UNPO And MRG Host Conference At The United Nations Forum On Minority Issues

UNPO, 14 December 2010

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UNPO — The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization joined forces with Minority Rights Group International Tuesday to bring attention to widespread violations of minority rights through natural resource development projects.

A side event co-organized by UNPO and MRG brought together minority representatives, UN officials, experts and academics for an important discussion of the challenges and opportunities surrounding minority participation in resource development in their regions. The conference, attended by the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, and the Chairwoman of the Forum, Ms. Gita Sen.

The event, chaired by UNPO Program Manager Maggie Murphy, was kicked off by Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG. Lattimer spoke about the exploitation of natural resources in minority communities without their consent, strongly stating that it was nothing short of outright theft.

Representatives of three minority groups* provided valuable insight into the unique barriers they each face in asserting ownership and control over their natural resources, including land, water, minerals and oil.

Christoph Wiedmer, director of Society for Threatened Peoples- Switzerland, closed the panel with concrete examples illustrating the advantages and challenges of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Wiedmer described how this concept could provide a way forward in protecting minority rights in the process of natural resource development.

* Jane Meriwas of the Samburu Women for Education & Environment  Development Organization spoke vividly about the economic devastation caused by the loss of her people’s traditional societal structures and relationships with the land. Kathy Polias of the World Uyghur Congress then discussed the tragic situation of the Uyghurs in East Turkestan, also known as the Xinxiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Polias highlighted such issues as the theft of valuable resources by the Chinese state and discrimination against Uyghurs by the public and private institutions responsible for this theft. Sana Baloch of the Balochistan National Party discussed the difficulties facing Pakistan’s Balochistan region. Baloch argued that Pakistan deliberately maintains the region in a state of underdevelopment, so that it can exploit the region’s natural resources for the benefit of people in other regions of Pakistan.