Between Crimea, Donbass, Kosovo, and the Falklands: The right to self-determination vs. US hegemony

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May 16, 2016 –

Svyatoslav Knyazev, PolitRussia – 

Translated by J. Arnoldski

While unleashing hysterics over Crimea’s reunification with Russia, the representatives of official Kiev love to shout about “violations of international law,” but don’t want to go into the specifics, instead limiting themselves only to mentioning a couple documents taken out of their international, legal context. No wonder. After all, according to international law, the residents of Crimea, Donbass, Ossetia, and Abkhazia can decide themselves how they want to live. But the West “plays in its own court” in recognizing the right to self-determination only for their own minions…

Some very interesting surveys can be found on the blog of the famous media expert, Anatoly Shariy which were carried out among the residents of European states, in particular those of Germany and Poland. When a significant portion of the respondents were asked how they feel about the events which happened in Crimea in 2014, Europeans responded that any territory should be able to decide its own fate in referendum. The mix-up is that the masses of Germans and Poles don’t know about the referendum that was held in Crimea. Instead, they believe that Russia simply “occupied” the peninsula. These people just can’t seem to put together in their heads how the sovereign will of a people could be unrecognized, so governments, with the aid of media, technically resort to manipulation. The truth of what happened in 2014 in Crimea, in Odessa, and in Donbass, however, is enough to drop any support for official Kiev to zero. 

The Poroshenkos, Timoshenkos, and Yaroshes, over the joyful roar of the inhabitants of Western Ukrainian farms and Kiev’s office planktons who graduated from technical colleges which fall short of the level of Soviet vocational schools, curse “pro-Russian separatists” and urge the electorate to fight for Ukraine’s integrity. However, neither the oligarch leaders of the Maidan nor the “patriotic masses” kissing their feet are capable of answering one obvious question: “Why did Crimea, Donbass, or even Odessa not have the right to secede from Ukraine in 2014 just as Ukraine itself did in 1991 in leaving the Soviet Union?”

Despite two years of civil war in Ukraine, no-one from among such fans can give a clear response to this answer – because Crimeans and the “separatists” from Novorossiya where, in essence, completely right. 

The history of the principle of “self-determination” dates back to the 18th century. This principle was one of the prerequisites of the emergence of the US itself which now so desperately struggles against regions striving for self-determination. In the 19th, century, the “freedom of nations” was developed in the Greeks, Poles, and Latin Americans’ struggles for liberation, and it also united Germany and the Italians. Already at that time, plebiscites (which determined the fate of Nice and the Ionian Islands) began to be used for the most complete realization of this ideal. 

The idea of self-determination reached a new level following the conclusion of the Second World War in the second half of the 20th century. The majority of members of the United Nations established at that time recognized the importance and necessity of this principle and heated debates were held on the scope of its applicability. Some members of the UN insisted on its universality, while others attempted to reduce it to particular cases (such as in relation to colonies). The first position turned out to be more powerful and in the 7th Resolution of the General Assembly of the UN in 1952, it was proclaimed that “the right of peoples and nations to self-determination is a prerequisite to the full enjoyment of all fundamental human rights.” This principle thus officially became a law.

The documents adopted by the UN in 1960 linked the right of self-determination to individual rights and recognized national-liberation movements as the “sole legal representatives” of nations.

Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted in 1966 speaks for itself: 

1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.

3. The States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

The right to self-determination was then enshrined in Article 1 of the UN Charter. It became one of the fundamental principles of international law as a whole. 

In the 1960’s and ’70’s, a kind of collision arose in international law with resultantly cost the lives of many thousands of peoples. In a number of international documents, the principles of “national unity” and “inviolability of borders” were affirmed. This affair in part had to do with the Concluding Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (1975). 

However, all such conflicts were in essence resolved by Resolution 2625, the “Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.” In this resolution, all peoples were guaranteed the right to self-determination and the necessity was reiterated for states to refrain from actions which lead to the violation of this law. This text formed a sort of caveat in regards to the fact that the declaration’s text was not to be construed as encouraging the violation of territorial integrity. According to this text, colonies could exercise their right to self-determination when they so desire, while parts of independent countries could too in the case of the impossibility of domestic self-determination and equal participation in governance. Crimea and the South-East of Ukraine, in fact, opted for self-determination before our eyes for these very reasons! 

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, heated discussions among jurists were held as to where the right to territorial integrity ends and where the right to self-determination begins. However, in the beginning of the 1990’s, it seems that all Western leaders put this question in its place. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia (formally contradicting the Helsinki Act), which were recognized by Western leaders and the UN, directly pointed to a priority of the right to self-determination over the principles of territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders. 

