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Why the world needs a radically new approach to secession

Prof. Timothy William Waters, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, writes:

The real danger to peace is not peoples’ desire to form new states. It is the willingness of the present world powers to resist that desire with violence. We have stumbled onto that truth in Sudan.

“Since WW2 territorial integrity has been a pillar of our international order. ... Preventing inter-state wars of conquest is clearly positive, but the belief that fixed frontiers reduce internal violence is more assumed than proven.

“Fixed borders create permanent minorities and majorities. Democracy doesn’t necessarily help – a minority can be voted down forever. Rights don’t provide adequate protection – they must be negotiated, and without the fallback of exit, minorities get sub-optimal deals. And although borders are inviolate, majorities often consider separatism treasonous and use violence to prevent it.

Yet countries that acknowledge their people’s right to leave are often the most peaceful [while] It is often oppressive countries that are hardest on their own secession-minded citizens.

Some separatists are violent; but few started that way, only turning to violence after being rebuffed.

“We need to make the ad hoc approach taken in Sudan permanent, with a rule empowering communities to negotiate secession. Territorially compact, self-defined communities should have the right to vote in plebiscites to form new states.”

“[Sudan] holds an important lesson about the sources of violent conflict within states, and shows that the world needs a radically new approach to secession. We should not have to learn it all over again, in every war, and every generation.” 

See the full text of his article here in the blog of the European Journal of International Law.

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