In the modern era, self-determination was positioned as a principle underpinning peace and security. It contributed to decolonisation and the rapid expansion of new Member States of the United Nations. Beyond this, some international lawyers questioned whether its use could justify similar state creation as a remedy for gross violations of human rights & humanitarian laws, as well as rectifying political discrimination. However, self-determination is now typically fulfilled within existing states, particularly in states that respect equal rights and have a government representative of all its people. It is interesting to me that, in such democratic states – namely Canada and the United Kingdom – there exist groups seeking secession, associating their pursuits with the right to self-determination.
In 2017, I began research into the right of self-determination in international law. Specifically, I considered whether it had evolved beyond the contemporary framework in which it is currently understood to operate, based on the experiences of Canada, the UK, and Spain. Each is a democratic state with no recent history of internal civil conflicts, and the paradigm of decolonisation does not apply to those groups that have recently attempted to secede by referendum. Yet, in the first two instances, the central governments acquiesced to the possibility of significant parts of their territory and citizens breaking off to form new states. In the last instance, Spain did not.
My research seeks to ask questions about the interpretation of self-determination in these democratic states. I will consider to what degree these precedents inform us of the potential we are witnessing the emergence of a new external mode of self-determination, one that is based on democratic legitimacy being the foundation for territorial claims and exclusive jurisdiction to govern.
This journal contains my reflections based on the research materials and works as I progress in my final years of my PhD. There may also exist reflections on the PhD process itself. It is hoped that this may be of interest to those in my specialist field of study, for fellow PhD candidates, and for the peoples of those territories and states that find themselves wanting to be asked the independence question.