The Right to Self-Determination

CollegiAdvocats

A Legal Analysis by the Human Rights Commission of the Barcelona Bar Association

On January 8, the Barcelona Bar Association (Il·lustre Col·legi d’Advocats de Barcelona) published an analysis by its Human Rights Commission on the legitimacy of Catalonia’s claim to statehood.

In almost forty years of existence, the Human Rights Defence Commission of the Barcelona Bar Association has been present in all debates of social and legal relevance in our country, insofar as they could affect fundamental human rights, both individually and collectively. At present, when the people of Catalonia are set to take decisions that may determine their future as a nation, the Defence Commission cannot be absent from a fervent, enthusiastic debate that has come about on the right to self-determination. That is why we wish to express our position on the matter, obviously within the corresponding legal framework.

Firstly, it is manifest that the right to self-determination is a basic, universal right of all peoples, as per international law in force since the establishment of the United Nations Charter (Articles 1 & 55) of 1945, and expressly proclaimed in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 16, 1966 and in force since 1976. In practice however, the right to self-determination had been internationally recognised much earlier. Consider the United States Declaration of Independence or the creation of new states upon the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian empires at the end of the First World War. The exercise of the right to self-determination has resulted in the number of sovereign states quadrupling since 1900. Twenty of these new states are the result of secession of a part of one state to establish a new one. Specifically, in Europe there have been 14 cases of secession since 1900: Norway from Sweden (1905), Finland from Russia (1917); Ireland from the UK (1922), Iceland from Denmark (1944), Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from the USSR (1990-1991), Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia from Yugoslavia (1991), Slovakia from Czechoslovakia (1992), Montenegro from the Union of Serbia and Montenegro (2006), and Kosovo from Serbia (2008). The process of self-determination and the creation of a new sovereign state was different in each case – based on a constitutional provision, a separation agreement or a unilateral declaration of independence – but all with the ultimate legitimation of the process through the majority decision of the people, expressed freely and democratically in referendum.

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