The Right to Self-determination (a Primer)

Mar. 20, 2007

Abhoud Syed M. Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, presents this primer about the right to self-determination. “The essence of the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination is the realization of their right to freely determine their political status vis--vis the Republic of the Philippines,” he writes. Lingga’s institute is a Cotabato-based think tank on Moro politics, history and culture.

By Abhoud Syed M. Lingga
Executive Director
Institute of Bangsamoro Studies

What is the right to self-determination?
Right to self-determination is the right of peoples to
* freely determine their political status; and
* freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development

How do people understand self-determination?
There are diverse interpretations of self-determination, among which are:
* Decolonization interpretation This is associated primarily with the process of decolonization that occupied territories have the right to independence.
* Freedom from foreign domination interpretation Sovereign states should be free from occupation by foreign troops and free from interference by foreign governments in their domestic affairs.
* Nationalist interpretation The right of peoples who are holder of the right to self-determination to their own state, or effective control of their territory within a recognized state.
* Minority right interpretation Minority peoples have the right to political, economic and cultural autonomy.
* Democratic governance interpretation – Peoples have the right to determine their own destiny within existing states through democratic practices. Proponents of this interpretation associate the principle of self-determination with popular sovereignty and representative governance.

What are the aspects of the right to self-determination?
The right to self-determination has political, economic, social and cultural aspects. For this right to be fully effective, the implementation of the right to self-determination should be geared towards the realization of the political, economic, social and cultural sovereignty of peoples who are holders of the right.

Who are holders of the right to self-determination?
According to the Report of the International Conference of Experts organized by the UNESCO Division of Human Rights, Democracy and Peace and the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia held in Barcelona on November 21-27, 1998, the holder of right of self-determination are people described as group of individual human beings having some or all of the following common features:
* common historical tradition
* racial or ethnic identity
* cultural homogeneity
* linguistic unity
* religious or ideological affinity
* territorial connection
* common economic life

Additionally, the UNESCO experts stated that the group as a whole must have the will to be identified as a people or the consciousness of being a people. The people, according to the experts, must be of a certain number, which need not be large but must be more than a mere association of individuals within a state. The existence of institutions or other means of expressing its common characteristics and will for identity is also important.

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