Separatist Movements - Should Nations Have a Right to Self-Determination?
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Though several international conventions reaffirm the right to self-determination, they also pledge to uphold the “principle of territorial integrity” – the right of existing states to prevent regions form seceding. “International law grows by practice,” says Thomas Grant, a senior fellow and legal scholar at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), an independent institution established and funded by the U.S. Congress that tries to resolve international conflicts. “The legal situation adapts itself to the factual situation”.
Consequently, the international community’s response to de facto separatist states varies widely. For example, most of the world refuses to deal with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which has been punished with an economic embargo since 1973, when Turkish troops invaded Cyprus and permanently occupied the north, creating a Turkish-dominated de facto state there. Somaliland – which established a de facto state in northwestern Somalia in 1991 after the government in Mogadishu collapsed – has been largely ignored by the world community despite being a relative beacon of stability in the otherwise unstable horn of Africa. […]
Meanwhile, the island nation of Taiwan, off the coast of mainland China, is accepted as a global trading partner – the United States alone has 140 trade agreements with the Taiwanese – but not as an independent country. Few countries are willing to challenge Beijing’s “one-China” policy, which denies any province the right to secede and sees Taiwan as its 23rd province […]
Marino Busdachin – general secretary of the Hague-based Unrepresented nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), which represents 70 nonviolent movements pushing for self-determination – rails against the U.N. for not upholding that right. “Self-determination exists on papers only. It is a trap,” he says. “We cannot apply to anyone for it. The U.N. member states block us.” Moreover, he say, seeking self-determination should not be confused with demanding the right to secede. “Ninety percent of our members are not looking for independence,” he says. […]
Fixing Fragile States author [Seth] Kaplan believes separatism makes sense in a few cases, such as Kosovo and Somaliland. “But, generally, the international community is right to initially oppose separatism,” he says.
So when should a group have the right to secede? “When you are deprived of the right to participate in government, and there are serious violations of human rights, such as genocide,” says the USIP’s Grant. […]
[Günter] Dauwen points out that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has condemned countries for not respecting the rights of ethnic minorities, but the EU doesn’t force its members to comply with those rulings. […]
Busdachin of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization says the EU “is helping to resolve separatist conflicts in many cases because it has the most advanced regime for protecting minorities.” For example, the EU has consistently pressured Turkey, which wants to join the union, to grant the Kurds the right to express their language and culture more freely. Such a move would quell some Kurds’ desire for full independence, he says, adding that he would like to see ASEAN, MERCOSUR and other regional organizations follow the EU model. […]
But independence does not always mean war. With a broadly homogenous population, its own currency, flag, army, government and airline, Somaliland is an example of how a people can effectively secede without causing chaos and violence. Somaliland’s isolation from the international community has not hindered its development – indeed it has helped, argues author Kaplan.
“The death of external involvement has kept foreign interference to a minimum while spurring self-reliance and self-belief,” he says. […]
In some cases – notably Quebec, Flanders, Wales and Scotland – separatist movements have not boiled over into violent conflict. In each, the central government granted some self-rule to the separatist region, preventing the situation from turning violent. In addition, the moments were able to argue their cases through elected political representatives in a functioning democratic system, which also reduces the likelihood of violence.
“When a country is too centralized and no-democratic, this produces separatist movements that can become violent…The responsibility is 50-50.” […]