James Summers

in International Law

ISBN: 9780199796953
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:

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The right of peoples to self-determination is their right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development. It has a central position in international law as a primary principle in the creation and destruction of states. It features in Article 1 of the UN Charter (1945) as one of the purposes of the organization. It is positioned as the first right in the twin Human Rights Covenants (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [ICESCR]). Many commentators argue for its peremptory or jus cogens status. Nonetheless, despite a general description in international instruments about what this right might allow peoples to do, the right itself has no exact definition (it is, after all, self-determined) and its subject, the “people,” has famously escaped legal formulation. These ambiguities provide plenty of fuel for academic writing. Engaging with the extensive literature on self-determination can be a monumental task, and this survey is necessarily no more than the tip of the iceberg of the total works available. The omission of particular titles here reflects on space requirements, not on their quality. The academic coverage of self-determination is enormous and growing energetically. Moreover, it is spread across a range of disciplines, not only law but also the study of nationalism and ethnic conflict in the political and social sciences, as well as history and philosophy. This is not to mention the overlapping issues of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights, which are covered in separate entries. A well-informed approach to the right of self-determination will require a wider reading than the primarily legal publications listed here, and it is recommended that researchers familiarize themselves with nationalism, liberalism, and the historical context of the right. The right of self-determination, rather like a magician, relies on perceptions and assumptions that a good analysis needs to be able to see through. The right is also linked with fast-changing events, and a good way to keep up with current developments is through websites like ASIL Insights or EJIL: Talk!.

Article.  14814 words. 

Subjects: International Law ; International Courts and Tribunals ; Private International Law and Conflict of Laws ; Public International Law

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