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Secession in International Law

A New Framework

Milena Sterio

Secession in International Law argues that the effective development of criteria on secession is a necessity in today’s world, because secessionist struggles can be analyzed through the legal lens only if we have specific legal rules to apply. Without legal rules, secessionist struggles are dominated by politics and sui generis approaches, which validate secessionist attempts based on geo-politics and regional states’ self-interest, as opposed to the law. By using a truly comparative approach, Milena Sterio has developed a normative international law framework on secession, which focuses on several factors to assess the legitimacy of a separatist quest.
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Chapter 6: Attempted secessions

Milena Sterio


This chapter analyzes cases of attempted secession, starting with the åaland Islands in the 1920s, through Quebec’s attempted secession from Canada, to the recent examples of Scotland and Catalonia. It examines whether in these instances secession failed because of a fulfillment of the right to internal self-determination for the secessionist entity, and under what differing circumstances these secessionist entities might accrue the right to external self-determination, leading to remedial secession. The chapter concludes that the right to self-determination does not lead to the right to secession and that, under extreme circumstances of oppression, the right to self-determination may justify the exercise of remedial secession by the abused people. However, the corollary to this is true—that peoples whose rights to internal autonomy and self-determination are respected by their mother states, as in the case of the åaland Islanders, Quebecois, Scots and Catalans, do not have the right to secede under international law.

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