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Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination

Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights

Hurst Hannum
Copyright Date: 1990
Edition: REV - Revised
Pages: 552
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  • Book Info
    Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination
    Book Description:

    Demands for "autonomy" or minority rights have given rise to conflicts, often violent, in every region of the world and under every political system. Through an analysis of contemporary international legal norms and an examination of several specific case studies-including Hong Kong, India, the transnational problems of the Kurds and Saamis, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka, and the Sudan-this book identifies a framework in which ethnic, religious, and regional conflicts can be addressed.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0218-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Hurst Hannum
  4. Part I The International Legal Context

    • Chapter 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-13)

      While this book is written from the perspective of an international lawyer, its focus is on individuals and groups rather than states, the traditional subjects and objects of international law.¹ Of course, the state system is the context in which the discussion occurs, but the primary concern is to examine the ways in which international law and domestic constitutional arrangements can contribute to resolving disputes between minority and majority groups which, if not resolved, often lead to violent conflicts.

      Most of the situations examined in Parts II and III are examples of ethnic conflict, a term which for the past...

    • Chapter 2 Sovereignty, Statehood, and Nationalism
      (pp. 14-26)

      “Sovereignty” and the accompanying corollary of the equality of states have been termed “the basic constitutional doctrine of the law of nations.”²⁴ Sovereignty is the cornerstone of international rhetoric about state independence and freedom of action, and the most common response to initiatives which seek to limit a state’s action in any way is that such initiatives constitute an impermissible limitation on that state’s sovereignty.²⁵

      At the same time, however, the content of the term “sovereignty” is at best murky, whatever its emotional appeal. “[T]here exists perhaps no conception the meaning of which is more controversial than that of sovereignty....

    • Chapter 3 Self-Determination
      (pp. 27-49)

      “The proposition (to begin by using a perfectly neutral word) that every people should freely determine its own political status and freely pursue its economic, social, and cultural development has long been one of which poets have sung and for which patriots have been ready to lay down their lives.”⁷⁸ Perhaps no contemporary norm of international law has been so vigorously promoted or widely accepted as the right of all peoples to self-determination. Yet the meaning and content of that right remain as vague and imprecise as when they were enunciated by President Woodrow Wilson and others at Versailles.


    • Chapter 4 The Rights of Minorities
      (pp. 50-73)

      All but the smallest and most cohesive of societies include numerically inferior groups which may be distinguished—and which may distinguish themselves—from the majority. As noted below, no proposed definition of “minority” has yet been widely accepted by international lawyers, but a common-sense definition of a numerically smaller, non-dominant group distinguished by shared ethnic, racial, religious, or linguistic attributes will suffice for present purposes.¹⁷⁰

      One can trace the international protection of minorities at least to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, under the terms of which the parties agreed to respect the rights of certain (not all) religious minorities...

    • Chapter 5 Indigenous Rights
      (pp. 74-103)

      Genocide has been committed against indigenous, Indian, or tribal peoples²⁷⁷ in every region of the world, and it is in this context that any discussion of indigenous rights must occur. The general perspective of the state towards indigenous peoples—that they are either to be conquered by or converted to the beliefs of the dominant, more “advanced” society—has remarkable similarities, wherever the state is found. If there are few “problems” with indigenous people in contemporary Europe, it is because most of the conquests or assimilation of the original inhabitants occurred hundreds rather than scores of years ago. However, just...

    • Chapter 6 Human Rights
      (pp. 104-118)

      With the exception of the somewhat questionable doctrine of humanitarian intervention and a state’s long-standing responsibility for injuries to aliens, the treatment by a state of those within its jurisdiction was not generally considered to be a legitimate concern of international law until the post-World War II period.³⁷¹ The development of an international law of human rights has been one of the most significant aspects of the post-1945 international legal order, along with decolonization and the resulting independence of scores of new states.³⁷²

      The United Nations Charter contains several references to “human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Perhaps the most frequently...

  5. Part II Searching for Solutions:: Nine Case Studies

      (pp. 123-128)

      The themes discussed in the preceding chapters—national unity and integrity, the right to self-determination, the human rights of minorities and indigenous peoples, sovereignty—have been raised, often stridently, in each of the case studies which follow. In each of the nine situations, autonomy, self-government, or self-determination is demanded by a group within an existing state, in order to protect the group’s culture. In most cases, the minority group is a minority which has felt disadvantaged and discriminated against.

      To the casual observer, it may appear that there are greater differences than similarities between, for example, Hong Kong and the...

