The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) is an “international and democratic non-governmental organisation” whose members are made up of indigenous peoples, oppressed minorities, and occupied territories which lack international recognition. The organisation sets conditions for any member who wishes to join it, so that it must agree to its five principles in its charter, in order to recognise it as a people unrepresented before the international community. These conditions are the equal right to self-determination; adherence to the internationally accepted human rights standards; adherence to the principles of democratic pluralism and rejection of totalitarianism and religious intolerance; promotion of non-violence and the rejection of terrorism as an instrument of policy; and protection of the natural environment.
Members of the organisation consist of indigenous peoples, minorities, occupied or unrecognised territories. The organisation trains these groups on how to effectively defend their aspirations. Some former members left the organisation because of their independence, such as Armenia, East Timor, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, and Palau, who have gained full independence and joined the United Nations.
The UNPO affirms democracy as a fundamental human right, implements human, civil and political rights worldwide and upholds the universal right to autonomy and self-determination and further federalism. It encourages nonviolent methodologies to reach peaceful solutions to conflicts and oppression. UNPO supports members in getting their human and cultural rights respected and in preserving their environments. The organisation provides a forum for members to network and assists them in participating at an international level.
First: UNPO: Fact and Objectives:
Although the objectives of UNPO members are different, one thing in common is that they are not represented diplomatically, or have low diplomatic representation, such as an observer, in major international institutions such as the United Nations. As a result, their ability to address their issues by global entities charged with protecting human rights and conflict resolution is often limited (1).
The UNPO was founded in The Hague, the Netherlands on 11 February 1991, from a group of about 50 unrepresented peoples, with a membership of nearly 100 million (2), divided as peoples who are still not fully represented and without any recognition, among others that obtained self-determination on the other hand; while some groups that were members of the UNPO have succeeded recently in gaining their independence and have become sovereign states.
The beginnings of the establishment of the organisation were in the 1980s by leaders of self-determination movements, such as Linnart Mäll of the Congress of Estonia, Erkin Alptekin of East Turkistan, Lodi Gyari of Tibet, together with Michael Van Walt van Praag, the international law advisor of the 14thDalai Lama. At the forefront of the founders were representatives of national movements in Estonia, Latvia, Tibet, Crimean Tatars, Armenia, Georgia, Tatarstan, East Turkestan, East Timor, Australian Aboriginals, Cordillera, the Greek Minority in Albania, Kurdistan, Palau, Taiwan, and West Papua (3).
In 1991, UNPO chose for its founding headquarters The Hague in the Netherlands because the city aimed at becoming the International City of Peace and Justice and hosts international courts like the ICJ and ICC. UNPO has an advocacy office in Brussels, representation in Geneva and a network of associates and consultants based around the world. Funding campaigns have come from member contributions and donations from individuals and foundations, with a view to achieving the main objectives of the UNPO. To this end, UNPO trains its members in international law, international organisations, diplomacy, and public relations. UNPO has built its credibility by being the first organisation to release on-ground information from remote areas, typically press releases from groups like the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Like Amnesty International, its techniques include issuing action alerts and being an objective source of information.
- The UNPO and the difference in the inclusion of the rights of groups, nations and peoples: The UNPO includes members from all continents of the world. In the Americas, Mapuche, Nuxalk and Tsimshian. In Asia, the region of Ahwaz, Assyrians, Baluchistan, Burma, Chin, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Cordillera, East Turkestan, Hmong, Southern Mongolia, Iranian Kurdistan, Iraqi Turkmen, Upper Mesopotamia, Karenni, Khmer Krom, Degar-Montagnards, Mon, Moro and Montagnard. , Nagalim, Sindh, South Moluccas, Southern Azerbaijan, Tibet, Tuva, and West Baluchistan. In the African continent, groups of Afrikaners, Batwa, Maasai, Ogoni, Oromo, Basters, Somaliland, Ambazonia, Venda and Zanzibar. In Europe, Abkhazia, Circassia, Crimean Tatars, Greeks of Albania, Hungarians of Romania, Ingushetia, Kosovo and Sanjak. In Oceania, the groups of Aborigines and Kalahui Hawaii. Given the UNPO membership, from the point of view of international law, the organisation is confronted with many structural contradictions, which provoke a lot of questions. The organisation includes heterogeneous groups in political demands. Some groups are simply ethnic groups that exist historically, without having any problem in its presence within the geometric borders, and may even be homogeneous with the states in which they are present; some other exist as a minority claiming their rights within the framework of the state itself; some exist as indigenous people; and some demand autonomy or secession. This raises many questions about the legal effects of the objectives and role of the UNPO on the right to self-determination, which is considered one of the conditions for joining the organisation, opposed by the condition of non-violence and peaceful claim; as this article contravenes the conditions of the right to self-determination in international law and in the Charter of the United Nations, which considered the acquisition of territory by force a threat to international peace and security, and considered the right of self-defence as one of the guarantees for the maintenance of international peace and security. The Charter of the United Nations contains the operational mechanisms, which guarantee the right to self-determination and to deter aggression, in accordance with Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, which provides for military measures to suppress aggression, in case a state assaults the sovereignty of another state, in accordance with the provisions of Article 43 of the Charter of the United Nations.
