On 28 April 2016, on the occasion of the opening of the XXI Session of its Presidency, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), with the support of Fredrik Malm MP (Liberalerna), held a conference entitled ‘Drivers of Peace and Democratisation: National Minority Rights and Diaspora Action’ at the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen) in Stockholm, Sweden.
The conference, which brought together representatives of academia, diaspora movements and policy makers, discussed the opportunities and challenges of minority- and diaspora movements as actors of positive change in countering authoritarian regimes and conflict ideology.
Despite the fact that multi-ethnic states are the norm rather than the exception in today’s world, majority or dominant cultures continue to impose their identity on other groups with whom they share a territory. This has led to nations and peoples across the world being denied their national rights, which is linked also to the fulfillment of individual rights, stressed Fredrik Malm MP of the Swedish Liberal Party (Liberalerna) in his opening speech. UNPO President Nasser Boladai concurred, highlighting that undemocratic and authoritarian states have been given a paradoxical carte blanche to pursue marginalization and assimilation policies under the pretext of safeguarding national security, while, in fact, long-term peace and stability can only be achieved if the rights of peoples, including the right to self-determination, are ensured.
While conflict and oppression in many parts of the world continue to push people to leave their homelands, as clearly highlighted through debates surrounding the current European migration ‘crisis’, it becomes more important than ever to discuss not only the root causes pushing people to flee their homes, but also what we can learn from past experiences of migration waves and what the real and positive effects of migration are. To that end, several of the panelists highlighted the potential migrant communities and diaspora groups have as actual drivers of peace and democratisation: Dr Jonathan Hall, Assistant Professor at Uppsala University, argued that while it is widely believed that diasporas are conflict promoting, in fact new research has revealed that providing people with a safe haven that removes the threat of conflict and increases access to resources actually contributes to developing a peaceful diaspora constituency. Dr Ashok Swain, Professor at Uppsala University, added that Diasporas also have a huge potential to influence peace processes, as they can build links between diplomatic negotiators and conflicting parties. Moreover, as noted by Dr Fiona McConnell of Oxford University, Diasporas engaging in informal diplomacy have the opportunity to not only create legitimacy to their cause, but also advance it through the use of more dynamic and flexible strategies, including new technologies and transnational networks. Mr Julian Smith of International IDEA, in turn, emphasized how marginalized groups have actually succeeded in reforming democratic institutions and thus overcome marginalization through reform paths that include confidence building in advocacy and negotiations; the strengthening of activists’ skills in documenting rights abuses and conducting advocacy campaigns; and, above all, alliance building.
The aforementioned ideas were concretized and expanded on by experts on, and diplomatic representatives of, national movements from Iran, Ethiopia and Pakistan – authoritarian States well-known for their oppressive policies towards national minorities. Dr Idris Ahmedi of the Swedish Defense University underlined that the quest for domination of one ethnic group over another is among the fundamental destabilizing factors in Iran and the larger Middle East region, where the argument of ‘security’ serves as a smokescreen to prevent any attempts to achieve genuine democratic change. In this context, he noted the positive role of organizations such as the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI) in forging solidarities and furthering the idea of new democratic and secular institutions, that reflect ethnic and religious diversity. Dr Shigut Geleta, Head of the Oromo Liberation Front’s (OLF) Diplomatic Division, gave an overview of the similar challenges faced by Ethiopia’s multiple ethnic groups, stressing that the OLF is targeted by the Ethiopian regime because it poses a real threat to the current political status quo. In an attempt to eliminate this threat, the regime has put enormous efforts into misinforming the public about the aims of OLF, and in lobbying (without success) for its inclusion in Western terrorist lists. The last panelist, Dr Lakhu Luhana, Chairman of the World Sindhi Congress, drawing on the example of his own organization, highlighted the important role of diasporas in creating a better understanding of the rich cultures and often little known struggles of unrepresented nations and peoples across the world. He further stressed the importance of the unrepresented to join forces and create transnational alliances in their pursuit for peace, democracy and freedom: “The oppressed and sorrowful, let us sit down and share our suffering, let us together revive our memories of grief, which is common”.
Before officially closing the conference, Mr Marino Busdachin, UNPO General Secretary, presented a conference declaration, which was adopted by the more than 90 conference participants. The full declaration can be found below:
Whereas majority or dominant cultures continue to impose their identity on other groups with whom they share a territory;
Whereas this many times comes at the expense of national minority rights, especially in undemocratic countries where marginalization and assimilation policies are often being pursued under the pretext of safeguarding national security and territorial integrity;
Whereas there is an urgent need to improve the possibilities for participation of minorities and marginalized groups in international politics and forums;
Whereas there is a need to reform democratic institutions and change the outlook of international relations, still based on an outdated Westphalian order that does not correspond to contemporary international challenges of justice, human rights and democracy;
Whereas we need to recognize the huge potential of diplomacy beyond states and the role of diasporas in bringing about democratic change and transition to rule of law through non-violent means;
We appeal to international institutions and the UN system to ensure the participation of minorities, unrepresented nations and peoples, in decision making processes, without giving in to the pressure of powerful states. This could potentially be achieved through the establishment of a new UN body that would be tasked specifically with addressing the problem of non-representation.
We also ask national democratic parliaments for their support in order to involve minorities and marginalized communities in their political debates and institutional processes;
Finally, we underline that there can be no peace without ensuring justice.