Reimagining Self-Determination

Mar 20, 2019

The right to self-determination is the most misunderstood and least well-developed human right. We are campaigning for a greater understanding of the right as a central instrument of peace and sustainable development and for international standards that give scope, content and certainty to the right.

The Problem

The right to self-determination is perhaps the most misunderstood fundamental human right in part because it has not been sufficiently developed under international law. 

This stands in stark contrast to other human rights, the body of law and jurisprudence around which has been greatly developed over the past 30 years. This causes the right to self-determination to operate more as a “political” than a legal right, fundamentally undermining basic guarantees of legal certainty underlying human rights law. 

Without legal certainty, the right is currently operating as a right in name only. The international system cannot properly adjudicate or mediate between competing claims for self-determination. 

States around the world routinely repress those seeking greater respect for self-determination for their people as opposed to seeking to find an accommodation for them, inflaming inter-ethnic tension and violating basic human rights. 

States routinely repress those campaigning for greater implementation of the right.  Its implementation has given rise to a variety of state practice at the heart of some of the bigger political crises that we see today. 

What we are doing about it

At UNPO we are campaigning to address the current misunderstanding the right to self-determination. 

Through policy research into the intersection between the implementation of the right to self-determination and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we are highlighting the importance of the right as an instrument of long-term global peace, democratic reform and sustainable development. We are in particular focusing on the impact of excluding unrepresented people from national and international decisionmaking related to development programming and the institutions of international cooperation on the ability to meet the SDGs worldwide, and instances where the realization of the right to self-determination acts as a precondition to safeguarding other human rights at the heart of the SDGs.

Through our international advocacy work we are encouraging more standard setting around the right to self-determination, to modernize and add substance to it and to encourage practical solutions to ensure that disagreements over the implementation of self-determination do not create a negative human impact (for example, encouraging human rights reporting to international forums and recognition of official documents issued by unrepresented nations to guarantee freedom of movement and access to educational opportunities).

And through our training and communications strategies we are empowering non-violent self-determination movements around the world to highlight their causes to policymakers and the public.