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Michel Seymour UK Lectures Peoples, Self -determination and Secession Peoples defined (+ contiguous diasporas and non contiguous diasporas) Some clarification and theoretical implications Internal Self-determination : representation, self-government or special status

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Michel Seymour

UK Lectures

Peoples, Self-determination and Secession

Peoples defined (+ contiguous diasporas and non contiguous diasporas)

Some clarification and theoretical implications

Internal Self-determination : representation, self-government or special status

External self-determination: primary and remedial right only theories

seven sorts of peoples based on different national self representations

Seven sorts of peoples(based on different national self-representations)

Ethnic : sameancestry, language, culture, history (someindigenous peoples)

Cultural : multiethnic, samelanguage, culture and history, no administrative unit (Acadian, Rom)

Sociopolitical : possiblymultiethnic, multicultural and multinational, but samecommon public identity and same non sovereign administrative unit (Nunavut, Quebec, Scotland, Catalonia)

Civic : samemononationalsovereign country (Iceland, Portugal, Korea)

Multisocietal : same multinational sovereign country (Great Britain, Canada, Spain, Belgium)

Multiterritorial : same culture equallyspread on manycontinuoussovereignterritories, minorities on each of theseterritories (Mohawk in Akwasasne and Kurds in Kurdistan)

Diasporic : same culture equallyspread on discontinuoussovereignterritories, minorities on each of theseterritories (oldjewish diaspora before the creation of Israel)

minority fragments of peoples i contiguous diasporas
Minority fragments of peoples: (i) Contiguous diasporas

Extensions of neighbouring national majorities

(oftencalled ‘kinminorities’)

  • From a different country (Russians in the Baltic States, Palestinians in Israel)
  • Within the same country (Catalans in Valencia and Basque in Navarra)
  • From a multiterritorial people (Kurds in Irak)
minority fragments of peoples ii non contiguous diasporas
Minority fragments of peoples(ii) Non contiguous diasporas
  • Immigrant communities (not born in the country of residence)
  • Historicalcommunitiesstillidentifyingwith a foreign country (second generation of Pakistanese living in the UK)
  • Fragment of a diasporic peoples (New York Jewsbefore the creation of Israel)
legitimacy of inclusive conceptions
Legitimacy of inclusive conceptions
  • A civic conception islegitimateonly if there are no minority peoples on the territory (Korea, Iceland, Portugal : legitimate; France : illegitimatebecause of Corsica) and if theirotherminorities are recognized
  • A sociopolitical conception islegitimateonly if minority peoples and otherminorities are recognized (Quebecwithitselevenindigenous peoples, English Quebeckers, and immigrant communities)
  • A multisocietal conception islegitimateonly if minority peoples and otherminorities are recognized (Canada, Spain: illegitimate? Great Britain: legitimate)
  • If peoples and otherminorities are recognized, theirself-exclusionisillegitimate.
clarifications and theoretical implications
Clarifications and Theoretical Implications
  • The taxonomyisperhapsincomplete and not entirelyaccurate
  • No circulardefinitions : national consciousnessdefinedwithoutrecourse to the concept of nation
  • A national self-representationis not alwayslegitimate : France
  • No essentialism: allows for diversity, plural identities and change
  • All peoples are societal cultures : basic institutional structure realized in a character of culture
  • All peoples have an institutionalidentity (language, institutions, history) but not necessarily a governmental administrative unit
  • We must distinguish the structure and character of the culture
  • National consciousness: self-representation + the will to survive
  • Multilingual peoples are possible but they are agregates of simple societal cultures
self determination
  • Internalself-determination: the right of a people to developitsowneconomic, social and cultural institutions and the right to determineitspoliticalstatusinside the encompassing state
  • Externalself-determination: the right to own a state (for thosewhoalready have one), or secession, violation of territorial integrity or association with a different state, (for thosewho have none)
the argument for internal self determination
The argumentfor internalself-determination
  • Politicalliberalism : considers all agents with an institutionalidentity
  • All institutional agents that respect others must alsoberespected
  • Peoples maybesuchinstitutional agents
  • Among all the interests of peoples, thoseintereststhat relate to the maintenance and development of their institutions have a bearing on theirvery existence and thuscanbe the subject of rights
  • Peoples therefore have the right to secure the maintenance and development of their institutions
  • This is the right to internalself-determination.
different interpretations of internal self determination
Differentinterpretationsof internalself-determination


  • Politicalrepresentation of the people in the governmental institutions of the encompassing state
  • Self-government on a certain administrative unit (land, republic, region, province, federated state, reserves)
  • Specialconstitutionalstatus : asymmetricfederalism


  • The right to participate in negotiation, conversation and deliberationconcerningconstitutional changes
external self determination
  • The right to keepone’sownsovereign state
  • The right to revolution (if the people coincideswith the whole population of a sovereign state governed by a tyrant)
  • The right of stateless peoples to secede and violate the territorial integrity of an existingsovereign state
  • The right to association with a different country for a people that no longer wishes to begoverned by a given state becauseitcannot survive on itsown as a sovereign state.
different theories of external self determination
Differenttheoriesof externalself-determination

