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The Precarious History of the UN towards Self-Determination

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This is an advance preview from the forthcoming E-IR Edited Collection The United Nations: Friend or Foe of Self-Determination?

The principle of self-determination found its way into international law with Articles 1 and 55 of the United Nations (UN) Charter in 1945, followed by the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960. With the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations in 1970, the UN General Assembly then expanded the concept of self-determination beyond decolonisation. However, the practical complications with sometimes violent effects of various interpretations of the concept have only been exacerbated by the ‘absence of any institutional framework or guidelines for the examination of self-determination claims under international law’ (Quane 1998). Despite this legal void, the UN has continued to attempt to facilitate self-determination processes in many cases. While there is some evidence that UN Security Council involvement can significantly reduce the possibility of self-determination movements ‘turning violent’ (Beardsley, Cunningham and White 2015), there is no comprehensive evidence characterising the general role of UN actions in upholding the principle of self-determination. The record varies for example from promises to facilitate a self-determination vote in Western Sahara to final success after massive failures in East Timor. The question therefore remains, whether the UN and its actions have enabled self-determination movements to succeed and to what degree, or whether the UN has in fact generally hindered self-determination claims contrary to its own Charter.

The purpose of this collection is therefore to appraise the role of the UN in relation to the principle of self-determination by illustrating through case studies and real-world examples. This book takes a very practical approach to discussing what role the UN has played in cases of self-determination and importantly, it also ventures beyond the usual discussions of the inherent conflict between self-determination and sovereignty. The contributing authors have looked at the application of the principle of self-determination, each through their own lens of circumstance – not just in terms of case studies presented, but in the framework used. Each chapter can be seen as a stand-alone study of the role of the UN. Though together they demonstrate a holistic representation of the complexity that is the UN and the principle of self-determination itself.

In the first chapter, Tomiak introduces self-determination as a process, arguing that the achievement of independence and sovereignty as a result of the (successful) implementation of self-determination is not and should not be understood as an endpoint. Using the example of South Sudan, Tomiak shows how internal self-determination is a continuing struggle not just in terms of all the peoples of South Sudan and the accompanying violence and power struggles, but also due........

© E-International