Essay: Under what conditions should a minority be entitled to the right of secession?

(Reading time: 5.30 mins)

By Greg Marat

Palestinians hold a flag and throw a stone in front of a mural depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the controversial Israeli barrier, during clashes with Israeli troops at Qalandiya checkpoint, near the West bank city of Ramallah September 23, 2011. Photo:Darren Whiteside 2011.
Palestinians hold a flag and throw a stone in front of a mural depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the controversial Israeli barrier, during clashes with Israeli troops at Qalandiya checkpoint, near the West bank city of Ramallah September 23, 2011. Photo: Darren Whiteside (2011).

Even though there is no ‘clear-cut’ universal formula to apply to every case of secession, this essay is going to argue that the only condition from which minorities should be able to secede is when the majority population clearly violates the human rights of a particular minority and their capability of being a self-sustaining state.

This essay will briefly look into examples such as Palestine, Québec and Pakistan as a formulation to such secessions. It will consider if they have each of those situations and have the right to self-determination and secession.

Prior to Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (signed in 1966), there was no such protection of minorities in the international community.

One of the bases for this was the term ‘minority’.

It keeps evolving over time.

The term minority can be separated into two different sections: individual rights and collective rights. Individual rights could be seen as rights that are obtained by individuals e.g. racial, class, ethnic, religious, linguistic and more recently, sexual minorities.

Collective rights are rights that are obtained by a group of these individuals that share the same attributes.

One of the main reasons why minorities call for secession is the right to self-determination. On the contrary, this appears to defy state sovereignty.

It enforces the notion that a minority group of people should be free to cherry-pick their own territorial boundaries.

Thus, there are some states that are self-identified but have no legal process to claim their state boundaries. Palestine is in an example of this.

The territorial boundaries of Palestine and Israel have been changing throughout history.

The issues that are fumigating the violence in the area remain to be: borders, security, water rights, mutual recognition, resolutions for the refugee and who governs Jerusalem.

During the conflict, there have been several violations of human rights from both sides.

And there have been several attempts to create a two-state solution to the problem, including the most reason one that made Palestine an observer state of the United Nations.

A majority of the Jewish public do see the justification for a separate Palestinian state but there is still disagreements over the shape of a concluding agreement and also if both sides would uphold the commitment and respect the peace.

Since there have been human rights violations, I would agree that ‘two-state solution’ would be the best fit for this situation, and both states should be recognised by the Islamic and Jewish communities.

Also Jerusalem is of an importance Christians, Muslims and Jews. It should be an independent city separated from Israel and Palestine.

Human rights is the central issue relating to the conflict. Could these be considered a reason for minorities to secede?

The Québec sovereignty movement is a political movement that is calling for a separate state for the province of Québec from the rest of Canada.

The Québec sovereignty movement is a political movement, calling for a negotiation-based diplomatic separation from Canada.

The justification for the secession is based on linguistics, where the majority of the Québec province speak French and the rest of Canada majority speaks English.

But the real reason is due to cultural, political and social differences.

In this case even though Québec has the potential to become a self-sustaining state, the majority population of Canada hasn’t violated human rights in opposition to this or prior to this.

This is the distinction of this situation and the Israel-Palestine conflict where there were consistent violations of human rights.

Cultural differences of a minority without any violation of human rights doesn’t seem as a legitimate reason for secession.

The stability of the new state is almost as equal in importance to secession and the right to self-determination, if we were to look at Pakistan.

In 1930, addressing the Muslim league, philosopher Allama Iqbal proposed a separate state for Muslims in India because he believed Muslims were misrepresented in the majority Hindu parliament.

In 1947, he got his wish when British-India was separated on the basis of religious demographics such as India, Pakistan and West Pakistan (Bangladesh).

During the partition estimated 500,000 people died from riots and resulted in several wars and conflict between in India and Pakistan since the secession (1947, 1965 1971 and 1999) (White M. 2012).

This partition would be seen as a mistake when we look at the progress of the two countries.

India became a superpower and Pakistan ended up being a failed state that harbours terrorists.

They are consistently becoming a nuisance to India with their across border terrorist attacks, as well as bridging violence against their neighbour Bangladesh.

If we look at the state of Pakistan, we can observe that it has become a failed state after their independence from India.

Therefore, the secession of a state should be validated only if the new state that would be created can be a self-sustaining state (i.e form a government and the capability to collect taxes from its citizens) and wouldn’t infringe upon human rights.

In conclusion, there is no concrete method to sort out secession or to create a formula that could be applied universally.

Moreover, you might not end up with the state that you wanted (e.g. as was the case with Pakistan).

Due to globalisation, no single state can claim to have a completely homogenous society.

Creating a majority state would again lead to discrimination of another minority, thus creating a never-ending process of creating of smaller and smaller states based on majorities.

That said secession should always be a choice that is available but only as a final resort. And a minority to be successful in secession, the following two conditions should be met;

  1. Clear violations of human rights by the majority.
  1. Ability to create a sufficient state.
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Essay: Under what conditions should a minority be entitled to the right of secession?

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