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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Self-determination is the free choice of one’s own acts without external compulsion. In politics it is seen as the freedom of the people of a given territory or national grouping to determine their own political status and how they will be governed without undue influence from any other country.[1] There are conflicting definitions and legal criteria for determining which groups may legitimately claim the right to self-determination.[2]




Pre-20th century


Just as colonisation and colonialism have been practiced throughout recorded history, political self-determination, on an individual level, has been documented similarly and cherished highly by collective peoples despite them; ancient Mesopotamia and the later Greek city-states are early examples of its practice.[2] The employment of imperialism, through the expansion of empires, and the concept of political sovereignty, as developed after the Treaty of Westphalia, also explain the emergence of self determination during the Modern Era. During, and after, the Industrial Revolution many groups of people recognized their shared history, geography, language, and customs. Nationalism emerged as a uniting ideology not only between competing powers, but also for groups that felt subordinated or disenfranchised inside larger states, in this situation self determination can be seen as a reaction to imperialism. Such groups often pursued independence and sovereignty over territory, but sometimes a different sense of autonomy has been pursued or achieved.


The world possessed several traditional, continental empires such as the Ottoman, Russian, Austrian or Hapsburg, and the Manchurian Qing. Political scientists often define competition in Europe during the Modern Era as a balance of power struggle, which also induced various European states to pursue colonial empires, beginning with the Spanish and Portuguese, and later including the British, French, Dutch, and German.

During the early 1800s, competition in Europe produced multiple wars, most notably the Napoleonic Wars. After this conflict, the British Empire became dominant and entered its "imperial century", while nationalism became a powerful political ideology in Europe.

Later, after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, "New Imperialism" was unleashed with France and later Germany establishing colonies in Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Japan also emerged as a new power. Multiple theaters of competition developed across the world:

The Ottoman Empire, Austrian Empire, Russian Empire, Qing Empire and the new Empire of Japan maintained themselves, often expanding or contracting at the expense of another empire. All ignored notions of self-determination for those governed.[3]

Rebellions and Emergence of Nationalism

The revolt of New World British colonists in North America, during the mid-1770s, has been seen as the first assertion of the right of national and democratic self-determination, because of the explicit invocation of natural law, the natural rights of man, as well as the consent of, and sovereignty by, the people governed; these ideas were inspired particularly by John Locke’s enlightened writings of the previous century. Thomas Jefferson further promoted the notion that the will of the people was supreme, especially through authorship of the Declaration of Independence which inspired Europeans throughout the 19th century.[2] The French Revolution was motivated similarly and legitimatized the ideas of self-determination on that Old World continent.[4][5]

Within the New World during the early 1800s, most of the nations of Spanish America achieved independence from Spain. The United States supported that status, as policy in the hemisphere relative to European colonialism, with the Monroe Doctrine. The American public, organized associated groups, and even Congressional resolutions, often supported such movements, particularly the Greek War of Independence (1821-29) and the demands of Hungarian revolutionaries in 1848. Such support, however, never became official government policy, due to balancing of other national interests. After the American Civil War and with increasing capability, the United States government did not accept self-determination as a basis during its Purchase of Alaska and attempted purchase of the West Indian islands of Saint Thomas and Saint John in 1860s, or its growing influence in the Hawaiian Islands, that led to annexation in 1898. With its victory in the Spanish-American War in 1899 and its growing stature in the world, the United States supported annexation of the former Spanish colonies of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, without the consent of their peoples, and it retained “quasi-suzerainty” over Cuba, as well.[2]

Nationalist sentiments emerged inside the traditional empires including: Pan-Slavism in Russia; Ottomanism, Kemalist Ideology and Arab nationalism in the Ottoman Empire; State Shintoism and Japanese identity in Japan; and Han identity in juxtaposition to the Manchurian ruling class in China. Meanwhile in Europe itself there was a rise of nationalism, with nations such as Greece, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria seeking or winning their independence.

Karl Marx supported such nationalism, believing it might be a “prior condition” to social reform and international alliances.[6] In 1914 Vladmir Lenin wrote: “[It] would be wrong to interpret the right to self-determination as meaning anything but the right to existence as a separate state.”[7]

World War I and II

Europe and the Middle East

Woodrow Wilson revived the American commitment to self-determination, at least for European states, during World War I. When the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in November 1917, they called for Russia’s immediate withdrawal as a member of the Allies of World War I. They also supported the right of all nations, including colonies, to self-determination.”[7] The 1918 Constitution of the Soviet Union acknowledged the right of secession for its constituent republics.[2]

This presented a challenge to Wilson’s more limited demands. In January 1918 Wilson issued his Fourteen Points of January 1918 which, among other things, called for adjustment of colonial claims, as long as the interests of colonial powers had equal weight with the claims of subject peoples.[2] The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 led to Russia's exit from the war and the independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland. The end of the war led to the dissolution of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation by the Allies of Czechoslovakia and the union of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs and the Kingdom of Serbia as new states. However, this imposition of states where some nationalities (especially Poles, Czechs, and Serbs and Romanians) were given power over nationalities who disliked and distrusted them eventually helped lead to World War II. The defeated Ottoman empire was dissolved into the Republic of Turkey and several smaller nations, including Yemen, plus the new Middle east Alliedmandates” of Syria and Lebanon (future Syria, Lebanon and Hatay State), Palestine (future Transjordan and Israel), Mesopotamia (future Iraq). The League of Nations was proposed as much as a means of consolidating these new states, as a path to peace.[8]

