Does the International Constitutional Legal System Provide for Adequate Means to Address Competing Claims to Self-Determination?

Essay by georgebennetUniversity, Master's May 2004

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The concept of self-determination is closely identified with even the earliest thinking on liberalism and nationalism, it being the 'right or aspiration of a group, which considers itself to have a separate and distinct identity, to govern itself and to determine the political and legal status of the territory it occupies.' Implicit in both the US Declaration of Independence (1776) and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) was the notion that 'peoples' have a right to determine their own political destiny. It was however only at the end of the First World War, and as a result of the impact of Wilsonian liberalism, that the term came to be generally associated with the right of political independence for nations. Since this period of idealism in international politics, the competing claims to national self-determination have posed serious problems for the stability and peaceful maintenance of the states-system and thus for the international constitutional legal system.

It will be argued throughout this essay that the means provided for addressing these competing claims are inadequate. In making this argument, a look will be taken at the development of self-determination as a 'right' in the post-1945 era of the UN Charter. More importantly, international law's need to reconcile this right with the fundamental norm of territorial integrity will be posited as the main restriction to its adequately addressing competing claims.

In the post-war international constitutional legal system, the first significant mention of self-determination comes in the UN Charter itself - Article 1(2) declares one of the principles of the organization to be to 'develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination.' It is correct to argue, as Shaw does, that mere statement of a political aim in the Charter does not infer the...