The Art of Self-Determination


What was once Yugoslavia is now Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Servia and Montenegro, and Slovenia. In 1993, the world witnessed Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) broke up into fifteen new countries. One of which included the Ukraine. Now, it seems that another fragmentation is quivering on the horizon.

This week, the Ukrainian government submitted a law that would offer “special status” to the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk regions for three years. The main provisions of the law include amnesty for those who participated in the events in those regions, the right to use Russian as an official language, the election of local councils, funds for social and economic development from the state budget, and the right to form local police forces.

There is speculation that the Ukraine and Russia are negotiating what level of autonomy should be held by eastern Ukraine. Moscow is pushing for a federal system that would allow for the region to maintain independent foreign relations. There are also suggestions that Moscow wants to implement a system that would allow the east to veto attempts by the western Ukraine to move closer to the West and the European Union.

The burning question stemming from all of this is whether or not the Ukraine should dissolve and secede from the Russian take over. However, when the USSR collapsed twenty years ago, the belief was that the Ukraine was going to be independent then. Under the UN Charter, the right to secede is referred to as the right to self-determination.

The UN Charter suggests that those advocating for separatism have every right to at least advocate their cause. Chapter 1, Article, 1 part 2, states of the Charter states that “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”. Article 1 in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reads: “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.”

Part 1, Article 1, Section 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also states that  “The States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.”

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, Chapter 1, Article 2, Section 7 of the UN Charter also says that “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state”. This language seemingly contradicts the principal of self-determination.

But despite all of these aspirations, if the language of the UN Charter recognizes the right to self-determination, should the Ukraine exercise it? Is Russia violating even more rights by prohibiting the Ukraine from seceding? Should the UN Charter be revised to eliminate the seemingly paradoxical language?

Sources: UN Charter,International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, The Moscow Times, New York Times

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