Compromised Spaces

Mar 28, 2019

Unrepresented peoples are under threat and persecuted worldwide. At the United Nations states seek to exclude their voices and resort to bullying tactics. Across the world self-determination movements are repressed and activists and their loved ones are subjected to reprisals. We are campaigning for a robust response to suppression of self-determination movements and reprisals against their activists, as well as for reform of the international system to allow unrepresented peoples to participate and to be better protected when they do.

The Problem

Unrepresented peoples worldwide face enormous challenges when advocating at international forums. 

Under an increasingly reduced space for civil society worldwide, the democratic nature of multi-lateral international bodies is at stake. Particularly concerning is how restrictive the United Nations (UN) mechanisms have become for unrepresented nations and peoples, who do not have a formal seat at the UN table. 

Advocates for these peoples often face harassment and intimidation from some UN Member-states, which resort to a range of “blocking” tactics to silence their voice. Among the many obstacles for effective participation of NGOs and ‘unpresented diplomats’ at the UN is the politicization of ECOSOC registration: the practice of keeping large numbers of NGOs that engage the UN within the grey area of being officially unregistered. 

A particularly deceptive tactic used by some member states has been to establish and/or support government-affiliated NGOs (GONGOs). Once registered with ECOSOC, these GONGOs can operate within UN NGO forums and spaces, and counter human rights accounts with government propaganda, all while in the guise of being genuine, independent bodies.

In this context, a recurrent tactic employed by states is the misuse of labels attributed to ‘unrepresented diplomats’. Some states brand defenders from unrepresented nations as ‘separatists’, while other defenders are falsely labeled as ‘terrorists’. There is a pattern of state bullying and repression tactics against activists engaged in promoting the right to self-determination of their communities, including through criminalization of their activities, arbitrary arrests, and torture and cruel and inhuman treatment.

What we are doing about it

Over the past 3 years we have been working with our partners at the University of Oxford and the Tibet Justice Center to document instances of reprisals taken out against unrepresented peoples. We released a report with our findings in July 2019.

With the release of the report we have begun supporting unrepresented nations and peoples to file their applications for ECOSOC status, to advocate for their acceptance and to submit complaints through the appropriate UN procedures when reprisals have been taken out. 

We are continuing to document and raise awareness of reprisals both at the UN level and within other international or regional bodies that are facing similar problems, aiming to build international support to condemn and respond to these individual cases.

In addition we are documenting attacks and intimidation by authoritarian states against activists engaging with international fora located in Europe and the U.S.A., asking governments to provide greater protection to them when they do, and we are responding to targeted efforts to suppress self-determination movements through awareness raising activities and complaints to U.N. Special Procedures.