Autonomy and Self-determination
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Autonomy and Self-determination

Between Legal Assertions and Utopian Aspirations

Edited by Peter Hilpold

Europe has reached a crisis point, with the call for self-determination and more autonomy stronger than it ever has been. In this book, renowned international lawyers give a detailed account of the present state of international law regarding self-determination and autonomy.
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Chapter 3: The relevance of democratic principles to the self-determination norm

Brad R. Roth


This chapter explores the implications of democratic principles for controversies over the political rights of intrastate communities and over the political status of majority-minority intrastate regions. Traditionally, democracy and self-determination are thought to refer to separate questions: democracy pertains to the mode of governance within political communities (reflecting “the will of the people” through institutions according equal concern and respect to the whole of the citizenry), whereas self-determination speaks to relationships among distinct political communities (“peoples” not legitimately subject to alien subjugation). The chapter contends, however, that the distinctness of political communities within state boundaries is a matter, not of a group’s intrinsic ethnic, cultural, linguistic, or religious characteristics, but of the territorial state’s success or failure in manifesting the self-determination of the entirety of the permanent territorial population. Where impositions arbitrarily place a regional majority “in a position or status of subordination,” fulfillment of the self-determination norm may require the establishment of special regional decision-making processes that allow the subordinated populations to pursue their economic, social, and cultural development on an equal basis.

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