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Remedial Secession in International Law: Theory and (Lack of) Practice

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It is generally accepted in international legal scholarship that the right of self-determination is limited by the principle of territorial integrity of states. Yet the inverted reading of the elaboration of this principle in the Declaration on Principles of International Law suggests that a state may not avail itself of the principle of territorial integrity if it does not possess a government representing the whole people belonging to its territory. Such an interpretation has some notable support in judicial writings and even some limited support in jurisprudence. It is suggested that secession may be the last resort for ending oppression. This doctrine is often referred to as remedial secession. The article considers the theory and practice of remedial secession and points out that its theoretical foundations are rather weak. It concludes that secession is never an entitlement, not even in a situation of severe oppression. Yet it may well be that international recognition is more likely to be granted when oppressed peoples try to create their own state. Thus, although not an entitlement, remedial secession may be given effect through recognition. In the United Nations (UN) Charter era, the secessions of Bangladesh and Kosovo and the dissolutions of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are sometimes invoked as situations upholding the remedial secession doctrine. The article analyses these situations and concludes that none of them proves that state practice accepts remedial secession as a legal entitlement. Therefore, the remedial secession doctrine not only has weak theoretical foundations, but also no support in state practice.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2010

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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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