Self‐Determination and Secession

Allen Buchanan

in Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination

Published in print August 2003 | ISBN: 9780198295358
Published online April 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780191600982 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Political Theory

 Self‐Determination and Secession

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Begins the task of applying the justice‐based conception of political legitimacy developed in Part Two of the book to the practically urgent and theoretically vexing issues of secession and self‐determination. Two main theses are advanced. The first is that international law should recognize a remedial right to secede but not a general right of self‐determination that includes the right to secede for all peoples or nations; from the standpoint of international law, the unilateral right to secede—the right to secede without consent or constitutional authorization—should be understood as a remedial right only, a last‐resort response to serious injustices (the Remedial Right Only Theory). The second thesis advanced is that international legal order should encourage alternatives to secession, in particular by working for greater compliance with existing international human rights norms prohibiting ethno‐national and religious discrimination and, in some cases, by supporting intrastate autonomy regimes, i.e. arrangements for self‐government short of full sovereignty. The six sections of the chapter are: I. Introduction; II. A Justice‐Based Theory of Secession; III. Theories of Secession; IV. Recognition and the Right to Secede; V. Secession and Distributive Justice; and VI. Conclusions.

Keywords: discrimination; Distributive Justice; human rights; human rights norms; international law; intrastate autonomy; justice; legitimacy; political legitimacy; Recognition; remedial right to secession; remedial rights; right to secession; secession; self‐determination; self‐government

Chapter.  26756 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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