About UNPO

Mar 24, 2008

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is a foundation and an international platform of solidarity established to promote the voices of unrepresented peoples worldwide and protect their fundamental rights. 

The peoples represented within the UNPO membership are all united by one shared condition: they are denied equal representation in the institutions of national or international governance. As a consequence, their opportunity to participate on the national or international stage is limited, and they struggle to fully realize their rights to civil and political participation and to control their economic, social and cultural development. In many cases, they are subject to the worst forms of violence and repression.

The UNPO was formed on 11 February 1991 in The Hague, Netherlands and its members consist of Nations and Peoples from indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognised or occupied territories. 

To support and coordinate the UNPO Membership, a Stichting (Dutch Foundation) was established. The Stichting UNPO is led by a Secretary General who advises and works with the UNPO membership, via the elected Presidency, to develop and implement the organisation’s strategies. 

The UNPO Vision is a world where all people's voices are heard and respected. Fundamental rights, such as the freedom to determine political status and pursue economic, social, and cultural development are universally respected. Solidarity, cooperation, and friendship among peoples are the foundation of universal peace and sustainable development.  We strive for a diverse, inclusive and just future where all peoples can fulfill their potential in a just and equitable society.

The UNPO Mission is to create a platform of solidarity for unrepresented peoples and to promote the establishment of dialogues with the international community working together for a peaceful, democratic, equitable and sustainable world.


UNPO Distinctive Role

The UNPO‘s distinctive role relies on its membership. The Peoples and Nations represented within the UNPO membership are all united by one shared condition: their lack of equal representation in both national and international governance institutions. 

The UNPO stands out from all other international human rights organizations as it is a unique global platform of solidarity where members can safely raise their voices, be empowered, and connect with other Nations and Peoples engaged in a nonviolent struggle against oppression. 

It is also the sole international membership organisation working to develop understanding of and respect for the collective rights of peoples, including their right of political participation and self determination as a cornerstone of peaceful and inclusive societies. The UNPO secretariat brings change through: Solidarity, Campaigns, Capacity building, Research and Advocacy. 


UNPO Organizational pillars 

Accordingly, the UNPO General Assembly’s objective is to:

  • Share: exchange experiences, visions and develop solidarity among unrepresented peoples worldwide
  • Support: work together and support each other towards the promotion of democracy and human rights.

The UNPO Secretary General is the appointed representative of the UNPO Membership and acts as the director of UNPO secretariat employed by the Sthichting.

The UNPO Advisory Board are independent experts that provide support to the UNPO Membership and to the Secretary General, bringing external and high-level expertise to the organisation in order to achieve its Mission. 

The UNPO Secretariat’s objective is to support the UNPO membership as a collective via:

  • Coordinate: facilitate members exchange  
  • Empower: Providing capacity training to members 
  • Defend: Advocate for members rights
  • Celebrate: Promoting the rich diversity of the membership 
  • Unite: Engaging with like-minded partners, organisations and international actors

How the UNPO is funded

The UNPO members contribute annually to the creation and operation of UNPO foundations, Stichting Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (a Dutch Public Benefit Organization, "Algemeen nut beogende instelling (ANBI)") and UNPO USA (a US 501(c)(3) charitable organization). The UNPO has also an official branch in Belgium (with the offices in Brussels) and a Representative Office in Switzerland (Geneva). 

In addition to membership fees, under the guidance of the presidency and in accordance with the principles set out in the Covenant, the organization also receives funding for specific projects through partnerships and collaborations with other foundations, organizations, and donors that provide grants to civil society organizations.

According the Dutch law and for tranparency purposes, our annual finantial books and activities are public and can be found in our website here.


Our History

UNPO was conceived of in the late 1980s by exiled leaders of people living under communist oppression, Linnart Mäll of the Congress of Estonia, Erkin Alptekin of the Uyghur people, and Lodi Gyari of Tibet, together with Michael Van Walt van Praag, the international law advisor of the 14th Dalai Lama. A key goal was to replicate the powerful message of nonviolence and interethnic tolerance in the face of oppression exhibited by the Tibetan people and championed by the 14th Dalai Lama and to provide a forum in which others are encouraged and supported to adopt similar approaches.

