2 Edinburgh Student L. Rev. 169 (2013-2015)
The Constitutional Prohibition of Secession under the Prism of International Law: The Cases of Kosovo, Crimea, and Cyprus

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      The Constitutional Prohibition of Secession under the
                         Prism of International Law:
              The Cases of Kosovo, Crimea, and Cyprus



                                  Nikolaos A. Ioannidis*


                                    A. INTRODUCTION

The principle of territorial integrity (Article 2(4) UN Charter) is enshrined in most constitutions
worldwide, with a view to hampering the dismemberment of a state's territory. Nevertheless,
although the principle of territorial integrity holds a prevalent position in international law,
academic discourse and state practice, such constitutional provisions do not appear sufficient to
deal with self-determination or secessionist claims.'
       The looming right of ethnic minorities and/or indigenous peoples to remedial secession
as a response to the denial of effective internal self-determination in case of grave violations of
human rights2 (i.e. ethnic cleansing, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity) poses serious
challenges to domestic lawmakers as well as to the international community. On the one hand,
states have the right to defend the indivisibility of their territory (even though it is argued that the
state has the responsibility to observe human rights within its borders with respect to the entirety
of its population in order to be entitled to invoke the principle of territorial integrity when
confronting secessionist assertions). On the other hand, the suppression of ethnic minorities may
trigger unrest and give rise to self-determination or secessionist claims. The growing trend towards
fragmentation of existing states emphasises the need to strike a balance between these two
opposing positions.



* PhD candidate in Public International Law at the University of Bristol.
The right of self-determination is not identical to the right to secession, however - as will be discussed below - a
people/ethnic minority group in exercising its right of self-determination may (and should) under specific
preconditions be eligible to seek separation from the central state.
2 The term 'grave' is used in this paper as also entailing the terms 'serious', 'massive', 'flagrant', 'widespread', and
'systematic' since all of these terms, with slight variations, are used interchangeably in order to describe human rights
violations.

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