(A) (general, unilateral) Primary right theories :

  • Choicetheories: a majority in a given association of persons on a giventerritorythatwishes to secedeisentitled to do so, even if itis not subject to injustice (Harry Beran, Christopher Wellman)
  • Ascriptivetheories : peoples have an intrinsic value and for thisreason have a primary right to secede, even in the absence of injustice. (based or not on the nationalistprinciple) (Joseph Raz and AvishaiMargalit)
different theories of external self determination1
Differenttheories of externalself-determination

(B) (General, unilateral) Remedial right onlytheories (just cause theories)

A cultural group has the right to secedeonly if it has been subjected to past injustice

  • Violation of humanrights (Kurds in Irak)
  • Annexation of territory (Baltic States)
  • Systematic violation of intrastateautonomyagreements (Kosovo) (Buchanan 2007)
different theories of external self determination2
Differenttheories of externalSelf-determination

In addition to the previousthreejust causes, wemust add:

  • The violation of the procedural right to Self-determination
  • The violation of internalself-determination

(underat least one interpretation of that right)

This ismyowntheory (seemypaper in Inquiry2007)

my differences with buchanan
My Differences with Buchanan
  • Peoples are special (as opposed to other cultural groups) : they are (along with persons) ultimate sources of valid moral claims
  • Peoples are bearers of collective rights
  • They have a primary general right to internal self-determination
  • They have a remedial right to external self-determination if their right to internal self-determination is violated.
  • No presumption in favour of existing states and territorial integrity (sovereign peoples do not have a primary right to own a state)
general working hypotheses
General WorkingHypotheses
  • Peoples are the primarysubject of collective rights;
  • There is a primary right to internalself-determination for all seven sorts of peoples;
  • There is no primaryright to externalself-determination for any people, not eventhosethatalreadyown a state;
  • Contiguous and non contiguous diasporas are fragments of peoples and are subject of a reduced version of the right to internalself-determination, excluding self-government, and no right to secede.
the institutionalisation of the right to secede

The institutionalisationof the right to secede

Differentcriteriathatdemonstrate the feasability of a particular set of normsgoverningsecession:

Compatibility with progressive elements of international law

Acceptable in the near future by the international community

Not creating perverse incentives

Morally accessible to differentcommunities

Able to deal with transition

Able to make a valid claim on the territory.

(These are all Allen Buchanan’scriteria)

self determination in international law
Self-determination in International Law
  • All peoples have the right to internalself-determination;
  • InternalSelf-determinationisdefined as the right to developitseconomic, social and cultural institutions and the right to determineitspoliticalstatuswithin the encompassing state;
  • It is a primary right thatonly peoples have;
  • No people has a primary right to secede;
self determination in international law1
Self-determination in International Law

Remedial justifications for secession:

  • Colonisation (African colonies);
  • Oppression (China in Taiwan, USSR in Baltic states);
  • Violation of the internal right to self-determination (Tibet within China, Cataloniawithin Spain concerning the Statute of autonomy or Quebecwithin Canada with the unilateralpatriation of the constitution and the rejection of Meech Lake Agreement)
and the winner is the just cause remedial right only theory
And the winner is: the just cause (remedial right only) theory
  • International lawdoes not accept the primary right to secede;
  • The international communitywouldneveraccept a primary right to secede;
  • A primary right to secessionwouldcreate perverse incentives: a domino effect;
  • It isn an approach not morally accessible to all;
  • It wouldimply chaos during transition;
  • Endless territorial disputes.
buchanan s version
Buchanan’s version
  • Does not capture the progressive elements of international law (peoples as special and owners of a generalprimary right to internalself-determination);
  • The international communitywillneveracceptBuchanan’s suggestion that all cultural groups couldunder certain conditions beentitled to secede;
  • Perverse incentives: endlessnumber of violations of humanrights as an incentives for the secession of many cultural groups, if Buchanan is right.
my version of the just cause theory
My version of the just cause theory
  • In perfect accordance with international law;
  • Acceptable for multination states thatwant to prevent the growingnumber of seceding groups; alreadyaccepted in the 1970 Declaration on Friendly relations among states
  • Stability in multinational states;
  • Politicalliberalismismorally accessible to all;
  • Transition settled by negotiations;
  • No territorial disputes : utipossidetisjuris
difficulties with remedial accounts

Difficulty in establishing a supranational instance responsible to adjudicate the moral justification for secession of a particular group


The UN assisted the self-determiningprocess in Eritrea, East Timor and Western Sahara. So the UN couldget more involved. In the meantime, seceding peoples and and the encompassing state couldagree on creating an independent body of international jurists and constitutionalists