The UNPO was formally founded in February 1991 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, by representatives of movements belonging to Australian Aboriginals, Armenia, Crimean Tatars, Cordillera, East Turkestan, Estonia, Georgia, the Greek Minority in Albania, Kurdistan, Latvia, Palau, Tibet, Taiwan, Tatarstan and West Papua. They were joined just a few months later by representatives from Abkhazia, Aceh, Assyria, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, South Moluccas, Bougainville, Chechnya, Kosova, Zanzibar, and the Mairi and Iraqi Turkmen people.

Since then, UNPO’s membership has grown steadily from its original founders, with membership from more than 45 peoples worldwide, comprising over 300 million people lacking true representation in domestic or international forums. Since its founding, many members have achieved their movement's goals and found a formal seat for their people at the national or international level and have, thus, left the organization as their peoples are no longer considered to be "unrepresented". More history of the organization, including charts of its past and current membership, can be found on its Wikipedia page.

Through exchange and collaboration, the UNPO was founded to provide a space for representatives of unrepresented peoples to exchange ideas, share experiences, and collaborate on common issues. Additionally, a  Dutch foundation was created in order to support the membership through research, capacity building and campaigns. 

Since its foundation, the UNPO secretariat continues day after day, to creatively respond to the evolving geopolitical landscape and contribute to the general efforts to protect unrepresented peoples  fundamental rights and freedoms worldwide.

UNPO has been awarded the 1991 Tolerance Award, 1992 Social Innovation Award (The Body Shop), 1998 Petra Kelly Peace Award (Heinrich Böll Foundation) and was nominated for the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and 1994 Right to Livelihood Award.

UNPO Pillars, Principles and Values

The General Assembly, composed of delegations of UNPO members, serves as the deliberative body of the UNPO. It meets every eighteen months and provides a forum for members to share experiences, successes and issues, and to reaffirm their commitments to the principles of the UNPO Covenant to which each member must subscribe:

  • The equal right of all peoples to self-determination;
  • Adherence to internationally-accepted human rights standards;
  • Adherence to the principles of democratic pluralism and rejection of intolerance;
  • Promotion of non-violence and the rejection of terrorism and violence as instruments of policy;
  • Protection of the natural environment.

It is also a venue for considering specific topics of concern and for the adoption of Member-specific resolutions that help to set standards related to the rights of unrepresented peoples.

The General Assembly discusses the achievements and shortcomings in the organisation's performance since the previous Assembly and agrees on strategies and membership issues. In addition, it the General Assembly elects the Presidency Members and the organisation's President and two Vice-Presidents. It also elects the General Secretary and the Treasurer for a mandate of three years.

UNPO's Presidency is composed of eight Members, in addition to a President and two Vice-Presidents. The Presidency supervises the implementation of the overall policy of the organisation during its term, as mandated by the Assembly, and is tasked with monitoring the compliance of UNPO members (current and prospective) with the Covenant of the UNPO. Certain members of the Presidency sit on boards of the UNPO Foundations, to ensure that the work of the Foundations is in line with their statutory purpose and goals and overall strategy.

UNPO Presidency Members

The current Presidency board of UNPO is as follows :

  • President : Dr Edna Adan Ismail, Somaliland: Dr. Edna Adan Ismail, is a prominent nurse-midwife, hospital founder, and tireless advocate for healthcare reform. She was also the first female Foreign Minister of Somaliland from 2003 to 2006, as she previously served as Somaliland’s Minister of Family Welfare and Social Development. Among her many engagements, she served as an advisor to several councils in the World Health Organization and the United Nations. She has exhibited unwavering courage in challenging cultural, religious, and medical norms surrounding women’s health in East Africa. She is celebrated for establishing both Edna Adan University and Edna Adan Hospital which have been dramatically reducing maternal mortality rates in Somaliland. In 2023, she has been awarded the Templeton Prize and the Global of Life medal.
  • Vice-President and Treasurer: Elizenda Paluzie, Catalonia: Elisenda Paluzie is a Catalan economist and academic. She has actively participated in the movement for the independence of Catalonia. From 2018 to 2022, she was the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a civil society organization seeking the right of self-determination of the Catalan people. She holds a MA in International and Development Economics from Yale University and a PhD in Economics from the University of Barcelona. She is a Professor of Economics at the University of Barcelona and served as the Dean of its Faculty of Economics and Business in the period 2009-2017. She has been a pre and post-doctoral researcher at the London School of Economics and at CERAS-ENPC in Paris and a Visiting Scholar at Kyoto University.
  • Vice-President : Dr Rubina Greenwood, Sindh: Dr. Rubina Greenwood is a human rights activist with 20+ years of experience on issues involving human rights violation in Pakistan and Sindh. Dr Greenwood is chairperson of World Sindhi Congress (WSC), a human rights education and advocacy organization raising attention on the violence against Sindhi Hindus. She is also the founder of the International Sindhi Women Organization (ISWO) in the UK and US, which is mainly focused on women’s rights issues in Sindh. ISWO is one of the leading representative for Sindhi women’s rights outside of Sindh.
  • Regular Members : Paul Strauss, District of Columbia; Dolkun Isa, Uyghur; Tina Muna Barnes, Guam; Rigzin Genkhang, Tibet; Ali Abdelzadeh, Iranian Kurdistan; Tammy Breedt, Afrikaner; Kim Puthenay, Khmer Krom; Abdirahman Mohamed Mahdi, Ogaden.

