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 5: The referendum as an instrument for decision-making in autonomy-related situations

Markku Suksi


Markku Suksi examines the use of the referendum in the context of autonomy against the background of national and international jurisprudence concerning self-determination referendums and the categories of self-determination established in the 1970 Friendly Relations Declaration. The permissibility of the referendum in such contexts is not to be doubted, but constraints are still placed for situations where such a referendum would threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state to which the territory belongs. Most referendums are held within the category of ‘any other political status’, that is, about the issue of whether or not to continue as an autonomous entity within the state, while outright independence referendums are in a clear minority (although their high profile nature tends to overshadow other self-determination referendums). Most states engaging in self-determination referendums concerning autonomous entities offer independence as an option, but independence often receives little support, and even in many actual independence referendums, such as those of Quebec and Scotland, the vote does not result in support for independence, but for continued sub-state existence. Therefore, it seems that secessionists have hijacked the self-determination issue and succeeded in sidelining all other facets of the issue.

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