Updated: Oct 22, 2019
By: Zayn Qureshi
The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization (UNPO) is an international human rights organisation set up to protect and promote the rights of unrecognised peoples across the world.
On 11 February 1991, the foundations of the organization were laid out at a meeting at the Peace Palace in The Hague, where representatives from a variety of indigenous communities, unrecognized countries, occupied territories and minority groups met to establish a mechanism through which to promote their rights.
The initial meeting in The Hague consisted of 16 national movements including some that have now gained full independence and recognition by the United Nations, such as Estonia, Latvia, and Armenia.
As of 2019, the membership base of UNPO consists of 44 members including; Abkhazia, the Crimean Tatars, Iranian Kurdistan, and Somaliland.
The aspirations of each member vary considerably from the next, and not all of them have the same goals. However they all share an understanding that by banding together to defend their cultural and human rights, and their rights to self-determination, they will be much stronger.
Moreover, they all share one circumstance – of being denied a voice on the international stage.
Thus, without the work of UNPO, their ability to stand up and speak out against the effects of conflict, the denial of basic human rights, or the degradation of their environmental surroundings that some of them experience would be greatly diminished.
Guided by the five core principles enshrined in its covenant; nonviolence, human rights, democracy and self determination, environmental protection, and tolerance, the UNPO secretariat engages in advocacy, training, lobbying, and hosting conferences at the highest levels of the United Nations, the European Union, and countries including Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America to raise the voice of those unrepresented across the world today.
The structure of UNPO consists of three different organs. These include the General Assembly, Presidency, and International Secretariat.
The General Assembly is regarded as the highest of the three, consisting of all of the organisations members and hosting regular sessions every two years, the last session was held in Saint – Gervais – les – Bains, Savoy in September 2018.
The assembly sessions provide members with the opportunity to engage in best practice sharing, and discuss particular issues of concern, which can then be brought to the attention of the assembly through the adoption of member specific resolutions.
At the same time, these sessions are used to discuss the work of the secretariat, and assess which are the best strategies to go forward with. Finally, the General Assembly sessions are a chance to elect President Members, as well as the General Secretary, President and Vice – President all for a period of three years.
The second organ is the Presidency. This is comprised of eight members of UNPO, one President and two Vice – Presidents. It acts as a bridge between the General Assembly and International Secretariat and has the duty to implement overall policy agreed at assembly sessions.
Every three years the membership is up for review by the General Assembly. The current President is Nasser Boladai, from Iranian Balochistan; the Vice Presidents are Dolkun Isa from East Turkestan, and Abdirahman Mahdi from Ogaden.
The International Secretariat consists of a central office in Brussels, Belgium, and until recently Washington D.C, USA. The secretariat are responsible for all of the administrative aspects of running the organisation as well as implementing all the strategies set by the General Assembly.
Currently, it consists of the General Secretary, recently appointed Ralph Bunche, Head of Policy & Research Fernando Burgés, Advocacy & Training Coordinator Lucia Parrucci, as well as Programme Officer James Mackle.
Parallel to the work they do in relentlessly advancing the cause of their members on international fora, the secretariat also engages in education and awareness building causes aimed at those from unrepresented backgrounds.
To this extent, they have partnered with the University of Oxford to host workshops on building capacity of diplomats from unrepresented nations for effective United Nations lobbying.
Moreover, in recent years there have been plans to develop a model UNPO. Currently, the team is developing teaching materials for it to be used in elementary schools and high schools in order to educate children about the UNPO members and allow them to engage in diplomacy on the level of unrepresented nations.
Three destinations of Political Holidays are also UNPO members, some being founding members of the organisation.
The Crimean Tatar people have been represented at UNPO by the Mili Mejlis who were co-founders back in 1991. To this day they continue to maintain an active, peaceful and consistent struggle for their rights – something that has only increased since the 2014 annexation of the peninsula by Russian forces.
UNPO has proven to be an effective tool for the Crimean Tatar people to combat human rights issues for indigenous people on the peninsula, a legacy started by their deportation under Soviet rule in 1944.
UNPO resolutely condemned the ongoing human rights violations committed against Crimean Tatars on the peninsula, and in January 2018 they partnered with Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon to publish a report on the deteriorating conditions of human and cultural rights of indigenous people since the Russian annexation.
Titled ‘Forgotten Again: The Plight of the Crimean Tatars’ This report explored the various ways international support and recognition can be heightened around the persecution of Crimean Tatars in their own home.
Following the release of this report, a series of meetings were held in Brussels that brought together the UNPO secretariat with Mustafa Dzhemilev, Ahtem Chyigoz, and Ilmi Umerov, who are prominent leaders of the Crimean Tatars, to discuss their current plight and what concrete steps can be taken to raise awareness of this.
Abkhazia is represented at UNPO through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia. Alongside the Crimean Tatars, Abkhazia has been a member of UNPO since 1991. Officially seceding from Georgia in 1992, it is yet to be recognised for its independence internationally.
The requests of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are based on the recognition of their true autonomy through the wider international recognition of their declaration of independence. Moreover, they request reparations for the damages suffered by the Georgian government during the War of Abkhazia in 1992-93.
UNPO has consistently been raising the profile of Abkhazia internationally, through political engagement with European stakeholders. Additional work has been conducted on the level of cultural diplomacy through working with the Foreign Ministry of Abkhazia.
In December 2017, UNPO hosted an event that promoted tourism to the country, which was aimed at a European audience and entailed a selection of foods and produce from Abkhazia.
UNPO has consistently been by the side of Abkhazia, whether through being on the delegation for election observation missions or through attending ceremonial events such as the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Foreign Ministry in May 2018.
The Republic of Somaliland has been a member of UNPO since 2004. Since it has declared its independence, Somaliland has worked tirelessly as a nation to overcome conflict and civil war and see a transition to democracy and sustainable peace.
As of today, it is a multi-party democracy that hosts regular elections, and its citizens have participated in five separate elections on the presidential, parliamentary, and local level.
Each election has been observed by an Electoral Observation Mission, of which UNPO is a part, and has been consistently labelled free and fair.
Following on from the Observation mission, UNPO organised a conference in the European Parliament ‘Somaliland - Negotiating Statehood, Perspectives through the 2017 EOM Report’.
The aim of the conference was to present the work as detailed in the EOM report released by the UK government, and brought together a panel including Somaliland’s Minister of Development, as well as opposition party politicians.
The case was made for how negatively non-recognition of Somaliland can be for its progression in the future.