Between Promise & Practice

If human history is about human struggle, it can be said that nations and peoples are continuously striving to attain their dignity. In the process, human tribulations consist of a dichotomy where people are either humanized or dehumanized. As a human being, one cannot escape from these two destinies as it has continued to exist within the historical realities of humankind. In the journey towards humanization, people are constantly confronted by issues of war and justpeace; and perhaps the central question underlying these issues is how the right to self-determination is exercised.  

Questions of human survival have been linked with the forces of humanization which has at its origin, the right of self-determination and the right to freedom as interdependent values. A person who is not free cannot determine his or her own destiny and a person who is not self-determining cannot claim to be free. It is therefore not surprising that the development and praxis of self-determination has and will continue to be the focus of human history. 

The meaning one gives to the expression “self-determination” can either empower a peoples’ capacity to take ownership of their destiny, or as it has happened so often, it could disempower a peoples’ as mere spectators. What is however true is the fact that only when self-determination is exercised can it be said that the sovereign will of the people has prevailed. Sovereignty remains an empty political slogan without any meaning without the praxis of self-determination. It is ironic when academicians and activists reduce the meaning of self-determination to internal self-determination, signifying autonomy. Tragically, they unwittingly reinforce the guile of State policy to reduce the interpretation of self-determination to satisfy their territorial interest.

This is evident by the United Nations contradicting implementation of self-determination, inspite of the UN’s recognition that “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.” Between 1947 to 1991, self-determination has been exercised twice – the independence of Bangladesh and the separation of Singapore from Malaysia. Since then with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and independence of East Timor are people have successfully challenged the very notion of territorial integrity and exercised their self-determining capacities. 

When self-determination is not an integral part in the search for dignity, humans are removed from the process of humanization. Dehumanization occurs; people become broken and human experience has shown that broken relationships do not lead to peace. Rudolfo Stavenhagen observed: “the violence we see around is not generated by the drive for self-determination, but by its negation. The denial of self-determination, not its pursuit, is what leads to upheavals and conflicts.” The UN must muster the will to implement self-determination for all nations for the sake of humanity.