Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Unilateral Secession in a Multipolar World

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Unilateral Secession in a Multipolar World

Article excerpt

This panel was convened at 10:45 am, Friday, April 5, by its moderator, William Slomanson of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, who introduced the panelists: Vanessa J. Jimenez of the Public International Law and Policy Group, South Sudan Program; Marcelo Kohen of the Graduate Institute of International and Developmental Studies, Geneva; Patrick Dumberry of the University of Ottawa; and Jure Vidmar, Oxford University.


Territorial integrity is a bedrock principle of the historical state-centric system of international law. Its contemporary application was enshrined in the 1945 UN Charter, and confirmed a half-century later, in the UN's 1995 General Assembly Resolution 50/6.

Those documents, and multiple human rights instruments, have also memorialized the right of self-determination of peoples. Self-determination has thus become the battle cry for many contemporary secessionist movements.

As the late N.Y.U. Professor Thomas Franck was fond of saying, international law does not permit unilateral secessions; nor does it prohibit them. There is no multilateral treaty on secession. That would be political suicide. But a review of other sources of international law hints at the emergence of a limited right to a remedial secession.

Our task is to explore the parameters of the debate about whether the hypothetical Asilite unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) justifiably coexists with Alfuma's territorial sovereignty. We thus drafted our hypothetical with a view toward assessing the validity of a number of contemporary secessions under customary international law. The hypothetical will likely strike some as resembling Kosovo's UDI; others, as South Ossetia; and yet others, as being based on Nagomo Karabakh. If so, we have achieved our objective of blending a number of post-Cold War secessions into one illustrative scenario.

Jure Vidmar will field my first question regarding the relationship between state territorial integrity and a UDI. Marcelo Kohen will address the requirements for a legitimate UDI. Patrick Dumberry will focus on the circumstances whereby an entity--having unilaterally seceded--might satisfy the criteria for statehood and recognition. Vanessa J. Jimenez will cover questions related to the need for, and parameters of, an independence referendum.


Alfuma and its adjacent neighbor, Rutasia, are developing countries. Their ethnic Asilite populations comprise 25 percent of the total population of each country. The Asilites constitute almost 100 percent of the rural and mountainous area, known as Asilia--which overlaps the border between Alfuma's southeast and Rutasia's southwest quadrants. Starting in 1997, Asilites in this cross-border area began to demand more protection from the majority populations' deteriorating treatment of ethnic Asilites who live or venture into the respective lowlands.

Asilia is the main province on Alfuma's southeast border. Asilia has been historically autonomous. Just after 9/11, Alfuma's president revoked Asilia's autonomy and disbanded its organs of self-government. Many of Alfurna's Asilites have since fled the lowlands, up into Asilia's mountains. Ethnic Asilites in both countries thus felt compelled to ramp up their demands for the following: better treatment by the respective dominant cultures; more governmental protection; and Asilian self-determination.

Alfuma's government ultimately responded by sending a sizeable military force into Asilia in 2007. The Asilites reacted to this "protection" with protests near the main Alfuman military base, then located just outside of Asilia's provincial capital city named lisa.

In 2010, Alfuma's military commander urged Alfuma's Asilite leader to end the protests. She refused. She was then placed under house arrest. From her home, where international attention resulted in CNN coverage, she encouraged all Asilites in the entire region to defend themselves against their respective governments and majority populations. …

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