The Right To Self-Determination And Secession: Analysing The Catalonian Case

Leonel Che Ako



In recent times, the right to self-determination has been evoked on several occasions and in totally different contexts: it has been invoked by the indigenous peoples of the Sioux Rock Nation in the USA in their opposition to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project,[1] it has also been invoked by the First Nation indigenous people in Canada[2] by the people of Hong Kong seeking more autonomy from Beijing[3], in Kashmir,[4]by the people of the Catalonian region in Spain[5], by the Kurds in Iraq[6] amongst many others. One of the most problematic aspects of self-determination is that it is deeply interwoven with issues of secession. This explains why for all but very few governments, demands for self-determination are considered worrisome. This scepticism is due to the fear that secession is the hidden agenda behind every claim to self-determination; in other words, secession is the ultimate fulfilment of the right to self-determination[7] better still, the wolf in the sheep’s clothing. Thus, the issue of secession has remained gloomy and controversial usually the object of several debates While these debates have covered a range of issues on secession, most them have focused on the legality of secession, entitlement to secession in international law especially vis-à-vis conflicting principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity. These controversies have been exacerbated by the absence of any consistent state practice and the flaws of the international law of statehood.[8] This article seeks to examine the correlation between the right to self-determination and secession while exploring the various interpretations giving to the right to self-determination. We shall also discuss the lawfulness of secession with an examination of the recent Catalonian crises[9]

[1] Lauren Carasik, ‘N Dakota Pipeline Protest Is a Harbinger of Many More’ Al Jazeera (November 21, 2016) <> accessed September 29, 2017.

[2] Matthew Coon-Come, ‘The Right to Self-Determination of Native and Indigenous Peoples.

The Case of The Cree Nation’ delivered at the conference Rethinking Culture held at the University of Montreal, April 3-5, 1992.

[3] Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ngo, ‘Hong Kong’s Protest Leaders Demand Self-Determination’ The Wall Street Journal (November 9, 2016) available at <> accessed on November 28, 2017.

[4] Rashmi Sehgal, ‘Kashmir Conflict: Solutions and Demand for Self-determination’ (2011) Vol 1 No 6, June 2011 International Journal of Humanities and Social Science available at <> accessed in November 26, 2017.  

[5] Wade Mansell, ‘Catalonia and the ‘Right to Self-Determination’ in Public International Law’ (The University of London, Undergraduate Laws Programme Blog November 23, 2017) <> accessed o November 26, 2017.

[6] Joseph S. Nye, ‘The Who, Where, and When of Secession’ (Project Syndicate September 29, 2017) <> accessed on October 15, 2017.

[7] Peter Radan, ‘Secessionist Self-Determination: The Cases of Slovenia and Croatia’ (1994) Vol 48, Australian Journal of International Affairs, p 1.

[8] Vidmar Jure, ‘Territorial Integrity and the Law of Statehood’ (July 22, 2012). George Washington International Law Review, Vol. 44, 2013. Available at SSRN: accessed  November 16, 2017.

[9] “Catalonia crises: What next for Spain?” (BBC, 2 November 2017) <> accessed October 24, 2017.

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