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Power to the Minorities

To the Editors:

The following is the text of an open letter I sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations, writing as the secretary of the Group for Minority Rights, of which the directors are Françoise Giroud and Alfred Kastler. Readers wanting to support the work of this organization, or get information about it, can write to: 12 Rue Honoré-Chevalier, 75006 Paris.

Gerard Chaliand

Dear Mr. Waldheim,

Last November in New York and Geneva a day of international solidarity with the Palestinian people took place under the auspices of the UN. Following that occasion, I hope you will not mind if I draw your attention to certain facts which seem to me of great concern.

It is regrettable that only four organizations of peoples who are not identified with states can now express themselves at the UN: the Namibians, the Palestinians, and the Black Nationalists of Rhodesia and South Africa. No other movement or suppressed minority can make its voice heard at the UN except in so far as it attaches itself to one of the member states or to a regional organization such as the Arab League or the Organization for African Unity.

The rest must remain silent. And they include—to name only a few examples—the Eritreans in Ethiopia; the Polisario movement in what was formerly the Spanish Sahara; the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey; the Pathans in Pakistan; the Baluch in Iran; the Hungarians in Rumania; the Meo in Laos; the Nagas in India; the Muslims in the Philippines; the Indians (such as the Quechua people) in Bolivia.

At a time when much is said about human rights is it not of grave concern that groups not represented by a nation-state should have fewer rights than individuals?

And should it not be of concern, in view of the general consensus that genocide is the gravest crime against humanity, that one of the most appalling instances of genocide in our century should now be erased from the record of a UN organization? I refer here to the well-known genocide of the Armenian people under the Ottoman Empire in 1915. In 1973 the report of the UN Human Rights subcommittee concerned with discrimination against, and protection of minorities, did in fact refer to the genocide of the Armenians. That reference was only recently suppressed during the subcommittee’s debates in Geneva last September. And this is the subcommittee which is preparing a definitive report on the crime of genocide to be submitted to the Human Rights Commission of the UN in February and March of 1979.

This suppression of the history of a deliberate attempt to eliminate an entire people may seem to some a small incident; but it is symbolic of the way in which the fate of entire groups is met by willful blindness on the part of nations. And does it not point to the continuing failure of the UN to recognize the existence of the minority peoples such as those I have listed and the oppression to which they are subjected?

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