- The UNPO and keeping pace with the realities of the international community: Going back to the goals and objectives for which the UNPO works, the organisation is criticised for being in line with international realities and not to prejudice the territorial integrity of states, whose borders have been drawn through political tensions, and therefore it seeks to ensure that its members gain independence or federal rule within the limits of the resulting conflict between states, leading to the disintegration of the state, and perhaps in annexing new territories, rather than on a legal basis within the rules and principles of public international law. Many UNPO members left it after gaining independence or federal autonomy, for example, Aceh province, which became one of Indonesia’s semi-autonomous regions, nicknamed the Porches of Mecca, and Malay Muslims head to it for washing themselves before travelling to Mecca. Also, Bashkortostan is one of the federal entities in Russia. It is one of the Russian Republics, self-administered, and belonging to the people of Bashkir, one of the peoples of the Turkic nation. And the Komi Republic, which became a federal Republic subject to Russia and autonomous in the north-east of Eastern Europe. The Tatarstan groups, which became the Republic of Tatarstan, is one of the federal entities in Russia, located on the western slopes of the Ural Mountains separating Asia and Europe with an area of about 70 thousand square kilometres and a population of about four million people. And Chuvashia groups, which became the Chuvash Republic, one of the federal entities in Russia, in the heart of the Volga federal region, is an autonomous region with an area of 18,300 square kilometres and a population of approximately one and a half million people. Also emerged from the organisation are the Udmurtia groups, which became the Udmurt Republic. This Republic occupies the western slopes of the Ural Mountains, a Republic of Russian federal entities, and shares its southern border with the Republic of Tatarstan, with an area of 42,100 square kilometres and a population of nearly two million people and the capital city Izhevsk.
Also, among those who left the UNPO is the Republic of Estonia, which is very similar to the Ahwazi cause. The Republic of Estonia has been an independent state since 1918, then was occupied by the Soviet Union between 1940 and 1941, and then was occupied by the Germans between 1940 and 1944, during engagements of the Second World War, then was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944, and remained under the authority of the Soviet Union until 1991. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it returned to be an independent sovereign state, where the territory of Estonia covers an area of 45227 square kilometres. It has a population of approximately one and a half million people. The same applies to the Republics of Lithuania, Armenia and Georgia
It is noted that these states, which were unrepresented nations and peoples, gained independence because of the geopolitical shifts in their regions, which experienced periods of conflict that prevented their continuation as groups within geometric borders, and even became re-represented within the United Nations, and in international, regional organisations such as NATO, which eliminates the premise that the boundaries generated during the engagements of the First and Second World Wars were not changed.
Second: Characterisation of the situation of the Ahwazi people within the framework of the UNPO: The position of the right to liberation and self-determination (historical models)
The UNPO comprises nations and peoples spread across the continents of the world. In the Americas, there is the Mapuche, a group of indigenous American peoples, based in central and southern Chile and southern Argentina, with an estimated 789,000 inhabitants, making up about 4% of the Chilean population, and who are mainly distributed in the Chilean region of Araucanía, as well as in the Chilean and Argentinian areas of Patagonia (4). The Mapuche race is widespread, consisting of different groups, combining social and religious traditions and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage. The Mapuche people see themselves as the people of the land “mapu-che”; and thus, their language, Mapudungun, is the “language of the land”. Mapu means land, while che means people or owner. In this sense, the land in their language is “Nyuki Mapu” which means mother land, which in political thought is transformed into the concept of Wall Mapu, meaning territory. In this regard, the concept of Ad mapu is important as it regulates all the life cycles of the individual belonging to the Mapuche people and includes a set of regulations, which members of the community are keen to comply with, as its violation leads to conflicts (5).
