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Self-Determination, Secession, and State Recognition: A Comparative Study of Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia

Holmberg Forsyth, Jack LU (2012) JURM02 20121
Department of Law
Abstract
The principle of self-determination has come a long way from its origins as a tool for political rhetoric to its current status as a right of international law valid erga omnes. However, the contents of the right to self-determination, as well as its applicability, remain unclear. This holds true especially concerning national minorities, which have not traditionally been considered recipients of this right. This thesis investigates the extent to which national – particularly ethnic – minorities have a legal right to self-determination, both internally within a State and externally, allowing for secession and the formation of a new State. The thesis furthermore analyses the importance of State recognition for these secessionist entities,... (More)
The principle of self-determination has come a long way from its origins as a tool for political rhetoric to its current status as a right of international law valid erga omnes. However, the contents of the right to self-determination, as well as its applicability, remain unclear. This holds true especially concerning national minorities, which have not traditionally been considered recipients of this right. This thesis investigates the extent to which national – particularly ethnic – minorities have a legal right to self-determination, both internally within a State and externally, allowing for secession and the formation of a new State. The thesis furthermore analyses the importance of State recognition for these secessionist entities, as well as its possible determinative effects on international law. A comparative analysis between the Serbian province of Kosovo and the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, all three of which have de facto seceded from their sovereigns, provides an insight into the practical application of the right to self-determination.

From the relevant international legal instruments and practice concerning the principle of self-determination, this thesis concludes that the right to internal self-determination, i.e. representative and indiscriminate government, belongs to all peoples in their entirety, thus including all national minorities. However, concerning the right to external self-determination, the thesis finds that the only two fields in which this right has been consistently upheld without controversy are those relating to non-self governing territories in the process of decolonisation and those relating to territories under unlawful foreign occupation. An alleged remedial right to external self-determination through secession, ostensibly applicable when the internal self-determination of a minority is utterly frustrated, and primarily basing itself in an e contrario reading of the so called ‘safeguard clause’ of the Friendly Relations Declaration of 1970, has little to no support in the international community. Consequently, neither Kosovo nor Abkhazia and South Ossetia are found to have had a right to secede based on self-determination; this conclusion holds true in any event, since none of the entities fulfil the prerequisite for this proposed remedial secession.

This thesis finds that State recognition, while not an explicit criterion for statehood according to the Montevideo Convention of 1933, is virtually indispensable on a practical level concerning the de facto ability to enter into relations with other States. The unlimited discretion with which States may recognise other States is found to have an undesirable impact on international law, in that it may legitimise unfounded claims for statehood. Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia all demonstrate this problem to various degrees, as the thesis finds that none of them is sufficiently independent to constitute their own State. The case of Kosovo in particular, being presently recognised by nearly half of all UN member States, is found to have a potentially revolutionary impact on future international law. (Less)
Abstract (Swedish)
Principen om självbestämmande har färdats långt från sitt ursprung som ett verktyg för politisk retorik till sin nuvarande ställning som en folkrättslig princip gällande erga omnes. Såväl innehållet som tillämpligheten av självbestämmanderätten förblir dock oklar. Detta gäller särskilt nationella minoriteter, som traditionellt inte har tillerkänts denna rättighet. Denna avhandling undersöker därför i vilken utsträckning nationella - särskilt etniska - minoriteter har rätt till självbestämmande, både internt inom en stat, och externt med secession och ny statsbildning som följd. Avhandlingen analyserar dessutom betydelsen av statserkännande för dessa utbrytningsenheter samt statserkännandets eventuella inverkan på folkrättens utveckling. En... (More)
Principen om självbestämmande har färdats långt från sitt ursprung som ett verktyg för politisk retorik till sin nuvarande ställning som en folkrättslig princip gällande erga omnes. Såväl innehållet som tillämpligheten av självbestämmanderätten förblir dock oklar. Detta gäller särskilt nationella minoriteter, som traditionellt inte har tillerkänts denna rättighet. Denna avhandling undersöker därför i vilken utsträckning nationella - särskilt etniska - minoriteter har rätt till självbestämmande, både internt inom en stat, och externt med secession och ny statsbildning som följd. Avhandlingen analyserar dessutom betydelsen av statserkännande för dessa utbrytningsenheter samt statserkännandets eventuella inverkan på folkrättens utveckling. En jämförande analys mellan den serbiska provinsen Kosovo och de georgiska provinserna Abchazien och Sydossetien, vilka alla är de facto utbrytningsrepubliker, ger en inblick i den praktiska tillämpningen av självbestämmanderätten.

