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Internal Self-Determination and the Role of Territorial Autonomy as a Tool for the Resolution of Ethno-Political Disputes

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Since the end of the Cold War, autonomy arrangements have been increasingly perceived and used as tools for resolving ethno-political conflicts as well as part of the affirmation of indigenous claims and self-determination struggles. One important reason for this is that the all-or-nothing dichotomy of statehood and external self-determination seems to have sustained conflict at least as much as having resolved conflict. However, the theoretical underpinnings of territorial autonomy have not yet been elaborated in international law. While the Canadian Supreme Court started formulating some requirements of what it takes to have a “meaningful access to government” in the Reference re Secession of Quebec case, the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice seems to pull international law back into the perennial discussion of secession, this time dubbed “remedial”. Territorial autonomy as an institution is about more than the division of competences between centre and periphery; it is about creating comprehensive structural solutions and processes of representation, accountability and decision-making. International law needs thus to engage seriously with the conditions influencing the quality, stability and adaptability of territorial autonomy arrangements. Among those are issues of timing; responses to the traumas of conflict; the quality of democratic involvement and institutional design; as well as the influence of external actors.

Affiliations: 1: Director, Åland Islands Peace Institute, Mariehamn, Åland, Finland; Associate Professor of International Law, Uppsala University, Sweden


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