Friday, 25 July 2008

Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law

by E.K. Adzhindzhal, Akua (Sukhum), 2007


The essay “Abkhazia’s Liberation and International Law” is devoted to the part of International Law that focuses on the right of nations to self-determination. In line with basic documents of international law, the essay discusses the struggle of the nation of Abkhazia against colonial dependence on Georgia – for the right of its people to political self-determination and the creation of an independent state, following its liberation as the result of the Abkhazians' victory in the war imposed from Tbilisi.

V.Mikadze, Candidate of Law


E. Adzhindzhal’s work “Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law’’ discusses questions which are not limited to Abkhazia. Discussion of the contradictions between the basic principles of the modern international law: the “right of nations to self-determination” and “territorial integrity of a state”, attracts great attention at the beginning of XXI century. Undoubtedly, E. Adzhindzhal’s work will appeal to international lawyers, political researchers, practitioners in the field of international relations and policy studies as well as specialists in conflict resolution. It will give an opportunity to understand the essence of different processes connected with the problems of conflict settlement, especially in regard to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and possible paths to its resolution.

Sergey Shamba, Ph.D. in History
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia

The essay is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.

Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law

“Those who refuse freedom to others do not deserve it themselves and, thank God, are not able to preserve it for a long time.” A. Lincoln.

Certainly there is a view that the right of nations to self-determination is the corner stone of democracy. When we speak about democracy we first of all mean the power of the people. But power does not exist without rights. Thus, to deny the nation its rights obviously can lead to the deprivation of power. T. Frank, a professor at New-York University, is absolutely right when he says that self-determination is the basis for democracy and for the fully fledged international status of a state.[1] It is necessary to emphasize that self-determination has gained particular importance in the system of power relations between peoples and states. Ignorance of this natural and lawful right of nations by some governments of the UN member-states (those that try to keep other nations in servitude) has resulted in conflicts and wars in many regions of the world.

It is well known that Woodrow Wilson, one-time president of the United States of America, formally expressed theoretical and practical support for the principle of national self-determination on the basis of the fundamental principles of the American Constitution at the end of World War I, and also during the post-war peace negotiations. He presented a programme for the post-war peace settlement known as the Fourteen points in his speech to Congress on 18th January 1918. He concluded that the subject of power is a nation that has the right to self-determination.[2]

The concept of a nation’s right to self-determination (NRS) dates back to the Enlightenment. It is connected with the names of such thinkers as John Locke, Hugo Grotius, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. This idea was implicit not only in the US Declaration of independence of 1776 (“the Consent of the Governed”), and in the French revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789 (“the divine right of people”), but also in national liberation movements in Poland, Greece, Israel, Germany, and Spain and many others. The idea of self-determination also helped the Bolsheviks to strengthen their power, although class struggle was given primacy over national self-determination in the theory of Marxism-Leninism - “there are two nations in each modern nation, two national cultures in each culture”.[3]

The term “self-determination” was used for the first time in relation to a nation at the Berlin Congress in 1878. Since then the concept of the “right of nations to self-determination" has undergone a thorough test of history. It also maintains high political relevance in the contemporary world. Some historical examples illustrate the use of the concept in the practice and theory of international relations. First of all, the very idea of the right of nations to self-determination in relationship to international law came into use with the following: the Declaration of 1776 (Thomas Jefferson); other basic acts of the young American states; historical documents of the French revolution; the outcomes of World War I and II. The UN Charter in 1945 fixed it as one of the general, compulsory, imperative, and basic principles of modern international law. If all the other principles are about the legal personality (the sovereignty) of a state, then this principle is about the legal personality (the right to self-determination) of a people. On the basis of this principle, a separate branch of law, a special system of standards has been developed in international law – the International law of peoples. Interest of politicians and lawyers in the use of this concept has sharply increased since this problem was included in the “Program XIII” of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 1985 the national Australian commission of UNESCO held two symposia on people’s rights. These two scientific forums served as turning points in the history of western thought after Woodrow Wilson. Once again they faced up to this serious problem. Such thinkers as the American R. Falk and Englishman Ian Brownlie took part in the symposia. Both of them devoted their latest books to the rights of nations in modern international law.[4] Materials from these two Australian symposia were published in 1988.[5]

The UN Charter Chapter 1, Article 1, paragraph 2, states the following: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.[6] Chapter 9, article 55, of the Charter speaks of the principle of equal rights and self-determination.[7] The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1966 clearly defined the principles of equal rights as well as the right of nations to self-determination. Article 1, paragraph 1 says: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”[8] One can also read about the right of peoples to self-determination (RNS) in the “Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe”, 1975: “By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, all peoples always have the right, in full freedom, to determine, when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without external interference, and to pursue as they wish their political, economic, social and cultural development.”[9] Also, the idea was expressed in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples, adopted by the Algerian Convention of 1976. Article 5 states: “Every people has an imprescriptible and unalienable right to self-determination. It shall determine its political status freely and without any foreign interference.”.[10] There are many other international documents and theoretical works on the subject existing today. We will limit ourselves to the above-mentioned.

The consequent policy of progressive powers supporting the Right of Nations to Self-determination (RNS) worldwide led to the appearance of many small and large states. They represent a significant factor in contemporary international relations. The appearance of these states has played an important stabilizing role in furthering of peace and stability of the whole of mankind.[11] If the principle of national self-determination is ignored, the UN will become the centre of the global metropolis. Up until today the RNS principle has somehow softened international power relations. If it weakens then the wars for the world metropolis will begin. Unfortunately this process has already started. Read more...

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