    • Chapter 7 Hong Kong
      (pp. 129-150)

      Hong Kong’s 5.7 million people live in an area of 1,071 square kilometers, making Hong Kong one of the most densely populated areas of the world; approximately 98% are of Chinese origin, and by the mid-1980s nearly 60% had been born in Hong Kong.⁴³¹ Administered by the United Kingdom since 1842, the territory of Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong and the Lan Tau Islands, the Kowloon Peninsula, and more than 200 smaller islands. It is a major trading and manufacturing hub and the world’s third largest financial center, with total banking deposit liabilities of over US$80 billion and a...

    • Chapter 8 India and the Punjab
      (pp. 151-177)

      Problems of national unification and of religious and linguisic rights have been fundamental to modern Indian politics and history. India has experienced not only the partition of British India into India and Pakistan, but also insurgencies in Nagaland and other parts of the northeast and a long-standing sentiment on the part of some in favor of Kashmiri independence or accession to Pakistan.⁵²⁵

      Although most ethnic conflicts in India do not raise the specter of secession, many ethnic and linguistic groups fear the loss of their homelands and cultural identities in the face of the modernization of Indian society and the...

    • Chapter 9 The Kurds
      (pp. 178-202)

      The largest concentration of Kurds live in the mountains which connect Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, while smaller Kurdish communities are also found in Syria, Lebanon, and the U.S.S.R. Despite severe repression over the centuries, the Kurdish culture remains dominant in this region, which has been referred to as Kurdistan since the early thirteenth century. “[A]lthough the term Kurdistan appears on a few maps, it is clearly more than a geographical term since it refers also to a human culture which exists in that land. To this extent Kurdistan is a social and political concept.”⁵⁷⁹

      Throughout successive invasions, Kurdish identity has...

    • Chapter 10 The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua
      (pp. 203-225)

      The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, which is separated from the Pacific side of the country by significant geographic barriers, constitutes more than half of Nicaragua’s territory but contains only about 10% of the population. The coast is a place of cultural diversity that, throughout its history, has looked more toward the Caribbean and the English-speaking world than toward the seat of central government and the Hispanic heritage of the Pacific side. Much of the history of the Atlantic Coast may be seen as an effort, first by competing colonial powers, then by foreign commercial interests, and, finally, by the Nicaraguan...

    • Chapter 11 Northern Ireland
      (pp. 226-246)

      Created by the essentially pragmatic British decision to partition Ireland in 1920, Northern Ireland comprises about one-fifth of the area and one-third of the population of the island of Ireland. It is a divided society in which two separate communities are locked in conflict. The majority community is composed of almost one million Protestants, or unionists, who wish to remain British. The minority community is composed of more than half a million Catholics, or nationalists, who aspire to a united Ireland.⁶⁹⁶

      Almost everyone now recognizes these basic facts, with the possible exception of some who believe that Northern Ireland is...

    • Chapter 12 The Saami (Lapp) People of Norway, Sweden, and Finland
      (pp. 247-262)

      The indigenous people of northern Europe, who inhabit a region much of which is above the Arctic Circle, are variously known as “Lapps” (in the Finnish language), “Finns” (in Norwegian, formerly), or, by their own choice in more recent times, as the “Saami.” Their traditional homeland, “Sapmi” (or Lapland), stretches in a great arc from the Soviet Kola peninsula, across the northern third of Finland, and along both sides of the mountain range which separates Norway and Sweden, for a distance of some 1,500 kilometers.

      At least one-half of the total estimated Saami population of 60,000 is in Norway, and...

    • Chapter 13 Spain—the Basque Country and Catalonia
      (pp. 263-279)

      Modern Spain consists of several distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language and cultural traditions. While Castillian has been recognized as the national language and is what foreigners refer to as “Spanish,” most of Spain’s wealth lies in regions where Castillian is but a second language. For example, Catalan is the first language of the majority of people in northeastern Spain. The Basques in northwestern Spain also have a well-developed and separate language and culture, as do the Galicians in the region north of Portugal.

      The unity of Spain as a single sovereign state dates from the fifteenth century,...

    • Chapter 14 Sri Lanka
      (pp. 280-307)

      The present conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities in Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon until 1972) has deep historical roots, dating back to the first century A.D. It is claimed that the Sinhala race was founded in Sri Lanka, an island of 66,000 square kilometers off the southeastern tip of the Indian sub-continent, in the fifth century B.C. by an exiled prince from northern India. The Sinhalese are said to be of Aryan origin, while the Tamils are Dravidians from southern India. Some have suggested, however, that there are no real racial differences between Sinhalese and Tamils, and that...