UNPO Advisory Board

Composed of independent experts and academics renowned for their knowledge, experience, and commitment to strengthening the human rights of unrepresented peoples worldwide, the advisory board will play a vital role in guiding the UNPO’s strategic direction and enhancing its impact on global human rights issues. The Advisory Board will maintain regular and proactive engagement with UNPO members and the secretariat, serving as a vital resource and support system for the organization. The confirmed members of the advisory board are:

  • Dr. Michael van Walt van Praag is a distinguished international lawyer and professor renowned for his expertise in the field of intra-state conflict resolution. During his tenure as UNPO Secretary-General (1991-1998), he played a pivotal role in the organization's growth and success, implementing impactful strategies to promote human rights and the right to self-determination of marginalized and unrepresented populations.
  • Dr. Fiona McConnel is a Professor of Political Geography at the University of Oxford and a Tutorial Fellow in Geography at St Catherine's College, Oxford. Dr. McConnel has been working with UNPO since 2012. She played a key role in creating the Unrepresented Diplomats Training Program, which seeks to empower marginalized communities through practical training in diplomacy. She also helped establish the highly successful Model UNPO, engaging young people in addressing the challenges faced by unrepresented peoples worldwide and co-authored two of the UNPO's 'Compromised Space' reports.

UNPO Campaigns Advisory Board

Sustainable Empowerment Campaign

  • Dr. Liam Saddington is a political and environmental geographer whose research focuses on the geopolitical implications of climate change, particularly concerning small island states and rising sea levels. His research on the changing role of the UK in the South Pacific sheds light on historical narratives of environmental degradation and population displacement, crucial for informing contemporary climate discourse. Dr. Saddington's involvement in the development of the Model UNPO together with Professor Fiona McConnell, brings a role-playing debating exercise on human rights, conflict resolution, and environmental justice, inside primary and secondary schools in the UK . He is also the academic advisor for the UNPO Youth Network and part of the preparatory team for the study sessions organized in collaboration with the Council of Europe. His expertise in the intersections of geopolitics and environmental justice brings a unique perspective to UNPO's advocacy efforts.
  • Alexandra Gavilano is an environmental scientist and climate justice decolonisation and democracy activist. With a focus on environmental protection, democratic decision-making, and personal and collective adaptation, Gavilano brings a wealth of experience in grassroots activism and advocacy to UNPO. As a climate and food justice activist, Gavilano has co-launched initiatives and associations that address social and ecological challenges. Her focus lies on system change for environmental protection, strengthening of democratic decision-making, and personal and collective deep adaptation.

UNPO Secretariat & Foundations

The UNPO members contribute annually to the creation and operation of UNPO foundations, Stichting Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (a Dutch Public Benefit Organization, "Algemeen nut beogende instelling (ANBI)") and UNPO USA (a US 501(c)(3) charitable organization). These Foundations operate independently of the individual members of the UNPO, under the supervision of their boards and directed by their governing statutes.

These Foundations employ the staff listed on this website and serve two purposes: to provide secretarial services to the functioning of the UNPO General Assembly and Presidency, helping to Build the network; and to work for general improvements in respect for the rights of unrepresented peoples worldwide, through Education and Campaigns.

Thus, in addition to the secretarial duties, the Foundations operate in part as think tanks conducting research on and providing guidance to unrepresented peoples and explaining them to youth and the general public, and in part as human rights advocates, campaigning for policy and practice improvements needed within movements for unrepresented peoples and within domestic, regional and international governance institutions to fully safeguard and realize the rights of unrepresented peoples.