During the 1920s and 1930s there were some successful movements for self-determination in the beginnings of the process of decolonization. In the Statute of Westminster the United Kingdom granted independence to Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland, the Irish Free State, the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Union of South Africa after the British parliament declared itself as incapable of passing laws over them without their consent. Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq also achieved independence from Britain and Lebanon from France. Other efforts were unsuccessful, like the Indian independence movement. And Italy, Japan and Germany all initiated new efforts to bring certain territories under their control, leading to World War II.

Eastern Asia

While Europe underwent significant political and territorial changes before and after World War I, Eastern Asia also underwent a period of great change.

Japan became a rising power and gained more respect from Western powers after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War. Japan joined the Allied Powers in World War I and attacked German colonial possessions in the Far East, adding former German possessions to its own empire. In the 1930s, Japan gained significant influence in Inner Mongolia and Manchuria after it invaded Manchuria. It established Manchukuo as a theoretically liberated state, although most historians regard this as a Japanese puppet state created under the pretext of ethnic or national liberation. This was essentially the model Japan followed as it invaded other areas in Asia and established the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

With the collapse of the Qing Empire, China emerged as an independent state, rather than as a subjected (but culturally dominant) component of a larger empire. It began a process of defining itself as a sovereign state dominated by its ethnic Han majority. China under the Republican government, and later the Communist government, asserted that it should inherit full and complete authority over the territories of the collapsed Manchurian Qing Empire. Republican China asserted a identity of Zhonghua minzu that stated that all people within the territorial boundary of China was, and always had been, politically and ethnically Chinese. The first manifestation can be seen in the concept of Five Races Under One Union, and later in Communist China as the Soviet-influenced concept of China's 56 Nationalities.

In counterpoint to China's claim of total sovereignty over the often ambiguous frontiers of the Qing Empire, multiple areas of the imperial lands continued to remain outside its control. Chinese suzerainty over many vassal states had been lost to other empires including Korea (to the Empire of Japan) and Vietnam (to the French colonial empire). Outer Mongolia, Tuva, and Tibet asserted their independent status, which Republican China rejected but, in general, it could not stop. The province of Xinjiang also became a sphere of Soviet influence, which included support for an small but independent East Turkestan Republic. Tibet remained de facto independent, as the British Empire, through the British Raj, did not overtly recognize its full sovereignty by instead recognizing it as a vassal state under China. The attitude of the Soviet Union toward Outer Mongolia was similar, but later it fully supported its independence as the Empire of Japan seemed poised to strike further westward. Tuva established its independence, and became the world's second communist state as the People's Republic of Tuva, but in rough parallel to Soviet actions in Eastern Europe in the 1940s, the Soviet Union annexed it while the other Allied Powers were concerned with central Europe and coastal Asia. Furthermore, although Republican China continued to claim sovereignty over these areas with the United States' support, the United States quietly agreed to Mongolian independence at the Yalta Conference as a trade for Soviet support against Japan in the Pacific Theater.

Many of Eastern Asia's current disputes to sovereignty and self-determination stem from unresolved disputes from World War II. After its fall, the Empire of Japan it renounced control over many of its former possessions including Korea, Sakhalin Island, and Taiwan. Korea was specifically granted independence but the receiver of various other areas was not stated in the Treaty of San Francisco, giving Taiwan de facto independence although its political status continues to be ambiguous.

The Cold War World

The UN Charter

In 1941 Allies of World War II signed the Atlantic Charter and accepted the principle of self-determination. In January 1942 twenty-six states signed the Declaration by United Nations, which accepted those principles. The ratification of the United Nations Charter in 1945 at then end of World War II placed the right of self-determination into the framework of international law and diplomacy.

  • Chapter 1, Article 1, part 2 states that purpose of the UN Charter is: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.”[9]
  • Article 1 in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[10] and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[11] Both read: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
  • The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 15 states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of a nationality or denied the right to change nationality.

However, the charter and other resolutions did not insist on full independence as the best way of obtaining self-government, nor did they include an enforcement mechanism. Moreover, new states were recognized by the legal doctrine of uti possidetis juris, meaning that old administrative boundaries would become international boundaries upon independence, even if they had little relevance to linguistic, ethnic, and cultural boundaries.[12][13] Nevertheless, justified by the language of self-determination, between 1946 and 1960, the peoples of thirty-seven new nations freed themselves from colonial status in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.[2][14][15] The territoriality issue inevitably would lead to more conflicts and independence movements within many states and challenges to the assumption that territorial integrity is as important as self-determination.[12]

The Communist versus Democratic World

Decolonization in the world was contrasted by the Soviet Union’s successful post-war expansionism. Tuva and several regional states in Eastern Europe, the Baltic, and Central Asia had been fully annexed by the Soviet Union. Now, it extended its influence by establishing satellite states in Eastern Germany and the countries of Eastern Europe, along with support for revolutionary movements in China and North Korea. Although satellite states were independent and possessed sovereignty, the Soviet Union often violated principles of self-determination by suppressing the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring Czechoslovak reforms of 1968. It invaded Afghanistan to support an increasingly unpopular communist government assailed by local tribal groups.[2]

