Dec 01, 2002

Self determination and conflict transformation

Conflict prevention and resolution has been one of the main tasks of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, or UNPO, since it’s founding in February 11, 1991. For instance, between 1992 and 2002 UNPO has sent 10 delegations to its member areas such as Abkhazia, Georgia, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Chechenia, Ingushetia, North Osetia, Ogoni, Zanzibar, Hawai, Tibet and South Moluccas in order to investigate and report on members situations or facilitate a peaceful outcome of disputes. UNPO mission reports were often the first, or among the first, in-depth coverage of these situations. Reports were broadly distributed to concerned international sectors and action programs were developed.

However, UNPO's efforts are merely a drop in a vast ocean. According to present estimates, there are almost 6,500 nations, peoples, minorities and indigenous peoples in the world. Of that, less that 200 are represented in the United Nations. The remaining unrepresented nations and peoples live within the borders of the present nations-states, which they then form a voluntary or involuntary part of. These unrepresented nations and peoples who are struggling to achieve their basic rights have no protection, whatsoever, neither do they have an international forum in which they can voice their grievances, desires and aspirations, and further they have no access to the United Nations. Other intergovernmental organizations are denied or severely limited for them.

Many nation-states whose main task it is to protect, promote and represent the interests of its population often do not fulfill their functions. Consequently, many of these unrepresented nations and peoples do not recognize these oppressive state-governments as their legitimate representatives. Very often state-governments have no qualms using any means available to suppress and control them. Standard mechanisms within the UN and OSCE system for preventing conflicts are generally not available for the unrepresented nations and peoples. Furthermore, the lack of political will among state-governments to act preventively when issues of national sovereignty are involved limits the action that the UN might like to take. National sovereignty has been a formidable barrier in the protection of the unrepresented nations and peoples throughout the world. The double applied in the protection of unrepresented nations and peoples in similar settings and circumstances threw the world into Contradictions.

As a result, many unrepresented nations and peoples in the world have lost faith in the international community's ability to be fair and just in solving their problems. Most of them feel deceived, abandoned and betrayed by the international community. In their hopelessness, frustration and desperation many unrepresented nations and peoples are gradually abandoning the path of nonviolence in order to draw the attention of the international community, because the international community only reacts when conflict breaks out.

As a result, after the Cold War, bloody conflicts broke out in many parts of the world. According to some experts the character of the conflicts has changed from inter to intra-state conflicts as a result of tremendous increase in claims of self-determinations. Some peace researchers estimate that intra-state conflict represents 90 per cent of all violent conflicts in the world today.

The Uighurs, who are facing political oppression, cultural assimilation, economic exploitation, racial discrimination, ecological destruction, arbitrary arrest, torture and executions at the hand of the Chinese Communist rulers are no exception. For more than 50 years the Uighurs have continuously appealed to the international community asking them to seriously consider their grievances, desires and demands. But the international community paid no head. As a result, many young Uighurs, in their hopelessness, frustration and desperation have gradually abandoned the path of non-violence in order to draw the attention of the internal community.

This shows that the current understanding and interpretation and application of the principle of self- determination have proven inadequate in preventing both major and minor conflicts. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop a just and equitable international understanding, interpretation and application of the principle of self-determination. Otherwise, in the future the international community will be confronted with more intra-state conflicts that will certainly escalate into violence.

The right to self-determination is a fundamental right enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant of Human Rights and the Covenant of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. These instruments state that "all peoples have a right to self-determination" and that "by virtue of that right they are free to determine, without external interference, their political status to pursue their economic, social and cultural development." The United Nations World Conference on Human Rights, which took place in Vienna in June 1993, affirmed that the right to self- determination is a part of international law on human rights. At the same time, it is recognized that compliance with the right of self-determination is a fundamental condition for the enjoyment of other human rights and fundamental freedoms, be they civil, political, economic, social or cultural.

Despite these seemingly clearly agreed upon definitions, there is no agreement on the content, applicability and implementation of the right to self-determination. Political debates at the United Nations and elsewhere, legal discussions and the practices of states reflect deep divisions of views. These range from the notion, on the one hand, that the right to self-determination is a right of recognized states to act without external intervention; on the other hand, that each ethnic, linguistic or religious group has the right to secede from the state of which it forms a part of. The prevailing view since World War II has been that only colonized peoples and territories had the right to self-determination. Today, nations and peoples in the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, Eritera, and Slovakia have successfully claimed self-determination. None of these are cases of de-colonization in the classical sense, but the international community has not yet come to grips with the need to re-examine the concept and content of self-determination.

Notwithstanding the theoretical importance of the right to self-determination within the substantive body of international law, consideration and enforcement of this right by individual states and the international community is extremely rare. The reticence of individual states to vindicate the right within their respective borders is not surprising. Few, if any, state governments will voluntarily relinquish authority to a competing political entity. Without a competent, recognizable International organization able to intervene, these conflicts invariably become violent.

Many governments are further concerned that flexibility with respect to the needs of one group within their borders will encourage demands for special treatment by others including separatist movements, threatening the longevity of their rule. Self-determination should be understood or re-cast in its broad sense. Self-determination is a process rather than an outcome. At its core, self-determination means simply that human beings, individually or as groups, should be in control of their own destinies and that the institutions of governments should be devised accordingly. Self-determination has its roots in and continues to be inseparably linked to the core concept of democracy, understanding this to mean the right to choose one's rulers and to participation in decision-making. Self-determination should not be viewed as a one-time choice, but as an ongoing process, which ensures peoples participation in decision-making and control over their own destiny, culture and natural resources.

If global peace and stability are the true goals of the international community, its approach to the tensions between existing states and their constituent peoples is ill conceived. By ignoring or suppressing movements for self-determination, in varying forms, will not occasion their disappearance. As the ongoing bloody conflicts in Caucasia have shown, centuries of intermittent occupation, efforts at assimilation and even deportation of disfavored ethnic groups, as in the case of the Crimean Tatars, Chechens and Ingush, will not extinguish a peoples desire to preserve their cultural and national identity.

The only long-term solution to conflicts between states and the peoples and nations they rule- legitimately or illegitimately, is one premised on the free expression of the particular group's need to determine its own destiny.

Therefore, I would like to repeat some of the recommendations made by UNPO in the recent past for thought:
- The experts should elaborate a working paper on the content, applicability and implementation of the right to self-determination as a contribution to international peace, stability and security. This working paper should also lead to re-conceptualization of the right to self-determination in a broad sense, and reflect how treaty bodies and other UN mechanisms can effectively implement this right with a view towards conflict prevention;
- The UN should pro-actively engage itself in the prevention and resolution of conflicts involving states and peoples or minority communities. In doing so the United Nations should respect and promote the implementation of self-determination in the broad sense;
- The United Nations should create an effective mechanism within the United Nations to assist in the resolution of self-determination claims and conflicts;
- The intergovernmental and Regional Organizations should deal with the issue of self-determination and take into account the work of the United Nations on the rights of indigenous peoples and include them in their activities.
- The Non-governmental Organizations should promote the right to self-determination; support those peoples struggling for its implementation and raise specific cases before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and other appropriate fora.