When the United Nations was established in 1945, there were only 51 members countries - Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippine Republic, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Union of South Africa, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.
Since then at certain intervals, many countries have been granted membership. By 1990, there were 159 members. These included former Ceylon, present Sri Lanka, which was granted UN membership in 1955, after its application had been vetoed twice by the then USSR.
From 1991 to 2011 UN membership increased rapidly reaching a total today of 193 countries. The Holy See (Vatican) and Palestine, which have Observer status with the UN, are not counted as member states.
In fact, the collapse of the USSR in December 1991 gave birth to fifteen new countries. Take a closer look and we see that also in 1991, seven more countries gained membership (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Korea) bringing the total then to 166 members.
During 1992 the membership was augmented by thirteen new members (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Moldova, San Marino, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). Then in 1993, it rose by another five (Andorra, Czech Republic, Eritrea, Monaco, Slovakia and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) reaching to 184 member states.
In 1994 Palau; in 1999 Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga; in 2000 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Tuvalu; in 2002 Switzerland and Timor-Leste; in 2006 Montenegro and in 2011 South Sudan sought their membership in the UN. Presently there are 193 member countries with voting rights. Observer status does not give eligibility to vote in the UN. Switzerland had observer status for a long time, agreeing to membership only in 2002.
If one analyses those countries which sought UN membership, especially after 1991 - except a few, all others fought either for their independence or their right to self-determination. Unfortunately many of those countries paid a huge price for their independence.
We should not fail to consider countries which do not have UN membership, because their applications have been vetoed by one of the permanent members in the UN Security council. Two very good examples are the Republic of China – ROC (Taiwan) and the Republic of Kosovo.
In fact, out of 193 members of the UN, hundred and eleven (111) members have recognised the Republic of Kosovo as a sovereign state.
On 23 November 1971 the ROC was replaced by the People’s Republic of China - PRC in the UN Security Council, obviously granting of ‘veto’ power 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. However, since 1991 the ROC’s application for full membership and its request for non-member observer status in the UN has been vetoed by PRC and consistently denied.
The saddest part is that, the ROC is recognised as a sovereign state, by only twenty in the UN. This includes the Holy.
Now history repeats itself. In a manner similar to what happened soon after the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern bloc, today the struggle for the right to self-determination and independence is taking the lead. Today what is happening in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia, the Iraqi autonomous region of Kurdistan, two wealthiest northern regions of Italy - Veneto (Venice), and Lombardy (Milan) who have voted for greater autonomy, are all giving strong signals that they are waiting for recognition.
Also many other nations in Africa, America, Asia and Europe have been yearning for their independence for a long time, based on their historical claims. The struggles in Africa and Asia are violently suppressed by states which are reluctant to grant either more autonomy or independence. However these oppressed nations are once again tapping at the doors of the UN.
In September 2014, Scotland’s referendum for independence was narrowly-defeated through many promises given by Westminster. But once the United Kingdom leaves the EU, a second referendum for the independence of Scotland will be inevitable.
The former UN Secretary General Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s prediction may be coming true. He once said that there will be a time when the member states of the UN will be doubled.
It is not always guns and artilleries that have decided the political future of peoples. There are times when the pen, paper and tongue have played their part successfully.
Tamils in Sri Lanka
When its comes to the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka, the reality is that in the recent past, there was a de-facto administration which existed for nearly two decades with all sorts of infrastructures. For some unknown reasons, ‘Unilateral Declaration of Independence – UDI’ was not made by the administrators.
In June 2008, I wrote an article titled “UN member states recognise de-facto and independent states”. It was widely published in many media including one in Colombo. For obvious reasons, the media in Colombo censored a certain part of that article.
In that article, I concluded that, “Presently Tamil Eelam (the Tamil de-facto administration) 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.” (Excerpt)
If UDI had been declared by the administrators, today the situation would have been different. However, what is surprising about today’s Sri Lanka is that the same people, who rejected locally signed pacts and the Indo-Lanka accord - during the peak days of the war, made a promise to India and the International community that they would give more than what was in the Indo-Lanka accord. I refer to the 13thamendment. Now, once again, the very same people are spreading a claim locally and internationally that ‘there is no political problem for the Tamils in Sri Lanka’.
I believe that neither India nor the international community are dumb and blind. In the past, they played a serious role in many situations around the globe. Let’s wait and see.
The former American President, Abraham Lincoln once said, "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."
(The writer is the Founder General-Secretary of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights - TCHR in France)