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D.C. Residents Officially 'Unrepresented Peoples'

Strauss led the effort for DC to join the UNPO. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Residents of the District of Columbia know this reality all too well: They don't have any voting representation in the federal government. But now the international community is learning that same lesson.  

On Monday, the nation's capital became part of the Unrepresented Nations and People's Organization, a human rights group comprised of 44 members including Taiwan and Kosovo. The group decided to add D.C. as a member, citing the District's lack of federal representation. "The District of Columbia is one of many unrepresented territories around the world where there is a clear lack of democratic rule;" UNPO General Secretary Marino Busdachin said in a statement, "the people of D.C. should be entitled to representation in the U.S. Congress."  

The admission comes after several months of work spearheaded by Paul Strauss, one of D.C.'s two elected "shadow" senators. Strauss traveled to Brussels over the weekend to make his case to the group's executive body.  

“There’s a good history of international attention advancing the cause of political rights in other countries," Strauss said in a Monday phone interview. "Let’s try it here.”  

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., lauded Strauss' effort in a statement Monday, noting that educating people outside of D.C. about its political status is a key component of the statehood movement. Norton said some of UNPO's members suffer harsher abuses than the District, but its lack of representation is still notable. And Strauss agreed.  

“I’m at a conference table in Brussels with people who represent some of the most oppressed and abused minorities,” Strauss said. "I know that I’m coming home to a country that guaranteed me the freedom to speak out this way and that’s a wonderful thing."  

"But the violations of D.C. rights in the international scheme of development may not rise to the horrific levels that some of these ethnic groups face," Strauss continued, " but it’s still wrong.”  

Strauss said his presentation to the committee lasted around 30-45 minutes, and afterward he showed the segment from HBO's "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver," and answered a series of questions. The late-night comedian devoted 17 minutes of his show to discuss D.C.'s status, and Strauss said the members of the board found it humorous and compelling.  

Norton plans to show the same clip at a D.C. statehood briefing on Capitol Hill on Nov. 17. The briefing had originally been scheduled for the end of October, but had to be rescheduled due to a vote to reauthorize D.C.'s school voucher program, which Norton opposed, but was a pet project of former Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.  

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled against the Obama administration late Monday in the main challenge to sweeping immigration executive actions announced a year ago.  

Correction 10:50 p.m. A previous version of this article misstated the title of the UNPO.  

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Topics: washington-dc