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Relativizing Sovereignty: Remedial Secession and Humanitarian Intervention in International Law

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This article will consider the relationship between remedial secession and humanitarian intervention in international law, concepts that share certain common features. Both relate to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, and suggest that such principles are relative rather than absolute in the face of human rights violations. Humanitarian intervention may allow other states to engage in unilateral military intervention without United Nations Security Council authorization in response to those same events. Meanwhile, remedial secession focuses on challenges from within a state by groups seeking to separate from an oppressive system. Although remedial secession and humanitarian intervention are somewhat peripheral in international law, it is argued that both stem from liberal ideas central to statehood, so international law cannot entirely ignore them. Nonetheless, they remain connected more with the legitimacy of the law than its positive content. However, both concepts can be seen in certain circumstances to provide support for secession. Politically, there has been a correlation between the success of secession and outside assistance. Historically, external intervention has played a significant role in establishing many of the world's states. This article will focus on three situations where humanitarian intervention and remedial secession have been invoked: Bangladesh, Kosovo, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-05-01

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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