UNPO Principles

Sep 20, 2017



Democracy is a form of government by and for the people and is an indispensable complement for self- determination. UNPO and our members are committed to democratic values which form the basis of our work.



What is democracy?

Democracy is a system of political governance whose decision-making power is subject to the controlling influence of citizens who are considered political equals.  A democratic political system is inclusive, participatory, representative, accountable, transparent and responsive to citizens’ aspirations and expectations. Fundamentally, it means a government of, by and for the people.

Democracy is a principle whereby people in a country freely elect representatives who make laws and govern with popular support. A democratic government also implies that the people can change a government if they are dissatisfied with it, which means that power is derived from the consent of the majority and that government acts according to the will of the majority.

The term democracy is derived from two ancient Greek words demos (the people) and kratos (strength); power of the people.

How democracy works

Democracy, and especially liberal democracy, necessarily assumes a sense of shared values in the demos (otherwise political legitimacy will fail). In other words, it assumes that the demos is in fact a unit.

One argument for democracy is that by creating a system where the public can remove administrations, without changing the legal basis for government, democracy reduces political uncertainty and instability, and assures citizens that however much they may disagree with present policies, they will be given a regular chance to change those who are in power, or change policies with which they disagree. This is juxtaposed to a system where political change takes place through violence of the powerful against the weak(er).

Free elections alone are not sufficient for a country to become a true democracy; the culture of the country's political institutions and civil service must also change.

A successful democratic political culture implies that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters, and allow for the peaceful transfer of power. This form of political legitimacy implies that all sides share common fundamental values. Voters must know that the new government will not introduce policies they find totally unacceptable. Shared values, rather than democracy as such, guarantee that.

All forms of government depend on their political legitimacy, that is, their acceptance by the population. Without that, they are little more than a party in a civil war, since their decisions and policies will be resisted, usually by force.

In practice, democracies do have specific limits on specific freedoms. In democratic theory, the common justification for these limits is that they are necessary to guarantee the existence of democracy, or the existence of the freedoms themselves.

Liberal democracy is, strictly speaking, a form of representative democracy where the political power of the government is moderated by a constitution which protects the rights and freedoms of individuals and minorities (also called constitutional liberalism). The constitution therefore places constraints on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised. In any case, institutional protection for specific minority rights limits the democratic power of the majority, on those specific issues, and can not in itself resolve a conflict between the two groups. Democracies without protection of minority rights are now often called illiberal democracies.




Journal of Democracy


IDEA International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance






All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.


What is Self-determination?

Essentially, the right to self-determination is the right of a people to determine its own destiny. In particular, the principle allows a people to choose its own political status and to determine its own form of economic, cultural and social development. Exercise of this right can result in a variety of different outcomes ranging from political independence through to full integration within a state. The importance lies in the right of choice, so that the outcome of a people's choice should not affect the existence of the right to make a choice. In practice, however, the possible outcome of an exercise of self-determination will often determine the attitude of governments towards the actual claim by a people or nation. Thus, while claims to cultural autonomy may be more readily recognized by states, claims to independence are more likely to be rejected by them. Nevertheless, the right to self-determination is recognized in international law as a right of process (not of outcome) belonging to peoples and not to states or governments.


The preferred outcome of an exercise of the right to self-determination varies greatly among the members of the UNPO. For some, the only acceptable outcome is full political independence. This is particularly true of occupied or colonized nations. For others, the goal is a degree of political, cultural and economic autonomy, sometimes in the form of a federal relationship. For others yet, the right to live on and manage a people's traditional lands free of external interference and incursion is the essential aim of a struggle for self-determination.


Self-determination in International Law.

The principle of self-determination is prominently embodied in Article I of the Charter of the United Nations. Earlier it was explicitly embraced by US President Woodrow Wilson, by Lenin and others, and became the guiding principle for the reconstruction of Europe following World War I. The principle was incorporated into the 1941 Atlantic Charter and the Dumbarton Oaks proposals which evolved into the United Nations Charter. Its inclusion in the UN Charter marks the universal recognition of the principle as fundamental to the maintenance of friendly relations and peace among states. It is recognized as a right of all peoples in the first article common to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which both entered into force in 1976. 1 Paragraph 1 of this Article provides:

All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

The right to self-determination of peoples is recognized in many other international and regional instruments, including the Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States adopted b the UN General Assembly in 1970, 2, the Helsinki Final Act adopted by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) in 1975, 3, the African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights of 1981, 4, the CSCE Charter of Paris for a New Europe adopted in 1990, 5, and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993. 6, It has been affirmed by the International Court of Justice in the Namibia case 7, the Western Sahara case 8, and the East Timor case 9, in which its erga omnes character was confirmed. Furthermore, the scope and content of the right to self-determination has been elaborated upon by the UN Human Rights Committee 10, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 11, and numerous leading international jurists.

