Guest Article: The Fight for Territorial Self-Determination. Why Do Some Lives Still Matter More Than Others?

By Ioana Alexandra Tache, guest columnist and activist in human rights.

Catalonia’s recent push for independence has captured international attention and a growing discourse on the subject of territorial self-determination, but let us not forget that there are also other regions in the world that have been demanding attention on the issue for decades now. With Catalonia making the headlines, we also have to remember regions farther away from Europe (the West), such as Kurdistan (Middle-East) or Kashmir (Southeast Asia).

In definition, the right to self-determination is the people’s ‘right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’ (UN, 1960). Over time, it has been added that it is only through the realisation of this basic right ‘to determine, with no compulsion or coercion, their own future, political status and independence that we can begin to address others such as dignity, justice, progress and equity’ (Najawa, 2013).

Yet, even today, millions of people are stripped of their right to be responsible for their own fate, due either to military intervention, aggression, occupation or to exploitation. But this is not the case for all regions fighting for self-determination or even independence. And we can make this comparison between say Catalonia and Kurdistan or Kashmir. On the one hand, even if the independence movement in Catalonia started in the early 1920s, so almost a century ago, the inhabitants have never gone through occupation, exploitation or deadly attacks. It is indeed true that during the recent events in the region, on the occasion of the Catalan referendum in October 2017, more than 800 people were injured by the Spanish police (Guardian, 2017) – but no deaths.

On the other hand, looking at Kashmir or Kurdistan, the conflicts are bloody and some even developing over longer periods of time. For example, parts of Greater Kurdistan are under Turkish, Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian occupation and throughout the years, more than hundreds of thousands Kurds have lost their lives due to armed conflict (Smith, 2007). Referring to Kashmir, the region has been divided between India and Pakistan since the 1947 partition. Such as Kurdistan, more than one hundred thousand civilians have been killed or have disappeared in the region (Peace Insight, 2018), and there is no assurance that the violence is going to stop any time soon.

Thus, we once again see how global attention, whether we talk about media, institutions or civil society, tends to go towards the West more than any other region of the world. In a way, I do understand that people tend to resonate more with those in their own ‘neighbourhood’, but after all these years of trying to reach equality and equal respects of human rights, why don’t we care about every human being equally? Especially when they are in (physical) danger? One of the many questions still troubling me in 2018.

If you too think these questions are important,  you can attend our event on the 30th January!

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