Self-Determination in International Mediation: Some Preliminary Reflections

Cardozo Journal of Dispute Resoltuion, Vol. 7, p. 701, 2007

Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 960740

13 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2007


Few concepts have generated as much discussion in the post-war international legal system as that of "self-determination." Scholars debate the proper identity of the "selves" endowed with this right, its boundaries, and its normative relevance. When the focus turns to mediation, the discussion becomes murky because the concept of self-determination has both procedural and substantive components, and is noticeably different in the private and public sectors.

The generic concept of self-determination relates to ideas of democratic governance and the Enlightenment belief that legitimate government depends upon the consent of the governed. As adapted to private mediation theory, the right of self-determination allows parties to participate in decisionmaking and voluntarily decide the outcome of their disputes. This understanding of self-determination is rooted in the philosophical principle of personal autonomy and is expressed through the legal doctrine of informed consent. The simple version of the normative story states that those who are affected by a dispute should voluntarily consent to the outcome of that dispute. In short, "party" self-determination in mediation gives ownership of the conflict to the disputants.

The self-determination story becomes more complex under international law. In theory, as a substantive legal principle, self-determination is the foundational value of the sovereign state, broadly understood as a democratic principle that requires the consent of the governed. International law limits the legal privilege of self-determination to nations and peoples, referring to "national" rather than "party" or group self-determination. In contrast to its honored status in private mediation, little attention is paid to the procedural aspects of self-determination in public mediation. This article focuses on how we account for this missing process value in public mediation discourse, and why the discourse matters.

Suggested Citation

Nolan-Haley, Jacqueline M., Self-Determination in International Mediation: Some Preliminary Reflections. Cardozo Journal of Dispute Resoltuion, Vol. 7, p. 701, 2007; Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 960740. Available at SSRN:

Jacqueline M. Nolan-Haley (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

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