Kurdistan and Catalonia: Direct democracy by way of referendum is best guarantee of a correlation between the wishes of the people and the policies that affect them

Following the referendum in Kurdistan and in anticipation of the referendum in Catalonia, I appeal to all stakeholders to defend the right of all persons to participate in the conduct of public affairs and condemn threats, intimidation and force aimed at suppressing the democratic right of everyone to express his/her views on the the kind of government that will best respond to the needs of the population

For indeed, Democracy is a form of self-determination, as self-determination is an expression of democracy.  This fundamental right, enshrined in article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, should be exercised in a manner consistent with article 19, which guarantees freedom of expression, also by way of referendum, article 21, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly, and article 25, which guarantees the right to political participation.  There is no justification to deny this democratic right to hold a referendum, which is the best way to obtain the free, prior and informed consent on a population on matters concerning its future

The international community should welcome the democratic process going on in various countries, consistent with the criteria I formulated in my report to the General Assembly A/69/272, which focuses on the realization of internal or external self-determination as an important and effective conflict-prevention strategy.

While some lawyers, even professors of international law, pretend that self-determination is limited to the decolonization process, they ignore the progressive development of international law since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the self-determination wars in the former Yugoslavia. the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, and the peaceful divorce of the Czech Republic from the Slovak Republic — all legal precedents that cannot be ignored, as if nothing had happened and we were back in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Admittedly, self-determination is not automatic or self-executing. The right is certain, the modalities of implementation are not always available.  Many peoples who have the right of self-determination do not always have the opportunity to exercise it.  All peoples including the Kurds, the Tamils, the Saharaouis, the Catalans have the right to internal or external self-determination.  Whether they will be able to exercise this right, however, is another matter.  Their right can be frustrated by States that violate international law and international human rights law with impunity — and there are many in this category.

Yet, it bears repeating that the right of self-determination is a human right, recognized by States as universal. It is not a right of States to selectively grant it or not —   Article 1 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights cannot be applied à la carte.  Right holders are the peoples – not States! 

At a UNESCO conference in Barcelona in 1998 it was recognized that the realization of self-determination is necessary to prevent local, regional and international conflict. The United Nations itself should take the leadership in facilitating dialogue among communities and governments.  It is for the United Nation, in pursuance of its mandate to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to organize and monitor self-determination referenda wherever it is clear that a given population demands it.  If we are committed to democracy, we must also be committed to democratic processes including public consultations and referenda.

2 thoughts on “Kurdistan and Catalonia: Direct democracy by way of referendum is best guarantee of a correlation between the wishes of the people and the policies that affect them

  1. This is a very valuable corrective to so much of the misinformation which emanates from supporters of “unionist” positions, whether Spanish in relation to Catalonia, British in relation to Scotland, Canadian with respect to Quebec, etc., etc. Do you have any thoughts in relation to the Canadian Supreme court’s Quebec decision and the duty they posited for both sides to negotiate in good faith? In your opinion, would this have a more general impact, particularly with reference to recent events in Catalonia, and the refusal of the Spanish government to enter into such good faith discussions?

    Liked by 1 person

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