Soviet actions were countered by the United States which saw communism as a world threat. The United States often supported other nations, regardless of their nature, as long as they remained anti-communist. In spite of this, communism was seen in a different way by many Third World countries, where it sometimes became an ideology that united groups to oppose imperialism or colonization. Consequently, many self-determination movements, which spurned some type of authoritarian government, were accused of being being communist-inspired or controlled.[2] Thus the United States entered into a 10 year war in Vietnam, taking over from French colonialists,[16] and supported Portugal in its attempts to hold on to Angola.

Eastern Asia

In Asia, the Soviet Union had already converted Mongolia into a satellite state, but abandoned its assistance to the Second East Turkestan Republic and gave up its Manchurian claims to China. With the world focused on the Korean War in late 1950, Communist China entered the conflict in support of North Korea while it simultaneously invaded Tibet. Tibet failed to gather support from appeals to Western states and the United Nations, in part due to its prior isolationist attitude and unrecognized status. After its appeals for help were ignored or rebuffed, it submitted to the People's Liberation Army, and was granted a special status under the Seventeen Point Agreement. This relationship came under stress during the 1950s and was ultimately negated when China fully incorporated Tibet after the 1959 Tibetan uprising.[17]

The conflict in Korea ended with a split of the country into two states. After attempts to annex Taiwan, China failed and turned its attention to other issues. For various reasons, China under Mao Zedong became bitterly divided with the Soviet Union and developed an adversarial relationship during the Sino Soviet Split.

In Taiwan, the Guomindang established a one-party state that brought significant economic reform, but also created bitter political identity tension between mainland Chinese immigrants and earlier Taiwanese residents.

South and Southeast Asia

In 1947, India gained independence from The British Empire. Great Britain's empire was in decline but it adapted to these circumstanced by creating the British Commonwealth which is a free association of equal states. As India obtained its independence, multiple ethnic conflicts emerged in relation to the formation of a statehood during the Partition of India. Political units of British India were free to choose their direction of statehood, which resulted in Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Future conflicts emerged over Jammu and Kashmir and Bangladesh independence. After the Chinese annexation of Tibet and the Sino-Indian War, the status of the independent kingdom of Sikkim also became an issue. India continues to provide safe harbor for the Tibetan Government in exile.

Myanmar also gained independence from the British Empire, but declined membership in the British Commonwealth. Ethnic conflicts that challenge the ruling government persist.

When the British began their exit from British Malaya, they sought to consolidate several of the previous ruled entities. This also sparked a war with Indonesia which did not want the consolidated state.

Indonesia gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949 after the Dutch failed to restore colonial control. As mentioned above, Indonesia also wanted a powerful position in the region that could be lessened by the creation of united Malaysia. The Netherlands retained Dutch New Guinea, but Indonesia threatened to invade and annex it. A vote was allegedly taken under the UN sponsored Act of Free Choice to allow West New Guineans to decide their fate, although many dispute its veracity. Later, Portugal relinquished control over East Timor in 1975, at which time Indonesia promptly invaded and annexed it.

Post Cold War

The Cold War began to wind down after Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in March 1985. With the cooperation of U.S. president Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev wound down the size of the Soviet Armed Forces and reduced nuclear arms in Europe, while liberalizing the economy.

In 1989-90, the communist regimes of Soviet satellite states collapsed in rapid succession in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, and Mongolia. East and West Germany united, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into Czech Republic and Slovakia, while in 1990 Yugoslavia began a violent break up into its former 6 sub-unit republics. Kosovo, which was previously an autonomous unit of Serbia declared independence in 2008, but has received less international recognition.[2]

In December 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president and the Soviet Union dissolved relatively peacefully into fifteen sovereign republics, all of which rejected communism and most of which adopted democratic reforms and free-market economies. Inside those new republics, four major areas have claimed their own independence, but not received widespread international recognition.

After decades of civil war, Indonesia recognized the independence of East Timor in 2002.

China continues to have significant territorial disputes, especially over sovereignty and the meaning of autonomy and self-determination in Tibet, Xinjiang, and to a lesser degree in Inner Mongolia. The People's Republic of China, although established in 1949-1950, contends it is the exact successor state to the Qing Empire which fell in 1911, and that these areas, including Taiwan, have politically and historically always been considered sovereign territories of China in past dynasties. Historians dispute the ability to apply the term sovereignty to ancient times, with some even pointing to the fact that the Chinese Communist Party formerly recognized a right for many territories within the boundaries of modern China to possess self-determination and political independence. Party members including Mao Zedong once supported the struggle of the people in Taiwan and Korea to form their own independent countries, while later reducing support for Taiwan self-determination to the insistence that it is merely a Chinese province.[18]

As noted, self determination movements remain strong in some areas of the world. Some areas possess de facto independence, such as Taiwan, North Cypress, Kosovo, and South Ossetia, but their independence is disputed one or more major states. Significant movements for self-determination also persist for locations that lack de facto independence, such as Tibet, Kurdistan Region, Chechnya, and Palestine.

