Minority Groups and Conflict

The group held a conference on Minority Groups and Conflict on February 5th 2015. We had the honour of receiving Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, who talked about Colombia, and Orest Zakydalsky from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Professor Richard Foltz was unfortunately unable to attend to present on Yezidis but a copy of his presentation was distributed at the event.

As the recent events in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria to only mention a few, have shown, minority groups are facing conflict in a different manner. The manipulation of the nature of the role of minorities in conflict has led them to be targeted as well as used as weapons within the conflict.

This is why we hosted an event to obtain more information on the situation Colombian and Ukrainian minority groups are facing in order, hopefully, to be able to contribute to a discussion and action towards change.

Summary of Presentations:

Orest Zakydalsky, Senior Analyst at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress

–          Ukraine defines citizenship civically. The equal rights of national minorities are guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine and the Law on National Minorities of Ukraine

–          Ethnic Ukrainians make up about 78% of the population of the ethnic Russians make up about 17%, followed by Belarusians (0.6%); Moldovans (0.5%); Crimean Tatars (0.5%); and Bulgarians (0.4%). Hungarian, Romanian, Polish and Jewish community number about 150,000 each

–          The territory of Ukraine directly affected by the conflict is limited to the illegally occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts

–          The Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen no backlash against Russian-speakers or ethnic Russians in the parts of the country controlled by the Ukrainian government.

–          Since Russia’s occupation of Crimea, Crimean Tatars have faced increasingly blatant repression of their political, media and cultural institutions

–          Crimean Tatar political leaders Mustafa Dzhemiliev and Refat Chubarov have been banned from entering Crimea by the occupying authorities since May.

–          There have been disturbing disappearances and murders of Crimean Tatars, which have not been investigated by the occupying “authorities”.

–          The Crimean Tatar television channel was recently raided by police and the Mejlis, the Representative Assembly of the Crimean Tatar People, has faced increasing pressure, including the recent arrest (January 2015), of its deputy head, Akthtem Chyyhoz, on charges of “organizing a mass disturbance.

–          Ethnic Ukrainians, who constitute a minority (about 25%) of the population of Crimea, also face increasing threats: no Ukrainian language publications remain in Crimea, and that only 4 Ukrainian-language schools remain operational and there have been several cases of Ukrainian citizens being detained in Crimea and illegally deported to the Russian Federation, where they remain in prison

–          Since April, 2014, the Russian Federation has poured military equipment, weapons, supplies, mercenaries and “volunteers” to assist so-called “separatists” in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, who violently seized government buildings and proclaimed so-called “Peoples’ Republics”

–          In September, 2014, the Minsk agreements were signed by Ukraine, Russia, the OSCE and “representatives” of the so-called Peoples’ Republics. These included a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, increased powers of local self-government to be granted to Donetsk and Luhansk, and local elections to be held under Ukrainian law

–          Russians never really respected the Minsk agreements and violence resumed in January 2015

Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada

–          ONIC, the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia recognized that 34 out of 102 indigenous nations were threatened by extermination. This number now rose to 65% of indigenous populations being at threat

–          ONIC called for a comprehensive protection program in 2009, but unfortunately made little progress

–          Indigenous population face collective threats, bombing, violence and displacement from governmental, military and guerilla groups

–          Individuals, such as leaders of indigenous communities and members of NGOs trying to help indigenous populations, are threatened on a regular basis

–          Amnesty International established a report on land restitution that shed light on the amount of land stolen through violence

–          In 2009, ONIC established that the risk of extinction indigenous populations were facing was mainly due to forces displacement

–          In 2012, the Colombian government put in place a land restitution law that is supported by Canada, but has unfortunately adjudicated only 1 case out of 95.

–          The UN spoke out with great concern and said that 40 indigenous communities were at risk of disappearing, mainly because of mining activities

–          6 areas Canada has opportunities and responsibilities to help:

1)      The government needs to recognize that indigenous populations are being exterminated

2)      Canada needs to use its relations with Colombia to express concern and put pressure on the Colombian government to enact and enforce protection plans

3)      The human right report from the Canada-Colombia free-trade agreement needs to acknowledge and address the human rights crisis

4)      Embassies need to help individuals being threatened

5)      The Canadian government should advocate for indigenous representatives to have a central role in decisions related to resource extraction

6)      Embassies should provide more information on threats to indigenous communities for Canadian companies who are present in these communities