Self-Determination and Secession Under International Law: Nagorno-Karabakh

Milena Sterio

Abstract

The principle of self-determination grants minority groups defined as “peoples” the right to auto-determine their political future. This principle, while stemming back to post-World War I ideologies, has guided decolonisation and has served as the theoretical underpinning of former colonies’ independence quests. In the more recent decades, however, questions have surfaced regarding this principle’s applicability in the non-decolonisation paradigm: can secessionist movements rely on the principle of self-determination to justify their independence demands? Or, does the principle of self-determination in the non-decolonisation paradigm only bestow a right to internal autonomy on secessionist entities, while obligating them to remain within the pre-determined territory of their mother States? This article will examine the principle of self-determination in the non-decolonisation paradigm with a particular emphasis on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. This article will discuss how the principle of self-determination applies to Nagorno-Karabakh and whether it leads to the conclusion that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh are entitled to independence from Azerbaijan. This article will conclude that the principle of self-determination does not lead toward the conclusion that Nagorno-Karabakh can legally secede from Azerbaijan, absent a positive right of secession under international law.

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