Current Issues

Since the early 1990s, the legitimatization of the principle of national self-determination has led to an increase in the number of conflicts within states, as sub-groups seek greater self-determination and even full secession, and as their conflicts for leadership within groups and with other groups and with the dominant state become violent.[19] The international reaction to these new movements has been uneven and often dictated more by politics than principle. The year 2000 United Nations Millennium Declaration failed to deal with these new demands, mentioning only “the right to self-determination of peoples which remain under colonial domination and foreign occupation.”[13][20]

In an issue of Macquarie University Law Journal Associate professor Aleksandar Pavkovic and Senior Lecturer Peter Radan outlined current legal and political issues in self-determination.[21] These include:

Defining "peoples"

There is not yet a recognized legal definition of "peoples" in international law. Vita Gudeleviciute of Vytautas Magnus University Law School, reviewing international law and UN resolutions, finds in cases of non-self-governing peoples (colonized and/or indigenous) and foreign military occupation "a people" is the entire population of the occupied territorial unit, no matter their other differences. In cases where people lack representation by a state’s government, the unrepresented become a separate people. Present international law does not recognize ethnic and other minorities as separate peoples.[13] Other definitions offered are "peoples" being self-evident (from ethnicity, language, history, etc.), or defined by "ties of mutual affection or sentiment," i.e. "loyalty," or by mutual obligations among peoples. Or the definition may be simply that a people is a group of individuals who unanimously choose a separate state. If the “people” are unanimous in their desire for self-determination, it strengthens their claim. For example, the populations of federal units of the Yugoslav federation were considered a people in the breakup of Yugoslavia, even though some of those units had very diverse populations.[21] Libertarians who argue for self-determination distinguish between the voluntary nation (the land, the culture, the terrain, the people) and the state, the coercive apparatus, which they have a right to choose or self-determine.[8]

Self-determination versus territorial integrity

National self-determination challenges the principle of territorial integrity (or sovereignty) of states because it is the will of the people that makes a state legitimate. This implies a people should be free to choose their own state and its territorial boundaries. However, there are far more self-identified nations than there are existing states and there is no legal process to redraw state boundaries according to the will of these peoples.[21]

Pavkovic and Radan describe three theories of international relations relevant to self-determination.

  • The realist theory of international relations insists that territorial sovereignty is more important than national self-determination. This policy was pursued by the major powers during the Cold War.
  • Liberal internationalism has become an alternative since that time. It promotes the abolition of war among states as well as increased individual liberty within states, and holds the expansion of global markets and cross-border cooperation diminishes the significance of territorial integrity, allowing for somewhat greater recognition of greater self-determination of peoples.
  • Cosmopolitan liberalism calls for political power to shift to a world government which would make secession and change of boundaries a relatively easy administrative matter. However, also would mean the de facto end of self-determination of national groups.[21]

Allen Buchanan, author of seven books on self-determination and secession, supports territorial integrity as a moral and legal aspect of constitutional democracy. However, he also advances a “Remedial Rights Only Theory” where a group has “a general right to secede if and only if it has suffered certain injustices, for which secession is the appropriate remedy of last resort.” He also would recognize secession if the state grants, or the constitution includes, a right to secede.[13]

Vita Gudeleviciute holds that in cases of non-self-governing peoples and foreign military occupation the principle of self-determination trumps that of territorial integrity. In cases where people lack representation by a state’s government, they also may be considered a separate people, but under current law cannot claim the right to self-determination. On the other hand, she finds that secession within a single state is a domestic matter not covered by international law. Thus there are no on what groups may constitute a seceding people.[13]

Methods of increasing minority rights

In order to accommodate demands for minority rights and avoid secession and the creation of a separate new state, many states decentralize or devolve greater decision-making power to new or existing subunits or even autonomous areas. More limited measures might include restricting demands to the maintenance of national cultures or granting non-territorial autonomy in the form of national associations which would assume control over cultural matters. This would be available only to groups that abandoned secessionist demands and the territorial state would retain political and judicial control, but only if would remain with the territorially organized state.[21]

Self-determination versus majority rule/equal rights

Pavković explores how national self-determination, in the form of creation of a new state through secession, could override the principles of majority rule and of equal rights, which are primary liberal principles. This includes the question of how an unwanted state can be imposed upon a minority. He explores five contemporary theories of secession. In “anarcho-capitalist” theory only landowners have the right to secede. In communitarian theory, only those groups that desire direct or greater political participation have the right, including groups deprived of rights, per Allen Buchanan. In two nationalist theories, only national cultural groups have a right to secede. Australian professor Harry Beran’s democratic theory endorses the equality of the right of secession to all types of groups. Unilateral secession against majority rule is justified if the group allows secession of any other group within its territory.[22][23]

Constitutional law

Most sovereign states do not recognize the right to self-determination through secession in their constitutions. Many expressly forbid it. However, there are several existing models of self-determination through greater autonomy and through secession.[24]

