Secessions, Coups and the International Rule of Law: Assessing the Decline of the Effective Control Doctrine
50 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2011
Date Written: January 7, 2011
Attempted secessions (eg, Kosovo and Somaliland) and coups d'etat (eg. Madagascar and Honduras in 2009) prompt contestation over whether or not legal status is to be conferred on local exercises of de facto authority. International legal standing has traditionally been established by victory in a trial by ordeal: a region initially integral to an existing state successfully establishes itself as an independent sovereign unit only where its secession movement creates - usually by decisive victory in an armed struggle - facts on the ground that appear irreversible; an insurgent faction successfully establishes itself as a government where it overthrows an existing constitutional structure and secures - even if at bayonet-point - widespread popular acquiescence. Insofar as it is perceived as little more than an imprimatur for 'might makes right' at the local level, this 'effective control doctrine' is manifestly offensive to a rule-of-law sensibility.
Notwithstanding the international order's disposition to defer to the outcome of internal conflicts, alternative solutions are available where a state manifestly fails to embody the self-determination of the entirety of the territorial population, or where a government manifestly fails to represent the political community that the state encompasses. These alternative solutions, however, far from generating new generally-applicable doctrines, tend ineluctably to have an ad hoc character.
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