- UNPO and the contradiction with the principles and norms of international law: “Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz” as a representative of the “region” of Ahwaz in the organisation.
UNPO required its joined members to sign and abide by its charter. First of these conditions were to be peaceful, and it was stated in its charter that contrary to the common perception, self-determination did not necessarily mean separation as a separate nation or people or even autonomy. Thus, it merely refers to the right of all peoples to freely determine their political situation and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development in a sound manner within their own states (6). It expressed the view that exercising this right can lead to a variety of outcomes, ranging from political independence to full integration within the existing state.
Ahwaz Region joined as a member within the UNPO on November 14, 2003, and is represented in the organisation by the Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz. Given the history of the Ahwazi cause, accession to the UNPO seems to contradict – in most important respects – the aspirations of many Ahwazi parties and organisations and prevent the Ahwazis from using the principle of the right of self-determination, which is recognised in public international law, not the term that is recognised in the UNPO; noting that this does not mean at all that the Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz does not believe in the liberation of Ahwaz and its return as an independent state, maybe as a federal or independent Republic, but this accession leaves the Ahwazi cause fraught with political tensions, which are awaiting the disintegration of Iran based on tensions and international interests, and gives Iran the status of an artificial state,— not a state with the right to restore its political history and independence, and to assert its occupation, which denies the Ahwazi people the right to self-determination whenever they want, as a process that interrupts the statute of limitations by use. It directly deprives them of their right to liberation by all available means, if they exhausted the peaceful means considered in public international law, which gave them the right to legitimate self-defence to restore their rights by force, a mechanism guaranteed by international law and the Charter of the United Nations, which considered the right of self-determination a means to keep international peace and security.
- The term “self-determination” in the UNPO and “the right to self-determination in public international law”:
International law, including international conventions and resolutions, laid down the basic procedures for safeguarding the political, security, social, economic and cultural rights of the member states of the United Nations. The right to self-determination gained its powers and particularly executive power when incorporated under the Charter of the United Nations. It stated the right of peoples, whether large or small, to determine their own destiny, without outside interference, and to establish an independent state free of any colonisation of their lands and resources, without exception or discrimination on the basis of race, religion, language or geographical location (7).
The right to self-determination is defined as the right of all peoples in the world to determine their own destiny and policies, free from foreign interference or aggression by other states. Many international resolutions were issued affirming and sponsoring this right. However, this right has been the subject of considerable disagreement between researchers and jurists on how to implement decisions related to self-determination, and the forms of its application in various parts of the world, which continued to challenge the self-interest of states. So, it can be said that the UNPO vision of this serves in diluting the legal basis of the right of self-determination, proceeding within the realities of interests between states, waiting for the results of these interests and geopolitical conflicts on the ground, and only letting the unrepresented peoples wait for the results of the interactions of international interests. On this basis, the concept of “self-determination” in UNPO emerged, which took away the notion of right, in favour of international calculations. We believe that this keeps everything open for further human rights violations and opens the door wide for abuse, for some groups that have the right to self-determination to be kept within regimes that they consider to be occupiers, as is the case of the Ahwazi situation, which leads to an indirect recognition of the occupation, and thus threatens the maintenance of international peace and security.
On this basis, we can describe the position of the representative of the “Ahwazi Region” (the Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz), as a representation that ignores the historical rights of the legal status of Ahwaz, and the right of the Ahwazi people to self-determination by all means, including the use of force, because the continuation of the occupation and violation of the principle of the right to self-determination constitutes a violation by the Iranian regime of the most important principles of international law, UN Security Council resolutions and the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, and the UN General Assembly, which adopted in recommendation No. 3314 of 1974, affirming that “national liberation movements shall have the right to use force to obtain their right to self-determination vis-à-vis colonial or occupier states(8)”; this is in clear contradiction with the concept of “self-determination” in the UNPO’s literature, and takes away the right of the Ahwazi people to demand the restoration of their stolen state by all available means and methods.
The United Nations General Assembly has endorsed a number of recommendations, which made it clear that national liberation movements have the right to armed struggle against colonialism, occupation or racial discrimination by regimes, in an exercise of their right to self-determination. The General Assembly has since 1973 devoted the second paragraph of its annual recommendation, issued on the importance of the universal realisation of the right of peoples to self-determination and legislation to respect human beings, to emphasise armed struggle as a legitimate means to achieve independence and freedom. And it replaced the earlier guideline with a new sentence which includes the use of all available means to achieve independence and freedom. Also, the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States – issued in accordance with the recommendations of the General Assembly Nos. 132 and 103 in 1981 – acknowledged the states’ right and duty to uphold the right of peoples to self-determination (9) and that the use of force within the right to self-determination in the contemporary international legal order is limited to peoples under foreign control or in apartheid. So, there is an organic correlation between decolonisation and this right, which applies to the Ahwazi case in all its sovereign components and its legal conditions.