    • Chapter 15 Sudan
      (pp. 308-328)

      This chapter focuses on the content of southern Sudanese autonomy as embodied in the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, which ended a seventeen-year-long civil war, and the constitutional arrangements adopted the following year. The architects of the Agreement no doubt hoped that the cultural, political, and historical differences between northern and southern Sudan could be resolved within a state that offered the southern population a reasonable degree of self-government and participation in national affairs, but structural weaknesses and political manipulation thwarted those hopes. The introduction of religious sectarianism, the resumption of the civil war in 1983, and the fall of President...

  6. Part III Other Examples of Autonomous Arrangements

      (pp. 333-336)

      The scope of arrangements which provide for some degree of “autonomy” is almost unlimited, and the case studies which follow furnish a glimpse of some of the many unique structures which have been developed to respond to geographic, political, ethnic, linguistic, or other differences within a single sovereignty. The examples are historical and contemporary, successful and unsuccessful, but most evidence creative legal and constitutional thought.

      Even though classifications of rights or political status rarely contribute to problem-solving or provide automatic answers to complex issues, a certain degree of categorization may make analyses more meaningful. The structures summarized in the following...

    • Chapter 16 Federal or Quasi-Federal Structures
      (pp. 337-369)

      The region now known as Eritrea became an Italian colony in 1890 and was probably first recognized as a distinct entity at that time. That period of Italian domination lasted until 1941, during which that a sense of Eritrean national identity began to develop. Following Italy’s defeat by Anglo-American forces in 1941, Britain assumed administration over Eritrea and restored Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne in Ethiopia. In 1949, the British proposed to partition Eritrea between Ethiopia and the Sudan, but this plan was rejected by the United Nations (and the Eritreans). Both Ethiopia and Sudan had historical and cultural...

    • Chapter 17 Territories of International Concern
      (pp. 370-406)

      The Aland Islands are located in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland and, because of their location, have been considered to be of prime strategic importance by Sweden and Russia for centuries. The islands are inhabited by persons of Swedish language, culture, and traditions, stemming from the period from 1157 to 1809, when they were under Swedish control. Following Sweden’s defeat by Russia, the Treaty of Frederiksham ceded Finland (including the Aland Islands) to Russia, and Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian empire. Following attempts at the Russification of Finland in the late nineteenth and early...

    • Chapter 18 Other Situations of Interest
      (pp. 407-448)

      Belgium became an independent state in 1830, following earlier attachment to Holland and France and unification with Holland in 1815 as part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. After declaring its independence, Belgium was recognized by the major European powers as an independent and “perpetually neutral” state.

      Belgium has been home to at least two distinct ethnic groups since the sixteenth century: the Dutch-speaking, Protestant, Flemish community in the north, and the French-speaking, Catholic, Walloon community in the south. In addition, there is a small German-speaking minority, dating from a period of Austrian control in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries....

  7. Part IV Conclusion

    • Chapter 19 Conclusion
      (pp. 453-478)

      Much of history has been concerned with efforts by those without power to assert greater control over their own lives. Designation as a “minority” or “majority” has had little meaning in many of these struggles, as the territory in which dissident or anti-state forces find themselves is generally defined (by them) in a manner which ensures that the principle of “majority rule” can be used to justify their rejection of the ruling authorities.¹¹⁹⁴ In the nineteenth century, those groups which obtained international recognition as constituting a new state became majorities; unsuccessful aspirants to statehood remained minorities.

      There has been great...

  8. Recent Developments
    (pp. 479-494)

    It is, in some sense, rewarding to observe that the analyses of the nine major case studies discussed in Part II remain largely valid in the “post-Cold War” era,¹²⁴² although the continuation of numerous conflicts is disheartening. As of the time of writing (mid-1995), it does appear that there is hope for significant positive change in Northern Ireland, and violence in the Punjab has all but disappeared (though at a great cost). At the same time, however, peace talks in Sri Lanka which held promise in early 1995 have collapsed; the civil war in Sudan continues unabated; and the situation...

  9. Postscript
    (pp. 495-508)

    Since this book was written in the late 1980s, sea changes have occurred in the international political environment. The “Cold War” has ended, and the Soviet Union has disintegrated. The United Nations has launched an unprecedented number of “peacekeeping” operations around the world, many of which have sought to contain or resolve conflicts based, at least in part, on ethnicity. Indeed, the phenomenon of “ethnic conflict,” largely ignored a decade ago, has become the darling of think tanks, conference organizers, and foreign policy journals.

    Changes have occurred in the international legal environment as well, with new (although generally non-binding) norms...

  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 509-514)
  11. Index
    (pp. 515-537)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 538-538)