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European Parliament Opens of the UNPO General Assembly

acehbaru.com | Brussels - In light of the continuous need to raise awareness on the human rights situation of those seeking self-determination and democracy, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in cooperation with the European Free Alliance (EFA) and Center Maurits Coppieters (CMC), convened a high-level conference at the European Parliament entitled “Auctioning Human Rights? Democracy and the Right to Decide”. Kamis, 2 July 2015 -

Hosted by Mr Josu Juaristi Abaunz MEP (GUE/NGL), the conference brought together academic experts, human rights activists and high level politicians, among which Mr Ian Hudghton MEP; Mr Jordi Solé i Ferrando, Secretary General of EFA and Catalan MP; Mr Csaba Sógor MEP and Ms Nelly Maes, former MEP and former President of EFA. Looking at diverse examples of unrepresented nations and peoples, the conference offered a fruitful chance for participants to share their experiences, which ranged from most successful cases, such as Scotland, Catalonia or Kosovo, to the ones which geopolitical and economic interests continue to impose severe denial of Human Rights. 

The opening remarks were delivered by Josu Juaristi Abaunz MEP, followed by Mr Marino Busdachin, Secretary General of UNPO. The first panel sought to explore the momentum that the right to decide is living, by looking at three specific cases that have seen significant developments in the last few years. Firstly, Mr Ian Hudghton MEP, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) spoke about the eventful decade that Scotland is going through. The referendum of 2014 was the most iconic achievement to this date in their struggle for self-determination, as it offered to the Scottish people a democratic opportunity to determine their own future. Regardless of the immediate outcome of the consultation, Mr Hudghton said, the legacy of this political event is unquestionable.

The second speaker, Mr Jordi Solé i Ferrando, Secretary General of EFA and Catalan MP, shared his views on the current state of Catalonia’s case. A new country in the making, Mr Ferrando explained that independence and socio-economic improvement are synonyms and both key to success of the region.  He explained that Catalonia hopes for a fair and more advanced country, in which corruption is tackled and the will of the Catalonians is attended. Mr Ferrando also made sure to mention that Catalonia’s desire is to become the next EU member.

Closing the first panel, Mr Zsolt Sylagyi, representative of the Hungarian Community in Transylvania, delivered a speech explaining what the European Union could offer to empower the national minority in his country. Mr Sylagyi illustrated Romania’s centralised political system and the fact that ethnic minorities issues is considered by the country’s intelligence service a matter of national security. The EU, in light of the values that it aims to promote, should contribute to encourage Romania to enact reforms to accommodate the concept of local autonomy.

The second Panel, entitled Money Talks: Undermining Self-Determination and Democracy in the 21st Century, was opened by Mr Michael Jewkes, Doctoral Researcher at KU Leuven. Mr Jewkes explained the evolution of the concepts of Self-Determination and Democracy from the academic perspective, looking at the factors that support and undermine their exercise. Presenting different theoretical models of self-determination and its relationship with succession, Mr Jewkes emphasized how priority must be given to the improvement of international recognition of national identities.

Speaking about the official diplomacy which excludes unrepresented nations and peoples from the conventional fora of negotiations, Dr Fiona McConnell, Professor at Oxford University, expressed the increasing need to tackle this gap by advancing paradiplomacy.  Empowering non-state actors or states with limited recognition to play an increasingly influential role in the international relations is vital for their struggle. UNPO, as she remembered, has been crucial in offering these peoples a platform and a form of legitimacy.

Further elaborating on the importance of balancing traditional diplomacy with paradiplomacy, the floor was given to Ms Lorena Lopez de Lacalle, Secretary of International relations of Eusko Alkartasuna. Ms Lacalle spoke about the Basque struggle for self-determination and the difficulties imposed by the Spanish and French States. For her, the Basque ambitions for a greater say in international relations and communications with external actors can only be achieved through full independence and, consequently, through real diplomacy.