That the right to self-determination is part of so called hard law has been affirmed also by the International Meeting of Experts for the Elucidation of the Concepts of Rights of Peoples brought together by UNESCO from 1985 to 1991, 12, it came to the conclusion that (1) peoples' rights are recognized in international law; (2) the list of such rights is not very clear, but also that (3) hard law does in any event include the right to self-determination and the right to existence, in the sense of the Genocide Convention.

The inclusion of the right to self-determination in the International Covenants on Human Rights and in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, referred to above, emphasizes that self-determination is an integral part of human rights law which has a universal application. 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.

The concept of self-determination is a very powerful one. As Wolfgang Danspeckgruber put it: "No other concept is as powerful, visceral, emotional, unruly, as steep in creating aspirations and hopes as self-determination." It evokes emotions, expectations and fears which often lead to conflict and bloodshed. Some experts argued that the title holders should be or are limited in international law. Others believed in the need to limit the possible outcome for all or categories of title holders. Ultimately, the best approach is to view the right to self-determination in its broad sense, as a process providing a wide range of possible outcomes dependent on the situations, needs, interests and conditions of concerned parties. The principle and fundamental right to self-determination of all peoples is firmly established in international law.


Self-Determination In Relation To Individual Human Rights, Democracy And The Protection Of The Environment

http://www.unpo.org/news_detail.php?arg=01&par=541 (report)


Self-Determination Conference Examines Implementation Of Self-Determination By United Nations Mechanisms

http://www.unpo.org/news_detail.php?arg=01&par=220 (article)


Self Determination And Conflict Transformation

http://www.unpo.org/news_detail.php?arg=01&par=87 (article)


The Implementation Of The Right To Self-Determination As A Contribution To Conflict Prevention

http://www.unpo.org/news_detail.php?arg=01&par=446 (report)


The Question Of Self-Determination: The Cases Of East Timor, Tibet And Western Sahara

http://www.unpo.org/news_detail.php?arg=01&par=1408 (report)


A quick search on the UNPO website with the key words: self-determination, will also provide a long list of self-determination related articles that will give you a more member specific perspective on the issue.







Human rights are international moral and legal norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses.


What are Human Rights?

Human rights are minimum standards of legal, civil and political freedom that are granted universally. These rights take precedence over other claims by individuals, groups or states. Human rights refer to the perception that humans, no matter what ethnicity, nationality or legal influence, have universal rights. These rights usually include the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom of movement, the right to an adequate standard of living, freedom of religion, the right to self-determination, the right to participation in cultural and political life and the right to education. Many international as well as national laws safeguard the human rights of its inhabitants, although these laws and their implementations vary.

Human rights are political norms dealing mainly with how people should be treated by their governments and institutions. They are not ordinary moral norms applying mainly to interpersonal conduct (such as prohibitions of lying and violence).

Human rights are those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity. To violate someone’s human rights is to treat that person as though she or he were not a human being. In conclusion, human rights belong to all people simply because they are human beings.


Human Rights in International law

Many human rights violations have occurred during the centuries with many countries resisting the acceptance of universal human rights, beyond metaphysical or philosophical principles. In some countries massive popular upheavals took place and gave birth to Human Rights Charters, for example the Magna Carta, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, followed two years later by the American Bill of Rights.

The international era of the human rights debate began in earnest with the creation of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1946, which was composed of 18 member states. During its first sessions, the main item on the agenda was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Commission set up a drafting committee which devoted itself exclusively to preparing the draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

During the two-year drafting process of the Universal Declaration, the drafters maintained a common ground for discussions and a common goal: respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Despite their conflicting views on certain questions, they agreed to include in the document the principles of non-discrimination, civil and political rights, and social and economic rights. They also agreed that the Declaration had to be universal.

On 10 December 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the 58 member states of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with 48 states in favour and eight abstentions (two countries were not present at the time of the voting). The General Assembly proclaimed the Declaration as a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", towards which individuals and societies should "strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance".

Although the Declaration, which comprises a broad range of rights, is not a legally binding document, it has inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights. These instruments include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which are legally binding treaties. Together with the Universal Declaration, they constitute the International Bill of Rights.

