Unilateral right to self-determination in liberal democracies exist if the state refuses to negotiate opt out, Serrano argues

News / 11.10.13

Ivan Serrano, Phd for the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, delivered a speech on behalf of the Centre Maurits Coppieters at the UNPO conference on “Democracy and Accommodation of National Minorities in Europe: Policy solutions for the Middle East“.

In addition to his opinion on whether federalism works for multi national societies we also wanted to ask him about his latest publication “From the Nation to the State” a think piece on the article 1 and 55 of the charter of the United Nations developing the right to self-determination.

His  work in that field acknowledges that a restrictive interpretation of the right to self-determination doesn’t answer the question of how to exercise that right in democratic states that respect basic human rights.  With a restrictive reading, cases such as Quebec, Scotland, Flanders or Catalonia wouldn’t be rightfully eligible for self-determination processes. He argues that for such cases, as for any other cases within a liberal democracy, a unilateral right to self-determination exist if (1) the self-determination movement has a democratic background and follows democratic principles, (2) if it has had long lasting  demands (not just arising in an oportunistic way) and (3) if the pre-existing state refuses to agree or ease a political solution to give voice to the people (e.g. allowing an independence referendum).

When discussing accommodation of national minorities in federal systems, and specifically in the Middle East, he underlines that federalism was never conceived for multi national states. Early development of federalism in the United States responds to the need of a governance form to rule a vast territory with disperse mostly homogeneous population.  Nonetheless, he acknowledges that federalism in multi ethnic, multi national societies is more likely to succeed when (1) diversity is recognized and protected in the constitution, (2) when it is implemented at an early stage of the constitutional process rather than as a reaction to conflictual context with minority group claiming for more autonomy, decentralisation or self-determination (3) when the constitutional process involves federated entities, constituent units and minority groups that accept it, not if a feel of imposition develops and finally (4) when consotional elements, veto right for minorities and opt out clauses are included in the constitutional agreements.