Across history, we have often seen the struggle of local populations to affirm an independent political unity from a broader governing entity, like an empire or a State. Following the end of World War II, the general idea was that such struggle would be relegated to the history books as the new international order was now based upon human rights, peaceful resolution to conflict and dialogue in the framework of international law.
This proved to be a very optimistic though as, across the decades, the discussion over the right of territorial self-determination has come up often in the public debate. The main question, which did not change from the past, is if homogeneous cultural groups living in territories that are part of a broader nation have the right to ask for independence and create a new self-governed, independent State separated from their previous country.
The means by which this question is raised seems to have partially changed and, in some scenarios, adapted to the more democratic and peaceful debate of our times: they take the form of public discussions and referenda. Nonetheless this should not make us think that such means are always successful as often they are met with violence and escalate into conflicts between the governing authorities and the people asking for independence.
Even today, these discussions and scenarios appear in different parts of the world: within Europe we have recently seen a debate and a referendum on Catalonia, which was also the theatre of fights among the police and the voters. In the previous years, we had also seen a similar referendum take place in Scotland, which however was conducted very peacefully. In the USA, it is an historical problem following the civil war of the 19th Century. In the Middle-East, the Kurdish question is now framed into open conflict and in the Asian continent, the issue of the Kashmiri region and the related violence inflicted upon the civilians in the regions has demanded international attention for decades.
For January 2018, the WSF would like to focus on the issue and explore the question from a human right and conflict resolution perspective: is territorial self-determination a human right or is it part of a political ideology? What legal mechanisms exist to put it in practice? Is it necessary to recur to violence to obtain the goal? And what can be done to stop the conflicts that the demands for independence has caused?
Stay tuned for the debate and join us for our event on the 30th January!