A photo of a woman in saffron attire, covered in jewellery went viral on social media platforms last week. She called herself the “ambassador” of a country called Kailasa, who was attending a meet by the United Nations.
In the meeting that was held at Geneva on February 24, a delegation of women representing the controversial godman Nithyananda's ‘Kailasa’ were present. They participated in discussions on “equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems” organised by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). Photos of the event were posted by Nithyananda on his Twitter handle, garnering significant attention.
The tweet received reactions from people across the globe, questioning the UN for allowing Nithyananda’s representatives to take part in the event.
Nithyananda is a self-styled godman who founded Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam, a religious organisation that offers yoga, meditation and fitness courses. The fugitive godman is accused of several crimes in India including rape.
In 2019, he fled India and there were reports that said he had taken refuge in Ecuador.
But is Kailasa really a country?
On its website, Kailasa calls itself a nation established by “displaced Hindus from around the world.” During her speech at the UN, Vijayapriya Nithyananda, the woman seen in the photo, said that the United States of Kailasa (USK) was the first sovereign state for Hindus, established by Nithyananda.
It further says that the country provides “safe haven” to all practicing, aspiring or persecuted Hindus of the world. However, the UN has not recognised it as one of its 193 member countries. Kailasa did not attend the meet as a country, but in the general public category, when the floor was opened to the public participants to share their comments on the issues being discussed.
Notably, prior to the meeting, on February 24, the UN committee’s website allowed people and organisations to register complaints. It was under this provision, representatives of ‘Kailasa’ made entry in the public category in the UN committee.
In 2019, Nithyananda claimed the 'country' Kailasa which apparently has its own government, reserve bank, constitution, flag and even permanent ambassadors. However, it cannot be located on Google Maps, while Nithyananda's Twitter handle shows his location as Los Angeles.
Vivian Kwok media officer at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told BBC, these general discussions are public meetings open to anyone who is interested. She said USK's written submission to CEDAW would not be included in their report as it was "irrelevant" and "tangential" to the issues being discussed.
So, how can a country be formed?
The self-styled godman may call Kailasa, the territory of which is unknown, as a country but there are guidelines charted by the UN and the CESCR (Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) that explain how a country may be formed.
The United Nations has clear guidelines for recognising a new country under its charter. The UN recognises a new country only if it meets certain criteria like, they must have a defined territory, a permanent population, a functioning government, and the ability to conduct international relations.
The CESCR, a group of 18 independent experts who oversee the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by member states, is a part of the UN's treaty-based mechanism for addressing human rights violations, which also includes a charter-based mechanism.
All member states must regularly report to the committee on their progress in implementing these rights, and anyone who feels their rights have been violated can approach the CESCR.
It's important to note that the UN does not have the power to create new countries, but rather recognises them after they have been established through peaceful means. Additionally, the UN does not recognise self-proclaimed states or those that have gained independence through violent means.
Can a group of individuals declare a new country?
Speaking to BOOM Atul Mishra, associate professor of international relations at Shiv Nadar University, explained that there are three parts to it – sociology of the exercise, the political infrastructure and the diplomatic aspect.
Mishra said that recognition is a very complex issue. For example, Taiwan has all the capabilities of a sovereign country but it is not recognized as such by the UN and the majority of the world's countries. Until 1971, it was recognized as the representative of China but then the UN voted to make the People's Republic of China the legitimate representative of China. "So in a sense Taiwan lost its recognition by the UN and the international community."
In the current period, Russia has annexed four regions of Ukraine and wants the world to recognize these regions as part of the Russian Federation but the international community does not recognize them as Russian territory.
Joshua Keating, former associate editor of Foreign Policy magazine explains that maintaining an ability to conduct international relations is ‘somewhat controversial.’ He writes, “It was included as a qualification in the 1933 Montevideo Convention, which established the United States’ “good neighbor” policy of nonintervention in Latin America, but is generally not recognized as international law.”
Keating wrote that a key factor in the recognition process is the support of other countries, particularly the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The recognition of a new country by at least one permanent member is crucial to its acceptance by the international community.
What countries have not been recognised by UN?
In recent years, several countries have gained recognition from other nations but have yet to receive recognition from the UN. One such example is Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but has not yet gained official recognition from the UN. Similarly, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are two breakaway regions of Georgia that are recognized as independent states by Russia and a few other countries, but not by the UN.
Also regions like Transnistria which is a breakaway region of Moldova has been recognised by Russia and a few other countries, but not by the UN. The region declared independence from Moldova in 1990, but its status remains disputed.
In its list of 193 countries recognised by the UN, Nityananda’s Kailasa does not appear.