Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

UN Members Recognize De Facto and Independent States

by V. Kirubaharan, General Secretary, Tamil Centre for Human Rights, May 22, 2009

The world press never failed to highlight the hypocrisy of the People's Republic of China - ”How could a country [the PRC] which itself had been kept out of the UN for a long time, deny the right of admission to another independent state?”

Tamils et Albanais du Kosovo, un même combat?

Courtesy – Radio Suisse Romande

World Wars I and II (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) propelled the need and sowed the seeds for a world body, the United Nations (UN). But before the formation of the UN, soon after World War I, the League of Nations (LON) was established under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was also created as an affiliated organisation of the LON.

By the mid-1930s, after some years of existence, it became evident that the LON was unable to exert pressure to halt the rise of fascism and Nazism in Italy and Germany. In 1935 when Italy attacked Ethiopia with mustard gas, the LON could neither stop nor penalise Italy. With the beginning of World War II the LON ceased to function, but existed officially until the United Nations started its formal functions in 1945.

Prior to the formation of the LON and the UN, however, there were three international institutions established to coordinate affairs connected to international politics and communication.

On 17 May 1865, the International Telegraph Union – ITU, was founded in Paris and established its headquarters in Bern, Switzerland in 1868. The Universal Postal Union – UPU (International Postal Union), was established in 1874 with its headquarters in Bern, to coordinate and exchange mail globally by sea and air. Even though these organisations were established long before the birth of the LON and UN, they have both been incorporated today into the wider UN system and remain as specialised agencies.

Then in 1889, two Parliamentarians from the United Kingdom and France established the "Inter-Parliamentary Union – IPU" as an International organisation to deal with multilateral political affairs of Parliaments of sovereign States. The IPU consists of Members of Parliaments from around the World, and still remains, with its unique identity, supporting the task of the United Nations.

Birth of United Nations

Immediately after the catastrophic damage inflicted on world peace and security by World War II, today's super-powers or the Permanent members of the UN, (except the People’s Republic of China), accelerated their initiatives and established the United Nations in October 1945. At the same time, the UN Charter, which could be considered as a set of possible guidelines to maintain law and order among the member states, came into force, initially with 51 states. By the time it started its actual business in 1948, it had been endorsed by 58 States.

In 1949, after very long and exhausting discussions in the UN, Israel was granted membership. During that period, among the UN member states, there were few states of the current, 'Organisation of Islamic Conference - OIC': Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Indonesia. This brought good fortune for Israel. In fact, the OIC was established only on 25 September 1969, upon a decision in a summit that took place in Morocco.

Sri Lanka’s application for UN membership vetoed by USSR

By 1955, the number of UN member states had increased to 76, of which Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was one. It is to be noted Ceylon’s application for UN membership was vetoed four times by the USSR – on 18 August 1948, 15 December 1948, 13 September 1949 and 13 December 1955. During that period, this was the highest number of vetoes used against an independent state, seeking UN membership. The USSR used the veto because of the Ceylon-British defence agreement, under which Britain had control of the Airport and the Naval base in Trincomalee in Ceylon. Therefore, The USSR insisted that Ceylon was not an independent nation state. However, Ceylon was granted membership as part of a “package deal”, on 14 December 1955.

After exactly ten years, the number of UN member states had increased to 117 and by 1974 it had risen to 138, including the admission of Bangladesh, Grenada and Guinea-Bissau. Today with the entry of Eritrea, Timor-Leste/East-Timor and Montenegro it has increased to 192 states, including new states from USSR and Eastern Europe. On 25 August 1972, an initiative made by the USSR and India for the UN membership of Bangladesh had been vetoed by the People’s Republic of China – PRC. Bangladesh was however granted membership three years after its independence. The World Press never failed to highlight the hypocrisy of the PRC - ”how could a country (PRC) which itself had been kept out of the UN for a long time, deny the right of admission to another independence state?”

Confusion over Chinese membership

In 1945, China had been one of the key countries which had established the United Nations. At that time the 'Chinese Revolution' was at the peak of success or in the final stage. Endorsement by the Chinese to the UN Charter, was obviously by the Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) regime which was known as the Republic of China - ROC. It is well known that this regime was later over-thrown by the People's Liberation Army, under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung, in October 1949. The defeated 'Chiang Kai-Shek, his supporters and a section of the National Army moved from the mainland PRC, into the island of Taiwan and proclaimed the island as Republic of China - ROC.

Since the victory of the Chinese revolution, the People’s Republic of China - PRC, has maintained a policy that the ROC is part of the PRC. Both China(s) refused to recognise each other. There are 24 states which have official diplomatic relationship with the ROC –  Belize,   Dominican Republic,  El Salvador,  Guatemala,  Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua,  Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Burkina Faso, Gambia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Swaziland, Vatican City, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and  Tuvalu. The PRC does not maintain any diplomatic relationship with countries which have recognised the ROC. Bhutan has no diplomatic relations with either China(s), but in 1971 voted in favour of the PRC's entry into the UN.

