The United Nations-Friend or Foe of Self Determination?

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The United Nations-Friend or Foe of Self Determination?

The United Nations

The principle of self-determination found its way into international law with Articles 1 and 55 of the United Nations (UN) Charter in 1945, followed by the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960. With the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations in 1970, the UN General Assembly then expanded the concept of self-determination beyond decolonisation.

 However, the practical complications with sometimes violent effects of various interpretations of the concept have only been exacerbated by the ‘absence of any institutional framework or guidelines for the examination of self-determination claims under international law’ (Quane 1998). Despite this legal void, the United Nations has continued to attempt to facilitate self-determination processes in many cases.

 While there is some evidence that UN Security Council involvement can significantly reduce the possibility of self-determination movements ‘turning violent’ (Beardsley, Cunningham and White 2015), there is no comprehensive evidence characterizing the general role of UN actions in upholding the principle of self-determination. The record varies for example from promises to facilitate a self-determination vote in Western Sahara to final success after massive failures in East Timor.

The question therefore remains, whether the United Nations and its actions have enabled self-determination movements to succeed and to what degree, or whether the UN has in fact generally hindered self-determination claims contrary to its own Charter. The purpose of this collection is therefore to appraise the role of the UN in relation to the principle of self-determination by illustrating through case studies and real-world examples.

This book takes a very practical approach to discussing what role the United Nations has played in cases of self-determination and importantly, it also ventures beyond the usual discussions of the inherent conflict between self-determination and sovereignty. The contributing authors have looked at the application of the principle of self-determination, each through their own lens of circumstance – not just in terms of case studies presented, but in the framework used. Each chapter can be seen as a standalone study of the role of the UN. Though together they demonstrate a holistic representation of the complexity that is the UN and the principle of self-determination itself.


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