Challenges still lie ahead, despite many accomplishments in the field of human rights. Many in the international community believe that human rights, democracy and development are intertwined. Unless human rights are respected, the maintenance of international peace and security and the promotion of economic and social development cannot be achieved. Human rights "specify limits to a regime's internal autonomy".

International Human Rights Day is celebrated yearly on 10 December.


UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

There are six major international human rights treaties (legally binding instruments) within the UN human rights system that deal with civil and political rights, economic and social rights, racial discrimination, torture, gender discrimination, and children's rights.

A country becomes a party to a treaty by ratifying or acceding to it. An individual or group can only use the treaty system to seek redress when the specific country is failing to observe obligations it has formally accepted by becoming party to a treaty.  This also applies to the complaints mechanisms: a complaint can only be filed by a group or person if the specific state has accepted the complaints provisions in the treaty in question. The status of ratification of the principal international human rights treaties can be found through the OHCHR web site, www.unhchr.ch, under: OHCHR Programs, Conventional Mechanisms.

There is a supervisory committee for each of these treaties that monitors the way in which states parties (the countries whose governments have accepted the treaty) are fulfilling their human rights obligations as stated in the relevant treaty.  The committees (also known as treaty bodies) vary in size from 10 to 23 members and are composed of international human rights experts.





The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)


The Human Rights Committee (HRC)

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)


The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)


The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)


The Committee Against Torture

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

The Committee on the Rights of the Child



Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Indigenous Peoples: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/racism/indileaflet4.doc

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html

United Nations on Human Rights: http://www.un.org/rights/

Stanford Encyclopedia on Human Rights: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights-human/

Wikipedia on Human Rights: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights






Nonviolence aims to end injustice by making the perpe­trator of injustice see reason and undo the wrong done by him.


What is nonviolence?

Nonviolence is an ideology that rejects the use of violent action in a conflict over power to attain social and political objectives.

The term nonviolence is complex and has varied meanings, among which it is important to draw distinctions. In gener­al, the term has been interpreted as in the negative - an absence of violence. However, nonviolence, both in theory and practice can and should be viewed as a positive, an active and potent force for attaining certain goals.

Two categories of definition can be named: principled and prag­matic. In their application, these categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and some movements have utilized both con­currently to significant effect.

Principled nonviolence is often rooted in traditional or religious beliefs and customs, or in moral principles alone. It is based on a moral stand, an ethical code which disallows the practice of vio­lence, often throughout all actions of life. Principled nonviolent practitioners do not necessarily utilize nonviolent actions and strategies, though they at times have.

For practitioners of princi­pled nonviolence, the aim of any nonviolent endeavour is, as the Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche, Chairman of the Assembly of Tibetan's People's Deputies, Tibetan Government in Exile stated," the establishment of truth and removal of injustice.       It does not aim to eliminate or defeat anyone. For a true nonviolent activist, there is no enemy. It aims to end injustice by making the perpe­trator of injustice see reason and undo the wrong done by him."

A significant question which principled nonviolence seeks to answer is: Is there a unity of ends and means; are the means of attaining goals, particularly those based on ideals such as equali­ty, justice or peace, in concert with the ends?

Principled nonviolence includes such diverse beliefs as pacifism, a generally non-active form of resistance to violence; Tibetan Buddhist practitioners who eschew all forms of violence; and the commitment of the Quakers, a religious group, to use their deeply held belief in a nonviolent way of life to effect change, not only within themselves as individuals or in their immediate sphere of influence, but also in the world at large.

Pragmatic nonviolence is best understood as the decision to use nonvi­olence based upon practical strategic considerations. It does not rely on a fundamental commitment to nonviolence which extends to all sit­uations; it may be limited only to the situation at hand.

Pragmatic nonviolence is based upon the use of proactive, positive nonviolent strategies and actions. It seeks to change the status quo, ranging in individual cases from specific policies which affect a specific group to the overall dynamics of power in a society.

With pragmatic nonviolence, a people or a movement can choose not to use violence even if there is no traditional or religious basis for that choice in their culture.


Implementation of political nonviolence

For example, the Crimean Tatars, traditional­ly a warrior culture, have chosen to use nonviolence because of its prac­tical worth in their struggle for their rights following their return to the Crimea after decades in exile. Likewise, the Native Hawaiians chose to use nonviolence when the Americans took over Hawai'i a cen­tury ago. At that time, Queen Liliu'okalani, the Hawaiian ruler, counseled her people not to use violence and suffer certain devastating defeat.

