Revisiting self-determination in light of recent changes, the cases of Catalonia and Kurdistan

Dr. Farah Yassine
Assistant Professor – Public International Law – KILAW


Self-determination of peoples was long associated with decolonization, and perceived as a legal ground for claiming independence against oppression and illegal occupation. However, its main orientation has currently shifted from promoting decolonization to fostering secession.
The detractors of external self-determination find it irreconcilable with the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that require the consent of the mother country, as declarations of independence might alter the sovereign territory of the state and its delimited borders. International law remains unclear regarding the implementation of the right to external self-determination and whether it should cover secession.
In the absence of clear interpretative measures, states can refer to their constitutional law. The right to self-determination requires indeed the reference to international and national norms for a case by case assessment. Hence, this paper will analyze the current state of the right to self-determination to suggest some criteria for remedial secession.
These criteria will be applied in light of recent changes and events focusing on the current implementation of self-determination in the cases of Catalonia and Kurdistan, to conclude that the latter do not appear to be entitled to secede.
Keywords: self-determination, secession, Catalonia, Kurdistan, decolonization, declaration of independence.

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