Although the right to self-determination is recognised fact at the level of international conventions, which have been agreed upon by states, this has not been established and has been able to realise its existence only when colonised peoples felt that they have the right to liberation and self-determination without colonial domination limiting their existence and the exercise of their sovereignty over their economic, political, social and cultural resources. Therefore, resorting to military force as an aspect of the right to self-determination will remain at the heart of the special orientations of the resistance and liberation movements, which determine the form of their exercise according to the occupation, and the importance of the use of military force as a tool for realising the right to self-determination and making it realistic, whenever they have the reasons that legitimise it.
- The position of the Ahwazi people and the right of self-determination, within the framework of UNPO:
Full independence was the most common result of the application of the right to self-determination during the wave of decolonisation, especially in Africa and Asia. And the idea of independence differs fundamentally in the jurisprudence of international law from secession, which, as a matter of fact, leads to the establishment of a new independent and sovereign state. Rather, it refers the fundamental meaning of this principle to the empowerment of colonised and oppressed peoples to freely express the political, social and economic order they accept applying.
While the concept of external self-determination was very popular during the 1960s and 1970s, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the claim to this right today does not arouse much interest or apparent sympathy from the international community, except in a few cases. This is due to the decline in the traditional perception of the principle of self-determination with the end of the stage of liberation from foreign colonialism, and even mainly because any inch on the globe is presumably within the jurisdiction of a sovereign state, and to the acceptance of the occupied states of borders inherited from colonialism, although they were drawn arbitrarily and forcibly. But this vision remains a political vision, unrelated to the jurisprudence of international law, the UN resolutions and charter, and does not give the right to any state to prevent the legitimate rights of peoples to determine their own destiny, and to determine the means and methods to do so, just because they act within the framework of International resolutions and conventions and the Charter of the United Nations, which did not abolish this right, but defended it. This indicates that the will of the international community (as a political case of interest), has nothing to do with the extent of the application of this right (as an international legitimacy).
On this basis, we believe that the creation of the UNPO came within the framework of this dialectic, which put what it called the “region of Ahwaz” within this concept, which contradicts the facts of history and geography, as well as the rules and principles of public international law.
It can be argued that the issue of the status of the Ahwazi cause within the framework of the UNPO must not constitute a recognition or waiver of the right of the Ahwazi people to claim the right to self-determination under public international law, and that any Ahwazi component joining the organisation must not mean that it is the only representative of the aspirations of the Ahwazi people, rather than expressing a partisan vision, and therefore there is nothing wrong with that.
Since the end of the Second World War, the demands of the (non-colonial) territories have tended to claim autonomy or federalism. Since 1945, the United Nations has not accepted the membership of any state founded by unilateral secession against the will of the country of origin, except Bangladesh which represents a single successful unilateral secession, making it a unique exception in this field. Bangladesh engaged in a war of independence, and was subjected to a series of atrocities including 200,000 to 400,000 rapes and attempted genocide by the army from what was then called West Pakistan on the other side of the Asian sub-continent from it. In this case, also, (similar to the Ahwazi one), local clerics were used by the ruling West Pakistani majority to attempt to justify their rule, however brutal the actions of the West Pakistani army in its excesses came to be, to such an extent that in later years, after attaining independence, Bangladesh was prompted to prosecute some of these clerics for supporting human rights violations and war crimes against humanity. It is worthwhile to note that India, the world’s largest democracy, intervened in the war of independence of East Bengal, partly because it was spilling over into the neighbouring Indian province of West Bengal and partly because India could not have West Pakistani armies entering Indian land on any pretext. Traditionally belligerent toward it since separating from India itself in August 27, 1947 (27th of Ramadhan, 1366 A.H.), although with agreement by India, the decisive action taken by India to put a stop to the hostilities between West Pakistan and East Bengal was the single most important factor terminating them, resulting in Bangladeshi independence. It is doubtful whether this successful termination to the war would have been possible without such intervention from so powerful neighbour, and fortunate for the Bengalis that India’s leaders regarded it as serious enough in its developing impact on them to intervene. Although Bangladesh applied to join the United Nations in 1972, its membership was accepted only in 1974, i.e. after being recognised by Pakistan. In both cases (federal rule and secession), they are not a measurable legal status regarding the Ahwazi case.
