Efforts by minority cultures or oppressed peoples to establish freedom, democracy and independence no longer attract more than token support by the international community. Suppression of such initiatives by force tends to be ignored.
International law is clear that the right to self-determination of is a binding, enforceable right extending to all peoples under colonial or any type of alien domination of the nature of jus cogens, a peremptory norm in international law. This conclusion follows from a plethora of United Nations instruments and resolutions, international agreements, and from several important opinions of the International Court of Justice. It derives specifically and most forcefully from the United Nations Charter, the two human rights covenants, Resolutions 1514(XV), and the Helsinki Accords. Since the Charter of the United Nations came into force in 1945, 88 countries have achieved independence with the support of the UN.
During the Cold War period, no support was given in the case of Poland in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland in 1980. Little support was given to the Baltic states prior to the final breakup of the USSR. In the 1990s, inaction concerning Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia has followed a similar pattern. The President of the USA in 1993 accused European governments, and notably that of the UK, of preferring Bosnia to fall rather than incur any political risk to their own governments, whilst its Secretary of State claimed that the USA was "doing all it could consistent with our national interest".
[Palestine] The Palestine issue has been on the agenda of United Nations bodies since the creation of the state of Israel. A UN resolution in 1947 envisaged the establishment of two independent states: an Arab State and a Jewish State (as foreseen by the Balfour Declaration of 1917). The two states were to be joined by an economic union, while the City of Jerusalem would be a corpus separatum with a special status under a special international regime. This was rejected at the time by the Arabs as a violation of the provision of the UN Charter. Israel was created in 1948 and was immediately invaded by neighbouring Arab states. When the cease-fire was agreed Israeli forces controlled a large part of the territory which had constituted mandated Palestine. By the end of 1949, over 700,000 Palestinians had become refugees. In the period 1948 to 1968, the Palestine issue was largely viewed as a refugee issue by the UN. Following the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, initiated by the Arabs, the UN started to focus on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people as central to long-term peace in the Middle East. Recommendations to ensure the withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories and endorsement of the rights to self-determination remained largely unimplemented because of lack of consensus within the Security Council. Since 1983 there has been a steady deterioration in the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories with systematic violation of the rights of Palestinian peoples. Having previously rejected a two-state formula, this was first accepted in 1988 as a basis for negotiation. Internal protest, in the form of the intifadah started in 1987 as a direct result of the stalemate in negotiations. It has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Israel has implemented a systematic policy of constructing settlements in the occupied territories, destroying Palestinian homes and evicting them from their traditional lands.
[Tibet] Tibet was occupied by China in 1949, having acted in every respect as an independent state from 1911 to 1949. The occupying army of 40,000 killed half the defending force of 8,000. China forced Tibet to sign an unequal treaty in 1951 subsequently denounced by the Dalai Lama after fleeing to India in 1959 on the occasion of an uprising which resulted in the killing of 87,000 in central Tibet alone. In a 1989 demonstration an estimated 800 civilians were killed by Chinese security forces. It has been estimated that since 1949 as many as 1.2 million people have been killed or died of starvation. The colonial relationship is marked by economic exploitation; ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences between Chinese and Tibetans; continued occupation of Chinese territory by force; the use of excessive military force to stifle dissent, deprivation of human rights to a majority of the people; and systematic discrimination against Tibetan people. A high proportion of the traditional monasteries have been destroyed, together with the religious artefacts they contained. Widespread religious persecution has been characterized as religious genocide. Any form of protest leads to detention, intimidation, frequent interrogations with torture, and repercussions on family members. China has systematically relocated large numbers of people of non-Tibetan extraction to Tibet in order to make Tibetans a minority in their own country. As part of this policy it is alleged that Tibetan women have been the victim of forced abortions and sterilizations. Chinese already outnumber Tibetans by a ratio of two to one in the capital city of Lhasa.
[Western Sahara] The UN has repeatedly affirmed the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-government following the withdrawal of Spain in 1976.
[Somalia] The violence and starvation in Somalia for many months, prior to the intervention under UN auspices following dramatic media exposure, constitute a significant example of a willingness on the part of the international community to abandon people to their fate.
[East Timor] Following the invasion of East Timor in 1975 (immediately after its declaration of independence with the departure of the Portuguese colonial administration) by Indonesia, at least 200,000 people, representing one third of the population, have been killed or have died of starvation. The massacres were widely reported. Western governments did nothing, and have done nothing since. Emboldened by the action, officials claimed that only 19 people had been killed. Western governments have since sold warplanes to the Indonesian government on the understanding that they would only be used for ground attack. The whereabouts of more than 200 people who allegedly disappeared after the killing of 50 persons in 1991 was not known by the end of 1992. With few exceptions, those responsible for unlawful killings or disappearances were not prosecuted or were given early pardons. Indonesia is a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Numerous resolutions have been passed by the UN. The international community continues to promise that governments are pursuing a policy of quiet diplomacy. People continue to be jailed for distributing banned books, urging an election boycott or holding seminars. An observer of one massacre commented: "The great crime committed in East Timor has been covered in silence, giving the propagandists an opportunity to deny the truth of our suffering".