In liberal constitutional democracies the principle of majority rule has dictated whether a minority can secede. In the United States Abraham Lincoln acknowledged that secession might be possible through amending the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court in Texas v White, held secession could occur "through revolution, or through consent of the States."[25][26] The British Parliament in 1933 held that Western Australia only could secede from Australia upon vote of a majority of the country as a whole; the previous two-thirds majority vote for secession via referendum in Western Australia was insufficient.[21]

The Chinese Communist Party followed the Soviet Union in including the right of secession in its 1931 constitution in order to entice ethnic nationalities and Tibet into joining. However, the Party eliminated the right to secession in later years, and had anti-secession clause written into the Constitution before and after the founding the People's Republic of China. The 1947 Constitution of the Union of Burma contained an express state right to secede from the union under a number of procedural conditions. It was eliminated in the 1974 constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma (officially the “Union of Myanmar”). Burma still allows “local autonomy under central leadership.”[24]

As of 1996 the constitutions of Austria, Ethiopia, France, Singapore[citation needed], Saint Kitts and Nevis Republics have express or implied rights to secession. Switzerland allows for the secession from current and the creation of new cantons. In the case of proposed Quebec separation from Canada the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998 ruled that only both a clear majority of the province and a constitutional amendment confirmed by all participants in the Canadian federation could allow secession.[24]

The 2003 draft of the European Union Constitution allowed for the voluntary withdrawal of member states from the union.[24] There was much discussion about such self-determination by minorities[27] before the final document underwent the unsuccessful ratification process in 2005.

Drawing new borders

Once groups exercise self-determination through secession, the issue of the proposed borders may prove more controversial than the fact of secession. The bloody Yugoslav wars in the 1990s were related mostly to borders issues because the international community applied a version of uti possidetis juris in transforming existing internal borders of the various Yugoslav republics into international borders, despite the conflicts of ethnic groups within those boundaries. The northern two-thirds of Quebec already has made it clear it will resist by force being incorporated into a Quebec nation.[21]

The border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State was based on the borders of existing counties and did not include all of historic Ulster. A Boundary Commission was established to consider re-drawing it. Its proposals, which amounted to a small net transfer to Northern Ireland, were leaked to the press and then not acted upon. In December 1925, the governments of the Irish Free State, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom agreed to accept the existing border. Most Irish Nationalists and Irish Republicans claim all of Northern Ireland and are not particularly interested in new borders.[citation needed]

Current movements

For past movements see list of historical autonomist and secessionist movements and lists of decolonized nations. Also see list of autonomous areas by country and list of territorial autonomies and list of active autonomist and secessionist movements.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia


Recently (2003 onwards), self-determination has become the topic of some debate in Australia in relation to Aborigines (indigenous Australians). In the 1970s, the Aboriginal community approached the Federal Government and requested the right to administer their own communities. This encompassed basic local government functions, ranging from land dealings and management of community centres to road maintenance and garbage collection, as well as setting education programmes and standards in their local schools.

Balochistan province

Since 1948, Baloch nationalists in Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan have been seeking independence as a separate state for the Baloch people from elements outside the country. The movement has culminated in several armed uprisings in both Pakistan and Iran, that have been crushed, especially during the 1970s. The movement is strongest in Balochistan (Pakistan), where it is led by the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Baloch Students Organization.

Basque Country

The Basque Country (Basque: Euskal Herria, Spanish: País Vasco, French: Pays Basque) as a cultural region (not to be confused with the homonym Autonomous Community of the Basque country) is a European region in the western Pyrenees that spans the border between France and Spain, on the Atlantic coast. It comprises the autonomous communities of the Basque Country and Navarre in Spain and the Northern Basque Country in France. Since the 19th century, Basque nationalism has demanded the right of some kind of self-determination[citation needed]. This desire for independence is particularly stressed among leftist Basque nationalists. The right of self-determination was asserted by the Basque Parliament in 1990, 2002 and 2006.[28] Since[citation needed] self-determination is not recognized in the Spanish Constitution of 1978, some Basques abstained and some even voted against it in the referendum of December 6 of that year. However, it was approved by a clear majority at the Spanish level, and with 74,6% of the votes in the Basque Country. [29] The derived autonomous regimes for the BAC was approved in later referendum but the autonomy of Navarre (amejoramiento del fuero: "improvement of the charter") was never subject to referendum but just approved by the Navarrese Cortes (parliament). There are not many sources on the issue for the French Basque country.

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA (English: Basque Homeland and Freedom; pronounced [ˈɛːta]), is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization. Founded in 1959, it evolved from a group advocating traditional cultural ways to a paramilitary group with the goal of Basque independence. Its ideology is Marxist-Leninist.[30][31]


Biafra Republic was first declared in 1967 by Lt. Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu but the state could only survive for 30 months during which Nigerian government fought the break-away republic to annex it. Over 3 million Igbos lost their lives in the ensuing war.

In 1999, a new group of activists formed an organization Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign Republic of Biafra (MASSOB). Various other other groups have been formed with similar agenda.

Catalan Countries

Països Catalans (in catalan, often literally translated into English as Catalan Countries) refers to the territories where Catalan language was historically spoken[32]. These correspond with some parts of the medieval Crown of Aragon [33][34] (concretely Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Valencia and La Franja in Spain, Northern Catalonia in France, the city of Alghero in Italy, and Andorra)[35].

