Dr. Alfred de Zayas: Self-determination is an expression of the individual and collective right to democracy

AFDZNEW YORK, 28 October, 2014 – The United Nations (UN) Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Dr. Alfred de Zayas, recommends UN member-states to take stronger measures to better implement the right to self-determination, reports the Albanian news agency Presheva Jone.

This statement was made today during the presentation of his latest report submitted to the UN General Assembly in New York, US.

“International law is dynamic and its progressive development proves that self-determination did not end with decolonization.  Indeed, there are many indigenous peoples, non-self-governing peoples, ethnic and linguistic groups that still aspire to self-determination, that is to say, to participate in decision-making without discrimination.

“They have a right to invoke the precedents created by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the wars in the former Yugoslavia, which gave rise to many new State entities, allowing peoples to achieve independence.

“Of course, self-determination can also be exercised by way of autonomy or federalism, but the main concern is to ensure that peoples be able to exercise all their human rights, including the right to determine their form of government and decide on the use of their natural resources.“ Dr. de Zayas said exclusively to Presheva Jone from New York.

According to renowned international law experts, the principle of self-determination has become jus cogens, a legally binding principle on states.

Therefore, the UN Independent Expert considers the principle of self-determination to be a fundamental principle on the exercise of human rights for peoples, minorities, indigenous populations and other individuals, rooted in democratic principles.

“In its essence, the right of self-determination means that individuals and peoples should be in control of their destinies and should be able to live out their identities, whether within the boundaries of existing States or through independence.

“Self-determination is an expression of the individual and collective right to democracy,” Dr. de Zayas highlights in his report.

The principle of territorial integrity is not an indisputable norm

Although most of the world has been decolonized, following the granting of independence to colonized territories in Africa, Asia and other continents, peoples and minorities continue to aspire for independence or to demand unification with another state, frequently in the wake of gross human rights violations by governments.

In March 2014, Crimea held a referendum where the majority voted to became part of the Russian Federation, which led the Albanians of Southern Serbia to similarly demand the right to join Kosovo.

On October 19, more than 100,000 Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona demanding a referendum on independence, which would allow its inhabitants to determine Catalonia’s political future.

While the principle of territorial integrity facilitates stability and respect for borders among states, the UN Independent expert highlights the principle of territorial integrity needs to be balanced against key principles in international law such as the right to self-determination and respect for human rights.

“There are multiple ways of looking at self-determination. One understanding of the right focuses on the legitimacy of choice, so that every people may choose the form of government that it deems appropriate to its culture and traditions. Another perspective focuses on the right of two or more peoples to unify into one single State.

“It should be remembered that over the past decades many armed conflicts have been caused by the unreasonable denial of self-determination.  Hence the implementation of self-determination should be seen as a conflict-prevention strategy,” highlights Dr. de Zayas in his report informs the Albanian news agency Presheva Jone./ Blerim Mustafa

Photo credit: OHCHR, Flickr (Keith Bacongco)

* This article was written by the author in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the view of Leidar

Link to original article (Presheva Jone, also available below): http://www.preshevajone.com/dr-alfred-de-zayas-self-determination-is-an-expression-of-the-individual-and-collective-right-to-democracy/

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