On 23 November 1971 the ROC was replaced by the PRC in the UN Security Council. Thus, ’Veto’ power was obviously granted to the PRC. However the UN offered the ROC the possibility of remaining in the UN as a member in the General Assembly. Then ROC President Chiang Kai-shek refused to accept the offer, saying that the ROC would not remain in the UN, if the PRC was allowed membership. Since 1991 the ROC’s application for full membership and its request for non-member observer status with the UN have been consistently denied. Anyhow the ROC continues to be an economically viable state in South East Asia. Due to significant economic growth of the ROC, today it has become one of the Four Asian Tigers / East Asian Tigers. The others are - Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea.

The ROC is a good example of the fact that UN membership is not a pre-requisite for the existence and economic vibrancy of a state.

Recognition of new and de-facto states

When we consider examples of recognition of other new states and de-facto states, we see that:- the state of Israel does not have official relations with nearly thirty UN member states; Cyprus is not recognised by Turkey; North and South Korea have not recognised each other and Palestinian independence in 1988 was not recognised by some countries. In the meantime – Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic - SADR (Western Saharan/Polisario) declared independence (27 February 1976 - 266,000km² / 102,703sqmiles) from Morocco and formed a government in exile in Algeria. Western Sahara’s independence was recognised by more than forty-five UN members’ states and since 1984, the country has been granted full membership in the regional body, the African Union – AU, formerly known as the Organisation of African Unity - OAU. As a consequence Morocco left the AU, and is no more a member of that body.

When analysing further realities of the emerging independence of new states and de-facto states, more examples abound. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (Turkish Cypriots) declared independence in 1983. It is recognised by the UN member state Turkey, and since 1979 has been granted observer status with the OIC. There are a few other de-facto states waiting for recognition: - the Republic of South Assetia (28 November 1991 - 3,900km²/ 1,506sqmiles) and the Republic of Abhazia (23 July 1992 – 8,432 km² / 3,256 sq miles) in Georgia and Nagorno Karabakh (6 January 1992 - 11,458.38km²/ 4,424.10sqmiles) in the Republic of Azerbajan. The Republic of Somaliland asserted its independence (18 May 1991 - 176,210km²/ 68,035sqmiles), without any international recognition but it has political relationships with many Western countries including with the AU and the EU. Not to be forgotten is the fact that the Transnistria Maldown Republic in the Republic of Moldeva declared independence (July 1992 - 4,163km²/ 1,607sqmiles), and so is yet another case. It is needless to say that many of those involved in independence movements were branded as terrorists by the concerned States.

It is clear that the existence, recognition and independence of viable states, do not depend necessarily on membership in the UN. The most recent example of independence is that of Kosovo, which declared independence from a UN member state, Serbia. It is to be noted that Kosovo’s independence was recognised by three permanent members of the UN Security Council and by many other Western countries, signalling more hope and encouragement to people who are struggling for freedom on the basis of their right to self-determination, an important legal principle supported by the UN Charter and as such, articulated in the first article of the two major covenants of the UN – the ICCPR and ICESCR and many other human rights instruments.

Encouragement to other de-facto states

De-facto States in various countries, waiting for recognition by UN member states, like Kosovo and the economically viable states like ROC, encourage other de-facto states to be more positive about their independence, recognition, stability and cooperation with states of their choice. UN membership is not an exclusive factor for independence, as has been seen. As far as countries in Europe are concerned, ’The land of the Alps’, Switzerland is another good example regarding the question of UN membership. Switzerland chose to become a member of the UN only in 2002. During the same period newly born Timor-Leste/East-Timor also became a member. Until then Switzerland had remained only as an Observer in the UN.

Tamil Eelam as most vibrant de-facto state

Among all these de-facto states, Tamil Eelam (19,509 km²) is one of the most vibrant, compared even with many independent UN member states. Tamil Eelam is in the island of Sri Lanka, situated between Sri Lanka and India. It has all the infra-structure (Law and order, Social, Economic, Education, etc) that other states possess and also has all four forces – Army, Navy, Air-force and Police, which in fact many of the UN member states do not have. Tamil Eelam has a long history, its unique language, culture, well marked frontiers, etc.  In the 1960s, an anomaly in Sri Lanka which elicited much mirth was that Sri Lanka had an Air Force without a plane but Tamil Eelam has everything but has not yet declared independence. Presently Tamil Eelam is lacking in only three things. One, it has not declared its independence; secondly, it is waiting recognition and thirdly, even though it has its own financial institutions, it is using the Sri Lankan currency in place of its own. Therefore it is the right time for Tamil Eelam to think of introducing its own currency and to work hard for its international recognition.


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