Ms Nelly Maes, former President of EFA, former MEP and former president of the Flemish Peace Institute, offered an overview on the Flemish History. Ms Maes argued that the EU construction is based on democratic values but, in practice, the dominant framework is the free-market, which makes economic interests prevail over the promotion of minorities and nations. She emphasized the need to build solidarity among oppressed peoples and work together to strengthen their right to decide their own future. 

The third Panel, entitled Holding Human Rights Hostage: Self-Determination, Democracy & Tolerance was opened by Mr Abdirahman Mahdi, ONLF Foreign Secretary. After briefly presenting the history and geography of Ogaden, Mr Mahdi explained how the current Ethiopian regime has systematic denied the Ogaden right for self-determination and conducted aggressive and systematic human rights violations.  The situation has been further worsened by the interests of oil multinational companies, often in contrast with those of the people in Ogaden.

Exploring a similar situation of occupation of an indigenous land rich in natural resources without consultation, approval or compensation, Mr. Nasser Boladai, Spokesperson of the Balochistan Peoples Party, presented the case of Balochistan, whose land is tied to multiple States’ geo-political interests. In consideration of its coal and gas resources, Pakistani and Iranian interests in region deprive the indigenous people of any rights. Mr Boladai explained how the struggle for a secular and democratic republic with a federal structure based on the equality of its components has lead the Baloch people to suffer mass displacement, killings, disappearances and unjust imprisonments.

Mr Abidine Merzough, European Coordinator of IRA-Mauritania, explained the long struggle against slavery and the appalling Human Rights situation in Mauritania. He highlighted the importance and effectiveness of UNPO’s support to their cause, but highlighted how every time international awareness is raised on the situation in the country, there is a new wave of crackdown on activists. Mr Merzough reminded the audience of the case of Biram Dah Abeid, Member of the UNPO Presidency still imprisoned for his pacific activism against slavery.

The fourth and last panel, entitled Working Towards Success? Stories from Europe and Beyond started by looking at Kosovo’s case. Mr Agron Bajrami, Editor in Chief of Koha Ditore, delivered a remarkable speech including his perspective on his country’s progression towards independence. Mr Bajrami reminded the audience that initially the international community did not pay attention to the peaceful pro-independence Kosovar movement and it was only when violent conflict broke out that major international actors took part in it, helping to shape the outcome. Full recognition, he argued, will always remain an issue, as great powers are not prone to breaking the status quo of International Relations. Mr Bajrami, explaining the difference between Kosovo and other cases, argued that the country’s geographical position was crucial for its success.  Had it been situated in a region with no geopolitical interest, Kosovo would have probably not managed to secede from Serbia.

Dr Joanie Willett, member of Mebyon Kernow, presented the case of the Cornish people. She explained how the national element in Cornwall has developed so successfully also thanks to the possibility to build an alternative to the discredited three party system based in London. If for the UK’s political centre Cornwall is largely insignificant, the Cornish put their land at the very core of all they do.

The last speaker, Mr Artur Gaguliya, Head of the Department of Europe, USA and Canada in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia, presented the case of Abkhazia and its democratic development amidst diplomatic challenges. Mr Gaguliya explained how his country has managed to increasingly achieve international agreements and advance on its State budget, despite all the consequences following limited recognition and infrastructural damages due to the war. Still facing drawbacks such as visas issues and international blockades, Abkhazia has however reinforced its democratic process by building institutions and holding free and fair elections, to which UNPO sent an electoral observation mission in 2014. Mr Gagulya reiterated Abkhazia’s commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy and expressed his hope that the country will manage to strengthen its relationship with the EU in the future.

From Catalonia to Scotland, from Balochistan to Kosovo, from Ogaden to Abkhazia, the conference concluded that, regardless of each nation’s own geography, history, identity and status quo, there is a strong need to build solidarity and share expertise among the peoples struggling for self-determination. UNPO remains committed to offer all its members a platform to the international community and to ensure their voices are heard and their rights protected. (http://unpo.org)

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