Soon enough in the Balkans, the whole world saw the amazing demonstration of boundless cynicism. The West recognized the right to self-determination of Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in seceding from Yugoslavia, but categorically refused to recognize the same rights for the Serbian populations of Republika Srpska and Serbian Krajina. Moreover, Europe and the USA gave a green light to the genocide against Serbian civilians who tried for their part to repeat what the Croats and Bosnians had done. A few years later, the West actively supported Kosovo separatists and even used the armed forces of NATO on this occasion against a sovereign state. Double standards? Nope, never heard of them…

The example of Yugoslavia stares us in the face. On the basis of this case, we can briefly and in a limited space better demonstrate the openly contradictory actions of Western states. However, in retrospect, this situation is nothing special. 

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In the 19th century, the US, along with annexing territories from Spain, Mexico, and the [American] Indians, resorted to the “freedom of self-determination” for Texas, where American “settlers” were purposefully moved their for this purpose. 

In addition, in 1905, Norway unilaterally seceded from the government of Sweden in accordance with a referendum. 

Between 1920 and 1940, Ireland gradually seceded from Great Britain. But the question of the future of North Ireland, as we know, has to this day not been finally resolved. 

It should be noted that, whenever it suits them, the authorities of the United Kingdom use the right to self-determination in its most rigid form. Based on this, London quietly hangs on to the Falkland Islands (for which it even fought against Argentina) and Gibraltar, which Spain claims with reference to a number of international acts. But nothing! All of the Western world sees this and is calm, even favorable. No-one has introduced sanctions against the UK for these cases…

After the Second World War, according to the results of a referendum the fate of the Saar was decided to join Germany. The whole world reacted to this quite calmly. 

In 1961-1962, India occupied and annexed a number of Portuguese colonies, in particular Goa. No condemnation or sanctions followed. 

In 1965, Singapore unilaterally seceded from Malaysia. No-one in the world was confused by this. 

As we’ve already said above, the West almost unanimously supported Kosovo’s secession from Serbia. And this despite the fact that the authorities in Pristina were open international terrorists and the territory of the “republic” became the bleeding wound of Europe controlled by criminal groups. 

Even closer to our day, in 2011, the West enthusiastically welcomed the independence of South Sudan for whose sake they twisted the arms of Khartoum. The calculation was trivial. After all, in Southern Sudan there is an immense reservoir of oil (comparable to the Saudis’ according to some). The Khartoum regime had, mildly speaking, cold relations with the West. Therefore, the oil had to handed over to someone else. When the new government of the young state began to establish relations with China, however, a brutal civi war began in South Sudan. Yet the whole world once again looks on silently. 

Examples of such double-standards can be seen even within Europe’s borders. Scotland was relatively peacefully allowed to hold a referendum on independence (although, according to some experts, the result was pre-arranged through the use of certain technologies), yet no one wants to hear of Spain holding something similar in regards to Catalonia…

Could someone explain why some “self-determinations” or “partially-recognized” states have more rights than others? Do the Falkland islands or Gibraltar have more than Crimea? Do Kosovo and South Sudan have more than Donbass, Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Serbian Krajina? From the point of view of international law, there are no grounds for this. It’s simple: when some self-determinations are in the interests of the US and their allies, then the West warmly welcomes them, but others are not welcomed, and they are declared to be manifestations of “separatism.” 

This leads to tragic comedies. The same Kurdish people in Iraq have long had warm relations with the West, while in Turkey such relations are cold. In Iraq, they were opposed to Saddam, but in Turkey, they are a “headache” for NATO’s ally. 

Nagorno-Karabakh is not acceptable to the West, but separatists acting on the territory of China are real heroes in the eyes of the Euro-Atlantic community. 

How can these double-standards be gotten rid of? How can conflicts that claim thousands, maybe even millions, of lives be eliminated? 

It’s actually not so difficult. In order to achieve this, it’s enough to have political will and fulfill the requirements of existing international, legal documents and have some of them elaborated. One possibility would be preparing and adopting a concrete document which would define the procedure for realizing the rights of a people to self-determination and push it through the UN’s governing bodies. 

For example, let’s predict that the decision to recognize a state will be carried out according to the results of two referendums held at an interval of 3-5 years. International observers will be obliged to attend the referendum in order to avoid its sabotage. The decision to declare independence or join another state should be taken not by a simple, but by an exclusively qualified majority (if both times only 51% of the population seeks independence while 49% are against, this will only create soil for new conflicts). But if 75% of the population of a country or territory twice says that it wants to live separately, then so be it. A unified procedure would remove all the basic premises of conflicts. After all, the main value is people, so let people decide for themselves how they will live better.

Crimeans should not experience any discomforts because they just exercised their right as written down in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the UN! The residents of Donbass should not be shot because they, according to international, normative laws, refused to live in a country whey there were illegally barred from participating in governance. The residents of Karabakh should not go to sleep worrying whether or not their homes will be bombed at night.

Given the complex situation at hand, adopting some kind of “concretization” of international acts will not be simple. But is the preservation of priceless human lives not worth it? Such a substantive discussion on this  is, to say the least, long overdue…

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