Irredentist Secession in International Law
The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 40:2, pp. 103–122 (Summer 2016)
20 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2017 Last revised: 4 Feb 2017
Date Written: 2016
Irredentism refers to the movement of people and territory from one state to another along with the modification of international boundaries and a transfer of sovereignty. The concept, which originated in the nineteenth century, has been at the root of many territorial disputes since the Second World War. The possibility of an irredentist outcome is rarely covered in the discourse on secession. This essay argues that irredentism is legally distinct from secession in the application of the principle of self-determination, the question of recognition by the international community, and the role of consent. It discusses the legal hurdles facing a people seeking to secede from one state in order to join another state, and outlines the contemporary legal framework applicable to irredentist secession based on the principles of territorial sovereignty, non-intervention and peaceful settlement of disputes. It concludes that international law significantly constrains the scope for irredentist secession as a legal and political phenomenon.
Keywords: Secession, Irredentism, Self-Determination, International Law
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