Self Determination


The post-Cold War world saw the emergence of increasingly violent and more widespread conflict, as ethnic disagreements replaced concentrated ideological disputes as the main motivation behind outbreaks of aggression. As this transition occurred, a newly-formed UNPO dedicated its resources to the prevention of vio- lence and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

UNPO’s current methodological structure calls for the organization to work with Members to identify instances of increased instability in a region and respond by reducing the possibility of violence through preventive practices and diplomatic efforts. Because UNPO is a grassroots organization, it maintains close contact with Members, who in turn have direct lines of communication with the peoples they represent. This allows the organization to gather timely and vital information about emerging conflicts. UNPO is also a global movement and is therefore able to dis- seminate this vital information to international capitals and centers for conflict resolution.

Due to its access to a spectrum of stakeholders in any conflict, UNPO is able to act as both a liaison of information and peaceful discussion. Recognizing the im- portance of open and direct communication in preventive diplomacy, UNPO facili- tates meetings between its Members and representatives of state governments, international organizations, NGO’s and the media. Combined, these actions com- prise UNPO’s early warning and action system which encourages rapid global ac- tion and supplements the work of international bodies that lack either the breadth or strength necessary to anticipate and act on crises in a timely manner. Emergen-


cy alerts in Chechnya, Ogoni (Nigeria), East Timor, Kosova and Aceh are examples of the success of this system. As situations in these regions developed, UNPO was able to provide ample warning prior to the outbreak of severe violence and loss of life. Unfortunately, UNPO’s warnings sometimes go unheeded by the international community, signifying the continued need for organizations like UNPO to act as a voice for the voiceless.

In support of this early warning and action program, UNPO undertakes field mis- sions to regions of conflict. Such missions provide important third party mediation and assistance to conflict resolution mechanisms, promoting de-escalation of emerging conflicts while advocating for sustainable and long term solutions. Dur- ing and subsequent to mediation, UNPO encourages the democratization of gov- ernance and the respect for human rights. In addition to mediation activities, UN- PO also conducts election monitoring and fact-finding missions to observe the pro- gress of our Members and provide the international community with comprehen- sive, firsthand information about indigenous and unrepresented communities. The organization’s field work operates in tandem with efforts by international NGO’s and the UN.

To encourage nonviolent approaches to rights suppression, UNPO suggests alter- native avenues for Members to secure fundamental freedoms through program- ming aimed at capacity-building. The organization offers training programs which emphasize activism over aggression and educate participants in interactive dia- logue and effective problem-solving. When these practices are utilized but met with violent repression, UNPO serves as a witness and advocate, protecting vulner- able peoples by bringing these instances to the attention of the international com- munity and bringing international pressure to bear on the offending parties.

The promotion of self-determination is another important part of UNPO’s ap- proach to peace activism. While international law recognizes the right of nations to freely determine their own form of governance and political representation, this legal principle is silent on what constitutes a nation, and how nations should go about making such decisions. As a result, the concept of self-determination has also been inconsistently and ambiguously interpreted within the realm of interna- tional power politics and international law.5 UNPO’s perspective on this interna- tional discussion is that all peoples have the right to self-determination, and that only through the recognition of this right can stability be established.

When Michael van Walt van Praag became the first foreigner to be granted a visa to Estonia as an independent nation, he commented on the general causes of con- flict and the possible remedies for peace. He argued that instability is not a result of movements for freedom but is rather caused by long periods of oppression to which members of those movements have been subjected. UNPO believes that stability requires that individual nations and peoples be allowed to develop varying forms of self-determination. When such voluntary processes are denied, instability becomes a normative feature of the political environment. Van Walt van Praag observes, “we must move away from the misguided view of stability premised on immediate or short-term economic and political considerations to a long-term per- spective which will ensure the peaceful co-existence of all peoples. Universal recognition and support for peoples right to self-determination is the cornerstone of a truly peaceful and stable world.”6 Based on van Walt van Praag’s view of the underpinnings of conflict, UNPO strongly believes that lasting stability is only possi-

ble where equality, free choice and mutual benefit underlie the relations among the world’s peoples.

It should be noted that contrary to popular perception, self-determination does not necessarily imply secession, separate nationhood, or even autonomy; this term simply refers to the right of all peoples to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The exercise of this right can result in a variety of outcomes, ranging from political independence to full integration within an existing state.

In recognition of UNPO’s work with and for unrepresented nations and peoples, the organization has received the 1991 Tolerance Award, 1992 Social Innovation Award (The Body Shop), 1998 Petra Kelly Peace Award (Heinrich Böll Foundation) and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and the Right to Livelihood Award in 1994.

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