Some peoples employ both principled and pragmatic approaches. The Tibetan struggle for independence, which is deeply influenced by the nonviolent philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism, is also quite pragmatic in its approach. The Tibetans have used international diplomatic and public relations campaigns, and nonviolent resistance within Tibet, in their struggle for independence from the Peoples Republic of China. These nonviolent activities are linked to very pragmatic considera­tions: Tibetans are few and the Chinese are many, and perhaps more importantly, the Chinese are neighbors with whom the Tibetans must live into the future.

The question is raised of whether nonviolent movements are more effective if there is a traditional cultural base for them in a society.

Some traditionally nonviolent groups, including the Tibetans, have been very successful at remaining so in the face of severe repression. At the same time, others, such as the South African anti-apartheid movement, did not possess such a penetration in their culture of nonvi­olence as a principle, yet have been successful at attaining their goals.

It is notable that many indigenous cultures also possess traditional methods of conflict prevention and resolution which can be sources of strength when nonviolence is threatened. It would appear that the presence of a nonviolent tradition can support nonviolent action with­in a society, yet it is not a required prerequisite for success.

At the same time the question arises if a group, when pressed, will abandon nonviolence more readily if it does not possess a principled commitment to it. If nonviolence is seen only as a tactic, will not a peo­ple or movement drop that tactic when and if it is no longer expedient to pursue? As a tactic alone does it have the roots to sustain a long campaign?

Nonviolent action can be divid­ed into:

(i) ‘conflictual' actions used to wage conflict and;

(ii) actions which are ‘non-conflictual'.


Conflictual actions can be considered to include mass public mobi­lizations, such as economic and political non-cooperation; civil dis­obedience, such as strikes, hunger strikes, demonstrations, and vigils; grassroots mobilization such as letter writing campaigns; and campaigns designed to build political awareness among the people. In this sense, nonviolent action can be employed not just for defense, but also for offense.

Non-conflictual actions can include such activities as negotiations and conciliation, which are carried out once the dynamics of power have shifted, and the group conducting the campaign has been successful in acquiring enough legitimacy with which to negotiate.

Governments are often reacting to a perceived loss of political and economic power, including profits from natural resources or access to foreign aid, when they respond violently to nonviolence. Using violence to maintain power is a traditional response, yet one which can lead to spiraling conflict.

In many cases, using violence, whether covert or overt, against groups does not destroy the movement. It can instead make the group stronger and more committed to its goals. It can also encourage the group to use violence, thus beginning a cycle of vio­lence which, once begun, is difficult to stop.

In general, nonviolent campaigns can be at least as effective as violent ones, but they require sacrifice, patience and discipline, and great courage.



Nonviolence and Conflict; Conditions for effective peaceful change – Conference report


Nonviolent Activism and the Diplomatic Politicking of Human Rights (article)


Nonviolence in Vietnam (article)






Political tolerance is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and groups whose viewpoints differ from one's own. 


What is tolerance?

Tolerance is respect and acceptance of the rich diversity of the world's cultures, forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty; it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance is the virtue that makes peace possible. It contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.

Tolerance involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments. One is free to adhere to one's own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one's views are not to be imposed on others.

A tolerant society cannot tolerate intolerance, which would destroy it. It is difficult to strike a balance, however, and different societies do not always agree on the details. Authoritarian systems practice intolerance, the opposite of tolerance.


Implementation of Tolerance

The Charter of the United Nations affirms in its preamble that to practice tolerance is one of the principles to be applied, to attain the ends pursued by the United Nations of preventing war and maintaining peace. In its 1993 session, the UN Assembly declared 1995 the ‘United Nations Year for Tolerance’. On 16 November 1995, the UNESCO member states adopted the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance that provides a guideline to further strengthen the international principles of tolerance. In 1996, the 16th of November was officially declared the annual International Day of Tolerance.

Tolerance at the state level requires just and impartial legislation, law enforcement and judicial and administrative process. It also requires that economic and social opportunities be made available to each person without any discrimination. Exclusion and marginalization can lead to frustration, hostility and fanaticism.

In order to achieve a more tolerant society, states should ratify existing international human rights conventions, and draft new legislation where necessary, to ensure equality of treatment and of opportunity for all groups and individuals in society.

It is essential for international harmony that individuals, communities and nations accept and respect the multicultural character of the human family. Without tolerance there can be no peace, and without peace there can be no development or democracy.

