong action against that repression. The UNPO calls on all States to fully respect, in both their national and foreign affairs, the rights to equal self-determination of peoples and the responsibility of all States to promote inclusion and respect diversity.

Over the 30 years of the UNPO’s history, we have observed that true peace and stability can only be achieved through inclusive societies that respect ethnic and religious diversity and equal rights to self-determination of all peoples. The member States of the United Nations have recognized this and have each committed to promoting inclusion and diversity through international human rights treaties and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, commitments which they are working to achieve by 2030. Sadly, today it is becoming increasingly mainstream for governments to justify repression, forced assimilation and other violations of basic human rights on the basis of false notions of “national unity”.

These practices are at the heart of the campaign by the Communist Party of China to suppress and forcibly assimilate the Uyghur, Southern Mongolian and Tibetan people and its belligerence towards Taiwan. Calls for national unity over human rights are heard whenever the Islamic Republic of Iran decides to systematically target the minorities living in Iran, such as the Kurdish, Ahwazi, Baluch, Assyrian and Azeri people.

And these practices are not limited to the world’s most repressive regimes. Over the past few years, false notions of national unity have, for example, been used by the Government of Spain as justification for its campaign against the self-determination efforts in Catalonia and the courts in France as a means to justify the de-registration of NGOs working for the rights of the people of Savoy.

We have also witnessed liberal democratic states tying themselves in knots trying to avoid recognizing the scale of repression of minorities and indigenous communities, which would force them to cancel or amend economic trade and military cooperation agreements with strategic powers, such as China and Pakistan. Too often, these justifications fall prey to repeating the national unity justifications made by those repressive states or undermining the power and universality of international human rights treaties by falsely claiming that repression is justified by cultural differences.

The UNPO strongly objects to any State action that does not recognize the primacy and universality of human rights and the critical need for respect for diversity and inclusion in any society.

The UNPO observes that there is no right to national unity that is equal to or greater than fundamental human rights. The United Nations has clearly affirmed these principles and observed that the fundamental aim of the modern international community is to promote and encourage respect for all peoples without distinction to race, sex, language, religion or other characteristics. State sovereignty does not justify or allow national unity to be used as a basis to repress the rights of minorities and indigenous communities. Nor does simply denying the existence of these communities, as states as diverse as Greece, Namibia, and Laos do.

To the contrary, states have obligations to ensure the rights of all of their peoples, including minorities and indigenous peoples. All countries in the world have agreed that human rights are universal values as well as binding rules governing the relationship between citizens and the state. International laws, not generic, ill-defined cultural norms dictate treatment of all citizens. The interests of the majority disguised as national unity efforts are not a legitimate aim of any national government.

The UNPO also observes that genuine national unity, and meaningful security and peace, can only exist when national governments promote diverse and inclusive societies and respect human rights. Engagement and access to state institutions does, of course, require meaningful engagement by both majority and minority communities. But the UNPO has also seen in its 30 years of existence, based on the extensive experience of its members, that inclusive policies which respect diversity and ensure meaningful self-determination are the best form of conflict prevention.

Underlying structural issues related to diversity or self-determination do not disappear when ignored, or worse are sacrificed at the alter of false notions of national unity. Instead, promoting the rights of peoples to participate in their development will remain the best path towards peaceful and just societies as enshrined in the international legal order. And it is the responsibility of all countries to ensure that this is respected everywhere.

Since 2018, the UNPO has been supporting efforts to develop and promote the right to self-determination as a tool of conflict prevention requiring the full and effective participation of the people in conflict spaces, and more generally to highlight that true sustainable development can only be achieved through inclusive societies that respect the equal rights to self-determination of all peoples. We have also been campaigning to create space within increasingly restrictive national and international systems for minority and indigenous community participation, and demanding that the global powers refrain from being complicit in the repression of minorities and indigenous communities by publicly justifying the actions of repressive States or rewarding these actions through economic and trade agreements.

The UNPO believes that these efforts are critical to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and calls on all States to fully respect, in both their national and foreign affairs, the rights to equal self-determination of peoples and the responsibility of all States to promote inclusion and respect diversity.


Photo: iStock photos