Nowadays there are movements which support the independence of Catalan Countries from Spain and France, but they only get significant support in Catalonia. Some of the parties of Catalonia, Valencian community, and Balear islands that follow this idea are Republican Left of Catalonia and Republican Left of the Valencian Country, Estat Català, Partit Republicà Català, Popular Unity Candidates, Valencian Nationalist Bloc, Bloc per Mallorca, etc. Furthermore, there are some other Catalan groups and movements that want the independence of Catalan Countries, such as: Sobirania i Progrés[36], Deu Mil per l'autodeterminació[37], Catalunya Estat Lliure [38], Sobirania Valenciana [39], etc. All these political parties and movements follow a non-violence way to express their ideas.


Under Dzhokkar Dudayev, Chechnya declared independence as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, using self-determination, Russia's history of bad treatment of Chechens, and a history of independence before invasion by Russia as main motives. Russia has restored control over Chechnya, but the separatist government functions still in exile, though it has been split into two entities: the Achmed Zakayev-run pro-Russian Chechen Republic (based in Poland, the UK and the US), and the Islamic Caucasus Emirate.


Under conditions of peace and in democratic state the focus of German public addresses weaker topics, as especially the Rights of informational self determination. This is a new topic in the context of surveillance of public areas and surveillance at work [40][41].

Israel and Palestine

The right to self-determination as outlined in public international law is often referenced by both sides in the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Jammu and Kashmir

United Nations Security Council Resolution 47, adopted in 1948, called for a plebiscite to decide the fate of Kashmir. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an alliance of 26 organizations in Kashmir seeks self-determination according to the UN resolution. Some groups have suggested that a third option of Independence be added to the resolutions two options of union with India or union with Pakistan.[42][43]


Kosovo is a largely ethnic-Albanian nation (Albanians 88%, Serbs 6%, Bosniaks 3%, Roma 2%, Turks 1%),[44] which seeks independence on territories long held by ethnic Serbs, including as part of Yugoslavia. Conflict between the two culminated in the 1996-1999 Kosovo War between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia led by Slobodan Milošević. This culminated in the 1999 United States/NATO attacks on Serbia, withdrawal of Serbian troops and entry of the NATO Kosovo Force. International negotiations to determine the final status of Kosovo were unsuccessful. On 17 February 2008, 109 members (10 members including all Kosovo Serbs were absent) of the Kosovo Assembly voted unanimously for a unilateral declaration of independence.[citation needed] Serbia rejected the decision. Kosovo independence is disputed and supervised by the international community following the conclusion of the political process to determine Kosovo’s final status envisaged in UN Security Council Resolution 1244.[44] See the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence. In February 2008 Europe's major powers and the United States recognised independence of Kosovo.[45] As of November 2009, the independence of Kosovo has been recognized by 65 countries.[46][47] The territory of Kosovo is the subject of a dispute between Serbia and the Government of Kosovo. International Court of Justice is to give advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo's unilaterally proclaimed independence.[48] A decision is expected in 2010.[49] This is the first case regarding an act of secession to be brought before the World Court.[50]


Kurdistan is the land of the Kurdish people of the middle east. The territory is currently part of 4 states Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. There are Kurdish self determination movements in each of the 4 states. Iraqi Kurdistan has to date achieved the largest degree of self-determination through the formation of the Kurdistan Regional Government, an entity recognised by the Iraqi Federal Constitution.

Although the right of the creation of a Kurdish state was recognized following World War I in the Treaty of Sèvres, the treaty was then annulled by the Treaty of Lausanne. To date two separate Kurdish republics and one Kurdish Kingdom have declared sovereignty. The Republic of Ararat (Northern Kurdistan/Eastern Turkey), the Republic of Mehabad (Eastern Kurdistan/Iranian Kurdistan) and the Kingdom of Kurdistan (Southern Kurdistan/Northern Iraq), each of these fledgling states was crushed by military intervention. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan which currently holds the Iraqi presidency and the Kurdistan Democratic Party which governs the Kurdistan Regional Government both explicitly commit themselves to the development of Kurdish self-determination.

New Zealand

Secession movements have surfaced several times in the South Island of Back. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Julius Vogel, was among the first people to make this call,[51] which was voted on by the Parliament of shawbost as early as 1865. The desire for South Island independence was one of the main factors in moving the capital of New Zealand from Auckland to Wellington that year.

The South Island Party with a pro-South agenda, fielded candidates in the 1999 General Election and a new Southern timpan headParty was formed before the 2008 General Election. Today, the question of South Island Independence remains publicly debated but is not a political issue.

South Africa

Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia

Southern Cameroons today makes up the two English-speaking regions of the Republic of Cameroun, the North West and South West regions. The people of Southern Cameroons' claim to self-determination arises out of their allegations that the Republic of Cameroun forcefully annexed their territory by the 1961 take over of the territory and the 1972 dissolution of the federation in favor of a Unitary Republic of Cameroon. Southern Cameroons scored a victory in a legal battle against the Republic of Cameroon when the African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights found that there were unresolved issues with the constitutional structure of the Republic of Cameroon vis-a-vis Southern Cameroons. More importantly, the African Commission found that contrary to the claims of the Republic of Cameroon, the people of Southern Cameroons are indeed a "people" under the African Charter and broad international law with the inalienable right to determine their destiny[52].