[Kashmir] The Muslim majority territory is claimed by India on the basis of a disputed instrument of accession that was conditional on a popular vote promised by India that has not yet been held under impartial auspices. The pledge in 1947 formed the basis of UN resolutions on Kashmir. The Indian claim is rejected by the people of Kashmir and challenged by Pakistan. It has never been accepted by the United Nations, nor legally validated. During the Cold War period all UN resolutions on the matter were blocked. In the period 1990-93, Indian forces have been engaged in a sustained campaign which has resulted in deaths variously estimated between 8,000 and 20,000. Human rights bodies are excluded from the territory but have succeeded in documenting hundreds of acts of brutality, including killing of suspects and rape. It is alleged that torture is regularly practised on detainees. Large numbers are detained without due process. The UN is not allowed to monitor the conflict with the liberation forces and has abandoned any attempt to broker a settlement.
[Kurdistan] The Kurdish people have, since the beginning of recorded history, occupied the mountainous regions currently divided between the countries of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The state of Kurdistan has never actually existed. The USA promised the Kurds a state in 1918 but was frustrated by the British, French and Turks. The Kurds have since continued to seek self-determination and have consequently been exposed to long-term campaigns of repression. It is alleged that Iraq has executed tens of thousands of Kurds in an effort to break the rebellion. Villages have been attacked and destroyed in an effort to drive them from their traditional lands. Efforts have been made to isolate them by restricting access to fuel and food shipments. The international community has been reluctant to take a position on the conflict; individual governments have been reluctant to become involved. During the Gulf War period, the USA exhorted the Kurdish people to rise against Saddam Hussein. At that time 2 million people were forced to flee into the mountains in winter. Following the Gulf War, in which the USA used bases in Turkey, Western support for the Kurds has further diminished. In 1993, 500,000 Kurds were still unable to return to their lands even though an semi-autonomous Kurdish government was established on Iraqi territory under pressure from the international community. The UN aid has not progressed to development and is failing to deliver even the inadequate emergency aid proposed. Donors are increasingly uninterested, openly critical of the UN's competence in northern Iraq and apparently disinclined to nurture a strong Kurdish administration that would upset neighbouring states with Kurdish populations of their own. Through its neglect, the international community is presiding over the continuation of Iraq's long standing policy of destruction of the Kurdish economy. In Turkey it is alleged that over 800 Kurdish villages have been attacked and emptied by the Turkish army since 1990. The 150,000 Turkish force has been given carte blanche to combat Kurdish insurrection in ways beyond any acceptable notion of anti-terrorism. In the cities, hundreds of Kurds have been murdered without any proper investigation. In the countryside, thousands are evacuated from their homes in a process that resembles ethnic cleansing. In Syria from 1962 the Kurdish population settled along the border with Turkey were subject to expulsion and treated as foreigners. Since then a state of emergency provides for the transfer of Kurds, denial of all education, and means of subsistence, and the suspension of civil rights of all those who do not speak Arabic. From 1989 all non-Arabic songs were prohibited at weddings and celebrations.
[Bosnia-Herzegovina] Following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, considerable media attention was given to the inability of the international community to act effectively, if at all, over a period of 30 months in response to the aggression perpetrated against the Muslim peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Serbs and Croats through the policy of ethnic cleansing. Over 2.1 million people were displaced from their homes, nearly 50% of the population of the area. The war exhausted stocks of food and timber and seriously damaged supplies of water, energy and medicine. Mosques were systematically destroyed. Numerous instances of massacre, rape and torture have been documented. It is estimated that several hundred thousand people died. The international community, having failed to protect the Muslim peoples of the area, has systematically appeased the aggressors, culminating in pressure on the Muslims to accept an ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina in conflict with the most basic principles of the UN Charter.
[Russia and Eastern Europe] Following the breakup of the former USSR, and during the initial period of endeavouring to achieve a transition to a market economy, Eastern European countries, especially Russia, sought significant economic assistance from the international community to ensure a smooth transition. Despite the many promises made, relatively little economic help was actually provided during what many observers claim to have been a critical period. It has been argued that the lack of this assistance has jeopardized the transition to a democratic society and markedly increased the probability of instability in the region. Comparisons have been drawn with the effects of the humiliating conditions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and the consequences to which these led.
[Indigenous peoples] Pleas for assistance have been addressed to the international community by indigenous peoples in many former colonial countries who have found their traditional lands and livelihoods menaced by incursion on the part of the nationals of the countries in which those lands are located. Brazil has provided a number of striking examples. The international community has proved unable to respond, partly because many countries are faced with the challenge of such minorities and the failure to uphold promises made to them in the past.