Utifrån relevanta folkrättsliga instrument och internationell praxis rörande principen om självbestämmande, drar denna avhandling slutsatsen att rätten till internt självbestämmande, d.v.s. representativt och icke-diskriminerande styre, tillhör alla folkslag i deras helhet och därmed även alla nationella minoriteter. Vad anbelangar rätten till externt självbestämmande, finner dock avhandlingen att de enda två områden där denna princip konsekvent och okontroversiellt har tillämpats rör icke-självstyrande territorier under avkolonisering samt territorier under olaglig utländsk ockupation. Den påstådda existensen av en avhjälpande rätt till externt självbestämmande genom secession, som förutsätter fullständigt nekande av en minoritets rätt till internt självbestämmande, och som främst grundar sig i en tolkning e contrario av den så kallade ’safety clause’ i 1970 års Friendly Relations Declaration, har otillräckligt stöd i det internationella samfundet. Följaktligen menar avhandlingen att varken Kosovo, Abchazien, eller Sydossetien har haft rätt till secession baserad på självbestämmanderätt. Dessutom befinns deras interna självbestämmande hursomhelst inte till den grad ha varit förnekad dem, att de har haft rätt till avhjälpande secession.

Denna avhandling konstaterar vidare att statserkännanden, även om de inte uttryckligen är ett kriterium för statsbildning enligt 1933 års Montevideokonvention, är så gott som nödvändiga på en praktisk nivå för att en stat de facto skall ha möjligheten att ingå förbindelser med andra stater. Den obegränsade diskretion med vilka stater tillåts erkänna andra stater befinns ha oönskade effekter på folkrätten, då detta kan legitimera ogrundade anspråk för en självständig stat. Då avhandlingen konstaterar att varken Kosovo, Abchazien, eller Sydossetien är tillräckligt oberoende för att kunna utgöra en egen stat, är de också alla i olika grad exempel på detta problem genom erkännandet av dem. I synnerhet Kosovo, som för närvarande erkänns av nästan hälften av alla FN:s medlemsstater, befinns ha en potentiellt revolutionerande inverkan på framtida internationell rätt. (Less)
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author
Holmberg Forsyth, Jack LU
supervisor
organization
course
JURM02 20121
year
type
H3 - Professional qualifications (4 Years - )
subject
keywords
South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Kosovo, State Recognition, Secession, Self-Determination, Public International Law
language
English
id
2542852
date added to LUP
2012-10-15 10:15:56
date last changed
2012-10-15 10:15:56
@misc{2542852,
  abstract     = {The principle of self-determination has come a long way from its origins as a tool for political rhetoric to its current status as a right of international law valid erga omnes. However, the contents of the right to self-determination, as well as its applicability, remain unclear. This holds true especially concerning national minorities, which have not traditionally been considered recipients of this right. This thesis investigates the extent to which national – particularly ethnic – minorities have a legal right to self-determination, both internally within a State and externally, allowing for secession and the formation of a new State. The thesis furthermore analyses the importance of State recognition for these secessionist entities, as well as its possible determinative effects on international law. A comparative analysis between the Serbian province of Kosovo and the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, all three of which have de facto seceded from their sovereigns, provides an insight into the practical application of the right to self-determination.

From the relevant international legal instruments and practice concerning the principle of self-determination, this thesis concludes that the right to internal self-determination, i.e. representative and indiscriminate government, belongs to all peoples in their entirety, thus including all national minorities. However, concerning the right to external self-determination, the thesis finds that the only two fields in which this right has been consistently upheld without controversy are those relating to non-self governing territories in the process of decolonisation and those relating to territories under unlawful foreign occupation. An alleged remedial right to external self-determination through secession, ostensibly applicable when the internal self-determination of a minority is utterly frustrated, and primarily basing itself in an e contrario reading of the so called ‘safeguard clause’ of the Friendly Relations Declaration of 1970, has little to no support in the international community. Consequently, neither Kosovo nor Abkhazia and South Ossetia are found to have had a right to secede based on self-determination; this conclusion holds true in any event, since none of the entities fulfil the prerequisite for this proposed remedial secession.

This thesis finds that State recognition, while not an explicit criterion for statehood according to the Montevideo Convention of 1933, is virtually indispensable on a practical level concerning the de facto ability to enter into relations with other States. The unlimited discretion with which States may recognise other States is found to have an undesirable impact on international law, in that it may legitimise unfounded claims for statehood. Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia all demonstrate this problem to various degrees, as the thesis finds that none of them is sufficiently independent to constitute their own State. The case of Kosovo in particular, being presently recognised by nearly half of all UN member States, is found to have a potentially revolutionary impact on future international law.},
  author       = {Holmberg Forsyth, Jack},
  keyword      = {South Ossetia,Abkhazia,Kosovo,State Recognition,Secession,Self-Determination,Public International Law},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Self-Determination, Secession, and State Recognition: A Comparative Study of Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia},
  year         = {2012},
}