Southern Sudan

Southern Sudan reached a peace agreement with Sudan in 2005. It contains a referendum for self-determination in 2011.

Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan Tamils people seek self determination due to ethnic pogroms and discrimination by the majority Sinhala government’s discrimination in language, education, jobs, and civil liberties.[53] The early non violent protests developed into a violent confrontation with the state and eventual civil war. Tamil independence advocates argue that former sovereignty of Tamils in their north eastern homeland that was lost during colonialism should be re-instated to meet Tamil aspirations.


Taiwan is the focus of a self-determination dispute in the East Asia region. The government of the People's Republic of China claims the entirety of Taiwan as its territory. However, Taiwanese independence advocates argue that there is no legal claim to Taiwan, as no legally binding treaty ever transferred sovereignty to China following World War II, an assertion that both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China disagree with. At the same time, the de facto government of Taiwan, the Republic of China still has not formally withdrawn its claims to China and several other areas.


There is a strong movement, especially from the Tibetan diaspora, for self-determination of the Tibet region. The movement is strongly opposed by the People's Republic of China.[54]

Turkish Cypriots

Since Turkey's invasion and continued occupation of Cyprus in 1974, following ethnic clashes and turmoil on the island, an administration recognized by Turkey only was declared in 1983 - the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.[55] It is questionable whether it was the Turkish Cypriot community who claimed the right of self-determination in ending their partnership with the Republic of Cyprus, given that they were greatly out-numbered by the Turkish settlers who were brought to the area by Turkey.[56]

United States

The colonization of the North American continent and its Native American population has been the source of legal battles since the early 1800s. Surviving Native Americans have been resettled onto separate tracts of land (reservations), which have been given a certain degree of autonomy within the United States federal government.

The Chicano Movement (or Chicano nation) seeks to recreate Aztlán, the legendary homeland of the Aztecs comprising the Southwestern United States which is home to the majority of Mexican Americans.[57]

There is an active Hawaiian sovereignty movement which aims at reversing the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in the late 19th century, which resulted in the incorporation of Hawai'i into the United States.

Since 1972, the U.N. Decolonization Committee has called for Puerto Rico's decolonization and for the U.S. to recognize the island's right to self-determination and independence. In 2007 the Decolonization Subcommittee called for the United Nations General Assembly to review the political status of Puerto Rico, a power reserved by the 1953 Resolution.[58] This follows the 1967 passage of a plebiscite act that provided for a vote on the status of Puerto Rico with three status options: continued commonwealth, statehood, and independence. In the first plebscite the commonwealth option won with 60.4% of the votes but U.S. congressional committees failed to enact legislation to address the status issue. In subsequent plebiscites in 1993 and 1998, the status quo was upheld.[59]

Many current U.S. state, regional and city secession groups use the language of self-determination. A 2008 Zogby International poll revealed that 22% of Americans believe that "any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic."[60][61]