Intolerance may take the form of marginalization of vulnerable groups and their exclusion from social and political participation, as well as violence and discrimination against them. As confirmed in the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, 'All individuals and groups have the right to be different' (Article 1.2).

As affirmed by the UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, measures must be taken to ensure equality in dignity and rights for individuals and groups wherever necessary. In this respect, particular attention should be paid to vulnerable groups which are socially or economically disadvantaged so as to afford them the protection of the laws and social measures in force, to respect the authenticity of their culture and values, and to facilitate their social and occupational advancement and integration.

Taking a tolerant stance is one of the more difficult tasks citizens face in a society.  We are not born tolerant, but must learn to be tolerant. Enlightened citizens understand the role of tolerance in a democratic society and are committed to practicing tolerance and respect for minority rights. 

Education is the most effective means of preventing intolerance. The first step in tolerance education is to teach people what their shared rights and freedoms are, so that they may be respected, and to promote the will to protect those of others.

Education policies and programs should contribute to development of understanding, solidarity and tolerance among individuals as well as among ethnic, social, cultural, religious and linguistic groups and nations.

Education for tolerance should aim at countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and should help young people to develop capacities for independent judgment, critical thinking and ethical reasoning.

A serious examination of the role of tolerance in a democracy entails looking at extremist or unconventional political and social beliefs.  Teaching tolerance is thus inherently controversial; however, studies indicate that when curricula are specifically designed to teach young people the role of tolerance in a democracy, levels of tolerance can increase.



International day of Tolerance: http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/tolerance/

UNESCO Declaration of Principles on Tolerance: http://www.unesco.org/tolerance/declaeng.htm

Wikipedia on Tolerance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tolerance

Developing Political Tolerance: http://www.indiana.edu/~ssdc/poltoldig.htm







What is Environmental Protection?

Environmental protection means to protect and preserve (indigenous) peoples’ natural habitat and resources in order to safeguard the unique and independent cultures from threats posed by ‘development’, oppressive regimes and environmental degradation.

Resources found in regions where UNPO Members live but do not fully control, are often used not for the benefit of the resident people but for the ruling elite of the controlling state. These resources are often extracted, like oil and minerals or logging and clear cutting of ancient forests, to make way for agriculture or ‘development’.

The concept behind environmental protection entails the close relationship between a society and its natural environment. The interactions between the environment and the people create a unique web of interdependent connections that in turn create a distinct ecosystem.


Environmental Protection in practice

Cultural survival and environmental protection

Decline in the natural environment is often accompanied by a social decline as well. When the people are no longer able to work and live off the land they inhabit, many leave for better places or become dependent on outside assistance. This has an enormous impact on the social structures of societies. By protecting and developing the natural environment for the benefit of both the people and nature, this scenario can be avoided.

Indigenous peoples are also the guardians of traditional ecological knowledge about their environment. This is reflected in their past and current relationships between nature and culture. As biodiversity is now becoming synonymous with sustainable development and human survival, traditional ecological knowledge has the potential to provide valuable information and useful models on how to utilize natural resources.

It is an extremely valuable source of environmental information that allows indigenous or other isolated native communities to protect and preserve their way of life. It is the basis for local decision-making in agriculture, hunting and gathering, nutrition and food preparation, resource management, education and health as well as social, economic, and political organization.

Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.


Economy and environmental protection

In many regions a significant portion of the population is dependent on the produce of the land for their daily subsistence. If environmental degradation makes the land less profitable it intensifies poverty, which already disproportionately affects UNPO members. By protecting the environment and setting up a system based on fair and long-term economic sustainability the people can develop in harmony with the environment.


Conflict resolution and environmental protection

Struggle over natural resources is a constantly recurring source of conflict worldwide. Many UNPO members are located in areas with rich mineral wealth. This wealth is often extracted without the people receiving any benefits, accompanied by the destruction of the local ecosystem. At the same time, this development is used as a cover to forcibly incorporate the region into the controlling nation-state by means of population transfer and/or implementation of the dominant language and culture.

On the positive side the solution of environmental problems can also build confidence between ethnic groups by facilitating dialogue on common environmental problems and offer possibilities for future cooperation on other issues.


Legal measures and environmental protection

By protecting the natural environment you also implement the necessary procedures that will protect the people living off the land.




International Society for Environmental Protection


European Environmental Agency


United Nations Environment Program




Society for ecological restoration


Ecology and society journal


Energy Portal