The current global crisis offers a new perspective into the challenges of unrepresented peoples around the world. In this new series Coronavirus: Unrepresented Peoples Forced to Go It Alone, UNPO will publish updates and analysis on the impacts of the exclusion and how its members are being forced largely to rely on themselves to formulate a coherent response to the crisis
Around the world, peoples lacking effective representation in the mechanism of national and international governance are being particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. With the member states of the EU closing national borders and of the UN dealing with pandemic mostly individually – reviving the “self-help” doctrine of political realism – multilateralism as a whole has been put to a test – perhaps its ultimate.
With the world battling its most challenging crisis since the Second World War, the United Nations’ Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has issued an urgent appeal for an action calling on politicians to “forget political games” and come together for a “strong and effective response”. However, responses from heads of governments worldwide have been divisive, incoherent and, in some cases, have exposed the many facets of populism that has taken the political landscape by storm over the last years.
The current global crisis offers a new perspective into the challenges of unrepresented peoples around the world. In this new series Coronavirus: Unrepresented Peoples Forced to Go It Alone, UNPO will publish updates and analysis on the impacts of the exclusion and how its members are being forced largely to rely on themselves to formulate a coherent response to the crisis.
States with Limited Recognition
Beyond the media headlines, states with limited or no recognition are operating on the fringes of the international system to overcome the pandemic. Their exclusion from international institutions has been detrimental to their ability to respond to the public health emergency. This is particularly acute in their lack of access to international funding due to their lack of recognized statehood.
While Abkhazia has yet to report the first incidence of the virus on its territory, this is not to say that it has not been strongly affected by events happening outside its borders. The state with limited recognition shares a land border with Georgia and Russia, the former being completely closed and the latter remaining open, albeit with greater restrictions. Since the economy of Abkhazia is based primarily on trade and tourism, the lack of visitors and large numbers of people canceling their trips to Abkhazia pose a serious risk to the Abkhaz economy.
The small unrecognized state of Somaliland, on the Horn of Africa, is taking a very proactive approach to combating the virus. The government has established a national task force to coordinate efforts in early detection, surveillance, risk communication, and infection control. Moreover, in cooperation with religious authorities, they have been able to use mosques as a platform to disseminate information to the public about the virus and prevention measures. This effective response, however, cannot make up for the lack of international cooperation and support. The virus also coincides with the locust swarms, which have the potential to disrupt agriculture significantly and could prove catastrophic in combination with a national epidemic.
The Republic of China, known internationally as Taiwan, has also taken very proactive measures against the pandemic, which has worked to its credit given the current situation worldwide. The number of cases on the island are currently at 329 (as of 01/04/2020), which is remarkable given its proximity to mainland China. Its relative success in this regard is thanks to it being one of the first countries to implement stringent restrictions on border controls and ban the export of surgical facemasks. “Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 is a successful model the rest of the world should learn from,” a State Department spokeswoman said, adding that “Taiwan is not just a democratic success story, but a true friend in times of need”.
It is also suggested that Taiwan’s previous experience with the SARS virus outbreak, which originated in China, also contributed to Taiwan’s preparedness. Despite its effective response, Taiwan continues to face challenges internationally due to efforts by the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s efforts to exclude Taiwan diplomatically from international forums such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
The case of the District of Columbia
In contrast to the aforementioned cases, Washington, D.C. does not seek independent statehood, but rather to be recognized as a US state with the same privileges and rights as the other 50 US states. The capital territory’s lack of statehood, despite its federal taxation, means that it is ineligible to receive the same support as the states regarding the fight against the coronavirus. As such, while the states were granted $1.25 billion of funding each, the 5 federal territories (including D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam) must split $3 billion between them, resulting in $500 million for the district. Thus, D.C. is losing out on the extra $750 million it would receive, were it a recognized state.
The Unrepresented Nations and People Organization (UNPO)