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« Operation Declare your Assets or Forfeit your Surplus | Main | Francis Kizito Obeya and Biafra »

May 17, 2005

Self-Determination of Nations

“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development….” ~~~ Article 1.1, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

Many civil wars are provoked by secession crises in which minority groups seek to secede from existing States. Assuredly, for obvious reasons of political, economic and cultural dominance and accruing benefits from such inequities, the ruling ethnic, racial and economic class group(s) in government object to these secession bids and often violent confrontation is the result. Human history is replete with such contemporaneous political events despite its common features of attrition, destruction, and tragedy. The cases of Eritrea, previously an annex of Ethiopia in the horn of Africa, East Timor formerly in Indonesia, Cabinda in Angola, South Sudan, Kurdish region in Iraq, Kashmir between India and Pakistan, and so on remain a few of the myriad cases interspersed around the globe. Though each case bears its peculiar properties that spot their distinct nature, they all point to the fact of political arrangements that attest to forced amalgamation of true nations – a nation of natural birth and creation. That naturally entails a people bearing a collective history, language and culture. In some cases, additional factors of geographical contiguity contribute to acquiesced unions.

Since the right of peoples to self-determination exists as such in modern international law and is an internationally recognized principle, why does it not apply to the people of Tibet, Kashmir, Kurdish region, Tamils of Sri Lanka and other territories? All too often, self-determination is a right to be defended in lofty terms when it is politically advantageous and to be rejected when it’s not. Many consider it a stunning fact that the United States, France, England, Germany, Russia and Italy rolled their troops and tanks into Kosovo (former Yugoslavia) to preserve the peace and secure human rights and self-determination, but they may not be in support of such in other developing nations. There are various reasons for that wrong and right as often perceived by the parties involved to their advantage. But one thing is certain. As espoused in International law, peoples as individuals have the right to self-determination in order to guarantee for the future better global security and stability. The long way to go have been so for these factors:

1. International Law is political and in some cases wears a myth that with law we enter the secure, stable and determinate. In reality we simply engage in discursive political practice that often ignore the underlying factors that plague human relations and cause enduring friction within distinct cases of conflict.

2. Peculiarity of cases that demand unique applications to resolve as in the provision on internal autonomy suffer complete neglect or insufficient attention.


3. States do not encourage the breakup of other states because virtually all states are vulnerable. In today’s world, there are more than 2000 thousand ethnic groups but about 210 States.

4. As more and more newly independent States took their seats in the United Nations, the balance of voting power within the organization shifted in their favour. It was in their interest to regularize de-colonization, and law followed reality. The UN General Assembly Declaration 1541 on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 1960 took positive effect to the political freedom of most nations particularly in Africa and Asia. But colonization was only defined as forced rule on these nations by European governments. A perspective that gave selective recognition on the malformation of multinational states created through the now-discredited historical right to conquest and domination. The domestic rule of Ethnic nationalities on one another and the coerced foreign amalgamation of these groups were still lost in the context of the colonial experiment. The dominant States whose collective interests were variously shaped in the embodiment of the declaration limited the right to Statehood to the context of external de-colonization, that is, independence for each colonial territory from each colonial rule.

5. Historical and conflicting subterranean factors between and within dominant groups and minority groups.


Again, the causes of agitation for self-determination remain a political order where the detrimental effects of public policy are imposed upon national minorities in multinational states, leading frequently to their incorporation into the lower caste or underclass of the dominant majority, a position that leaves them at a permanent disadvantage in competition for wealth, status, education, and all other socio-economic needs. When dominant ethnic groups ignore the socio-economic and cultural identity needs and rights of other peoples as security of lives and property, equal socio-economic opportunities, resort to legal redress and fair dispensation of justice in respect and protection of the rule of law within the same state, self-determination becomes an attractive alternative. Even cases of political representation at the center are often unsatisfactory when the group(s) does not identify with the center or want to be part of that political community. Worst case-scenario are when discriminating policies lead to inequities, poverty, intolerance, friction and ultimately destruction of lives and property.

Nations like Eritrea, East Timor, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and old Soviet Republic are ready experiences that point to peaceful and violent dissolution of nations within states. States like Czechoslovakia dissolved peacefully. But most attained their objective of self-determination neither by consent of the dominating ethnic, racial or class groups nor by their acquiescence to international accords but by political agitation and military pressure that arose as a natural resentment of extended perpetration of oppression and a desperate longing for freedom. Self-determination, it is important to note, is not a concept born of an objective in political destabilization but of freedom and security. Self-determination is even in harmony with democracy. If democracy means the rule of the people, by the people, for the people, then the principle of self-determination secures that no one people may rule another.

Critics argue that the principles embodied in international policy induce the actors in secession crisis to engage in violent conflict to further their goals rather than seek peaceful resolution of their differences. But such arguments are not supported by reality. As often as in myriad cases there are peaceful appeals, demonstrations and conferences that demands are often turned down repeatedly by the ruling State. To accuse those who support freedom or self-determination of encouraging separatism, is as foolish and hypocritical as accusing those who advocate freedom of divorce of encouraging the destruction of family ties.

The United Nations historic conference on the right to self-determination in August 15 2000 in the unanimous adoption of its resolution affirmed the UN General Assembly Resolution 48/93 of December 1993 in which was recalled;

The relevant resolutions regarding the violation of the right of peoples to self-determination and other human rights as a result of foreign military intervention, aggression and occupation, adopted by the Commission on Human Rights at its 36th, 37th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th, 48th, 49th, sessions. …

and also reaffirmed its

….resolutions 35/35 B of 14 November 1980, 36/10 of 28 October 1981, 37/42 of 3 December 1982, 38/16 of 22 November 1983, 39/18 of 23 November 1984, 40/24 of 29 November 1985, 41/100 of 4 December 1986, 42/94 of 7 December 1987, 43/105 of 8 December 1988, 44/80 of 8 December 1989, 45/131 of 14 December 1990, 46/88 of 16 December 1991 and 47/83 of 16 December 1992.
These are basic pointers to the global legitimacy of the cause for renegotiation of relations amongst groups living together in multinational states. But, an overall fact remains that whether self-determination takes the form of creation of a state, federal entity or a confederation of states, ethnic power-sharing arrangements must be explored. Modern nations can in the least grant real autonomy to various ethnic nationalities or at the best total sovereignty as new nation-states.

Posted by Administrator at May 17, 2005 10:47 PM

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