UNPO: Where the world’s most marginalised peoples (and Afrikaners) meet

UNPO: Where the world’s most marginalised peoples (and Afrikaners) meet

Once a year, delegates from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation gather for their annual congress. It’s a bit like the United Nations, but for populations that find themselves ignored or persecuted by the governing majority in their countries. This year, South African political party the Freedom Front Plus made the trip to Belgium to tell the rest of the club about the injustices faced by Afrikaners at home. By REBECCA DAVIS.

If you had peered in at a conference room in Brussels last week, you would have witnessed a very diverse group of people in discussion.

In one corner, you might have seen delegates from the Ogaden, a Somali clan who live in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State. Conflict between the Ethiopian government and an Ogaden liberation movement has been simmering for over a decade. NGOs have documented hundreds of extra-judicial executions of Ogadeni individuals by Ethiopian soldiers, their victims strangled and left in the open to be buried by villagers as a warning. Members of the Ogaden who are suspected of being involved with the liberation movement have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, torture and rape by the military.

In another corner, you would have spied representatives from Tibet. In Dharamsala, India, the ‘Government of Tibet in Exile’ sits, headed by the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed rebellion against the Chinese. Tibetans are restricted from practicing their religion and exercising freedom of speech, and protests have been brutally cracked down on in the past. Since 2011, at least 110 Tibetans have chosen to express their anger and defeat at the ongoing occupation of Tibet by China by burning themselves alive.

And sitting among these groups, you would have found the Freedom Front Plus, there to speak on behalf of Afrikaners.

Established in 1991 in The Hague, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) now have over 40 members. Afrikaners, as a group, cracked the nod in 2008. The UNPO website explains that the Afrikaner people “are experiencing an increasing violation of their cultural, economic and political rights. Especially the latter [are] considered to be under severe strain as it is not being reported properly in the media, but effectively ignore the Afrikaners”.

The “unrepresented” bit in the organisation’s title, when applied to the FF+, may confuse you. After all, the party has four MPs in South Africa’s National Assembly. But this is not just about representation at home, but internationally too.

Although the aspirations of UNPO members differ greatly, they are all united by one shared condition,” reads UNPO’s website. “They are not adequately represented at major international fora, such as the United Nations.”

The FF+’s Pieter Groenewald told the Daily Maverick on Tuesday that some of the other members of UNPO also have representation within their domestic parliaments. “It is about peoples’ minority rights such as language, culture, self-determination,” he said.

The major focus of the FF+’s engagement with UNPO about the treatment of Afrikaners in current day South Africa this year is to do with language and farm murders. They arrived at the UNPO annual congress with two resolutions to present. The first, about farm murders, “urges the South African government to declare farm attacks a priority crime”, and “requests the United Nations Human Rights Commission to initiate a full investigation to pressurise the South African government”.

The resolution to do with language notes the FF+’s concern that there is no single-medium Afrikaans university, and deplores the dominance of English as the language of education in 21 out of 25 public universities in South Africa. It condemns the “systematic discrimination committed with impunity not only against the 2,710,461 white Afrikaans-speakers but also the 3,442,154 coloured and 602,166 black Afrikaans-speakers”.

Both resolutions were adopted by UNPO. What happens now?

It means that UNPO will officially approach the UN Human Rights Commissioner with the requests in the resolutions and will influence other international roleplayers in the EU and UN,” Groenewald explains.

He gave some examples: in the past year, UNPO has lobbied the UN about the protection of an Iranian lake; it organised meetings with high-profile Members of the European Parliament to discuss the persecution of the Ogadeni people; it brought together EU institutions to discuss the future of minority languages in Europe.

If UNPO fails to bring about the required outcome with regards to farm murders, the FF+ may find solace in the fact that they’re not the only South African organisation currently taking the farm murder memo abroad – despite the contestation over the scale of the problem.

As the FF+ delegates prepared to return home from Belgium, AfriForum was jetting off to Australia. There, the civil rights group’s Lorraine Claasen will be presenting a paper on South African farm attacks at the 15th international symposium of the World Society of Victimology.

Back at UNPO, having their resolutions adopted without amendment was not the FF+’s only triumph at this year’s congress. Groenewald was appointed as chairperson of UNPO’s electoral commission and FF+ leader Pieter Mulder was re-elected on to UNPO’s executive committee. The party described both elections as a “great honour” in a press release.

Groenewald told the Daily Maverick that the FF+ had particularly close allies at UNPO in the delegates representing Tibet, the Ogaden, and Namibia’s Rehoboth Basters.

When the FF+ delegates look around the room at the UNPO, and hear stories from the other member populations, surely they can’t help thinking that Afrikaners in South Africa remain far better off than some of the other “unrepresented peoples”?

I fully agree,” Groenewald responds. “And we learn from other member populations what can happen if we don’t act now.” DM

Photo: UNPO General Assembly, Rome 2010.

Read more:

  • ‘Winnie Mandela Province’ and an independent Afrikaner state: The politics of exclusion in the ‘new’ South Africa, in the Daily Maverick


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.