Biafra—a term for the portion of Nigeria represented by the Igbo tribes, different in religion (being mainly Christian), tribal and ethnic affiliation from the Muslim majority in Nigeria, represented by the Hausa and Yoruba tribes and including Fulani tribesmen who have committed many unprovoked attacks and many reported atrocities against the Igbos, could not gain its independence despite a similar struggle to that of Bangladesh in the same time period, but while Bangladesh was able to gain its independence, joining the United Nations in 1972, Biafra with many resources and millions of educated people, but without powerful assistance from another neighbour or other external source strong enough to intervene decisively, has still been unable to do so!
It is interesting to note that the civil war of over 30 years’ duration which occurred in another of Africa’s two largest countries, Sudan, between the mainly Muslim north (ruled by Arabic speakers despite a large section of Muslim indigenous non-Arab Africans in the western province of Darfur) and the mainly Christian and animist south, (further testimony to imperial disregard for ethnic, cultural and religious differences in arbitrarily deciding borders between nations), was not resolved until 2011 when the southern Sudanese state of Unity became independent. Here, as in other instances where resources are a major source of contention, the location of oil and the capacity to refine it became factors influencing this.
Ethiopia to the south and east of Sudan, a mainly Christian Eastern Orthodox country, lost Eritrea, a mainly Muslim northeastern section of the country along the Red Sea which had long sought its independence, when Eritrea gained independence on April 27, 1993.
In contrast, there are many examples of unsuccessful attempts to unilaterally secede, including the cases where a separate entity maintains “de facto” independence. In this context, a distinction should be made between the unilateral separation of part of the territory of a particular state and the complete disintegration of a state, as in the case of the Republics created by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
The right to self-determination is one of the most prominent fundamental human rights recognised in contemporary international law. It is noteworthy that the conflict between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity is only in the case of self-determination through separation, not liberation from colonialism and occupation, which involves the territorial change of an existing state.
Thus, it is the state government which allows all its inhabitants to decide freely on their political status and their economic, social and cultural development is the only one that can assert an interest in protecting their territorial integrity as a restriction on the exercise of the right to self-determination.
As for the Ahwazi case, it is not included in the concept of “self-determination” in the sense of UNPO, as well as the concept of secession from the mother state, because Iran is not an original and historical state of the Ahwazis, who prevailed over their Ahwaz region as a sovereign and invincible state. Consequently, the issue of recognition of the state of Ahwaz and the people of Ahwaz is not recognition of a new emerging or nascent state, as is the case in states that have become independent or have obtained autonomy based on the terms of UNPO. It is not a legal matter, but primarily a political one; as there are many demographic groups that have all the legal and realistic conditions required for their right to independence and have not been recognised, despite the official and popular sympathy obtained, while others have obtained them despite the lack of the basic elements of this right. And this is the game of international balance of power, which has always been decisive in the weighting of this or that choice, regardless of legitimacy, or international legitimacy, which does not apply in any sense to the Ahwazi cause, not from near or far, because it is a historical cause, linked to a land, people and sovereignty.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42
Mostafa Hetteh is a writer and journalist: https://twitter.com/mostafahetteh
Editing by Penina Sarah, New York Attorney, Human Rights Advocate and Commentator on the Middle East and National Security Issues.
1.UNPO 20 the Anniversary Publication: Twenty Years of Promoting Nonviolence, Human Rights and Self- Determination (PDF). The Hague, Netherlands: UNPO. 2011.
- See: Mohammed Omar Azouqa, “Circassia Cause”, Dar Al-Manhal Publishers, 2010, p. 225
- Simmons, ed. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation Yearbook 1995. Kluwer Law International. pp. 1–3
- The Mapuche people group. https://www.mapuche.nl/english/mapuche.html
- Bob, Clifford (2005). The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism. Cambridge University Press, pp. 47–48, 76–77.
- Ibrahim Tawfiq al-Rabi,) “The Right of the Palestinian People to Self-Determination, Comparative Study”, the Palestinian Planning Center magazine, published by the Palestinian Planning Centre, 2006, No. 21.
- See UN General Assembly Recommendation No. 3314 of 1974
- See: UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States, issued in accordance with the recommendation of the General Assembly No. 132 and 103 in 1981.