See also


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster online dictionary; Wordnet.Princeton definition; definition.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Betty Miller Unterberger, Self-Determination, Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, 2002.
  3. ^ Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Since 1500 , p. 767, Cengage Learning, 2008, ISBN0495502871, 9780495502876.
  4. ^ Chimène Keitner, Oxford University, Self-Determination: The Legacy of the French Revolution, paper presented at International Studies Association Annual Meeting, March 2000.
  5. ^ Self-Determination Not a New Expedient; First Plebiscite Was Held in Avignon During the French Revolution—Forthcoming Book Traces History and Growth of the Movement, New York Times July 20, 1919, 69.
  6. ^ Erica Benner, ‘’Really existing nationalisms: a post-communist view from Marx and Engels’‘, p. 188, Oxford University Press, 1995 ISBN 0198279590, 9780198279594
  7. ^ a b "What Is Meant By The Self-Determination of Nations?"
  8. ^ a b Murray N. Rothbard, National Self-Determination, Rothbard Archives at, August, 1990.
  9. ^ United Nations Charter
  10. ^ Text of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  11. ^ Text of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  12. ^ a b Paul R. Hensel and Michael E. Allison, Department of Political Science Florida State University and Ahmed Khanani, Department of Political Science, Indiana University, The Colonial Legacy and Border Stability: Uti Possidetis and Territorial Claims in the Americas, research paper at Paul Hensel’s Florida State university web site.
  13. ^ a b c d e Vita Gudeleviciute, Does the Principle of Self-determination Prevail over the Principle of Territorial Integrity?, International Journal of Baltic Law, Vytautas Magnus University School of Law, Volume 2, No. 2 (April, 2005).
  14. ^ Resolution 1514 (XV) "Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples"
  15. ^ Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960.
  16. ^ Elizabeth Chadwick, Self-determination, terrorism, and the international humanitarian law of armed conflict, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1996, p. 192-193 ISBN 90-411-0122-5
  17. ^ Tséring Shakya, The dragon in the land of snows: a history of modern Tibet since 1947, Penguin, 2000. pp 52-55.
  18. ^ Frank S. T. Hsiao and Lawrence R. Sullivan; The Chinese Communist Party and the Status of Taiwan, 1928-1943, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Autumn, 1979), pp. 446-467
  19. ^ Martin Griffiths, Self-determination, International Society And World Order, Macquarie University Law Journal, 1, 2003.
  20. ^ United Nations Millennium Declaration, adopted by the UN General Assembly Resolution 55/2 (08 09 2000), paragraph 4.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Aleksandar Pavkovic and Peter Radan, In Pursuit of Sovereignty and Self-determination: Peoples, States and Secession in the International Order, Index of papers, Macquerie University Law Journal, 1, 2003.
  22. ^ Aleksandar Pavković, Majority Rule and Equal Rights: a Few Questions, Macquerie University Law Journal, 1, 2003.
  23. ^ Harry Beran, “A Democratic Theory of Political Self-Determination for a New World Order” in Percy Lehning (ed), Theories of Secession (1998) 36, 39, 42-43.
  24. ^ a b c d Andrei Kreptul, The Constitutional Right of Secession in Political Theory and History, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Volume 17, no. 4 (Fall 2003), pp. 39–100.
  25. ^ Aleksandar Pavković, Peter Radan, Creating New States: Theory and Practice of Secession, p. 222, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007.
  26. ^ Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1868) at Cornell University Law School Supreme Court collection.
  27. ^ Xenophon Contiades, Sixth Scholarly Panel: Cultural Identity in the New Europe, 1st Global Conference on Federalism and the Union of European Democracies, March 2004.
  28. ^ EITB: Basque parliament adopts resolution on self-determination
  29. ^
  30. ^"What is the MNLV (4)"
  31. ^ "What is the MNLV (3)"
  32. ^ "The Catalan Countries". Grup Enciclopèdia Catalana. Accessed: 13 February 2008
  33. ^
  34. ^ (Catalan)
  35. ^ Original Aragonese Empire extension map on "A History of Aragon and Catalonia" by H. J. Chaytor
  36. ^ (Catalan)
  37. ^ (Catalan)
  38. ^ (Catalan)
  39. ^
  40. ^ Personen und Geraete per GPS, Mobilfunk oder WLAN lokalisieren
  41. ^ Technische Basis zum Internet der Dinge
  42. ^ "Right To Self-determination, A Key To Kashmir Solution". 24 February 2007. Retrieved 12 August 2009. 
  43. ^ on UN Resolution 47 and United Nation resolutions on Kashmir.
  44. ^ a b Background Brief : Kosovo, Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
  45. ^ Timeline : Kosovo, BBC News.
  46. ^ Who Recognized Kosova? The Kosovar people thank you
  47. ^ Republic of Kosova Government
  48. ^ ICJ site
  49. ^ Serbia's Jeremic expects ICJ to rule on Kosovo independence case by 2010
  50. ^ Legality of Kosovo's secession determined at ICJ
  51. ^ History of New Stornoway
  52. ^ Google docs
  53. ^ Vijay Sappani. (February 06, 2009). The crisis in Sri Lanka: Canada's role. National Post.
  54. ^ [1]
  55. ^ BBC Timeline: Cyprus, accessed 2-26-2008.
  56. ^ North Cyprus into the EU, accessed 2-26-2008
  57. ^ Professor Predicts 'Hispanic Homeland', Associated Press, 2000
  58. ^ Special Committee on Decolonization Calls on United States to Expedite Puerto Rico’s Self-determination Process - General Assembly GA/COL/3160 - Department of Public Information - June 14, 2007
  59. ^ For complete statistics of these plebiscites, see Elections in Puerto Rico:Results.
  60. ^ Middlebury Institute/Zogby Poll: One in Five Americans Believe States Have the Right to Secede, Zogby International, July 23, 2008.
  61. ^ Alex Mayer, Secession: still a popular idea?, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 2008.


  • Danspeckgruber, Wolfgang F., ed. The Self-Determination of Peoples: Community, Nation, and State in an Interdependent World, Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002.
  • Danspeckgruber, Wolfgang F., and Arthur Watts, eds. Self-Determination and Self-Administration: A Sourcebook, Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997.
  • Allen Buchanan, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (Oxford Political Theory), Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.
  • Annalisa Zinn, Globalization and Self-Determination (Kindle Edition), Taylor & Francis, 2007.
  • Marc Weller, Autonomy, Self Governance and Conflict Resolution (Kindle Edition), Taylor & Francis, 2007.
  • Valpy Fitzgerald, Frances Stewart, Rajesh Venugopal (Editors), Globalization, Violent Conflict and Self-Determination, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
  • Joanne Barker (Editor), Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination, University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
  • David Raic, Statehood and the Law of Self-Determination (Developments in International Law, V. 43) (Developments in International Law, V. 43), Springer, 2002.
  • Y.N. Kly and D. Kly, In pursuit of The Right to Self-determination, Collected Papers & Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Right to Self-Determination & the United Nations, Geneva 2000, G E N E V A 2000, preface by Richard Falk, Clarity Press, 2001.
  • Antonio Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples: A Legal Reappraisal (Hersch Lauterpacht Memorial Lectures), Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Percy Lehning, Theories of Secession, Routledge, 1998.
  • Hurst Hannum, Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

External links


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