A UN Parliamentary Assembly would strengthen the voice of minorities and the powerless
Some might think that a UN Parliamentary Assembly is an unrealistic, even utopian project. I guess that the International Criminal Court in The Hague once too was deemed a utopian endeavor. And now the court exists. There are a lot of debates about its work and its mandate, but it exists and it is doing what it was supposed to do: prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and at a later time its jurisdiction will also include the crime of aggression. And 122 countries are now state parties.
The Society for Threatened Peoples, a human rights organization that fights against genocide, forced migration, racism, minority oppression, and deportation, is a founding member and a longtime supporter of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. Why?
Consider the country of Mauritania: Mauritania has a little over 3 million inhabitants, and up to 500,000 of them are slaves. 90 % of them are women and girls. The slaves are told that it is God’s will that they are slaves. The ruling class is not interested in ending slavery. Even though there are laws that state that slavery must be punished, these laws are not enforced.
The anti-slavery organization we closely collaborate with is not recognized by the government. They cannot get foreign funding as an organization that is not recognized by the government. Its leaders have been imprisoned several times.
There is no debate over slavery in the Mauritanian media. Foreign journalists are not allowed to enter the country to report on slavery.
Anti-slavery campaigners want their voices heard, nationally and internationally. They need our support; they know that international attention foreign pressure on the Mauritanian government can help to end slavery in the long run.
This is just one example that illuminates why we need a UN Parliamentary Assembly: it would increase the number of people who have a difficult time having their voices heard and their challenges addressed on a global level. A UN Parliamentary Assembly would increase the likelihood that the powerless can come together and publicly criticize oppression, racism, slavery, environmental damage, poverty and most of all a lack of education and participation. It would enable them to blow the whistle and make governments and international institutions more accountable.
By contrast to all other major UN bodies, including the Human Rights Council, a UN Parliamentary Assembly would not be composed of government diplomats but by elected representatives - not only from governing parties but also from such in opposition. The assembly would establish its own human rights commission to look into human rights issues. This commission could organize hearings and investigate situations. As independent parliamentarians the members of the assembly would be able to denounce human rights abuses around the world in a very direct and clear manner since they would not have to pay attention to possible diplomatic imperatives. In addition, as the declaration adopted by the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels in October 2013 notes, representatives of indigenous peoples and nations in particular could be directly involved in the activities of the assembly as well.
That is why Society for Threatened Peoples will continue to speak up for the establishment of a UN Parliamentary Assembly.
The author works at the Asia/Africa department of the Society for Threatened Peoples. This piece is based on his presentation at the 5th International Meeting on a UN Parliamentary Assembly in October 2013 in Brussels