Secession – What it is, definition and concept

Secession is an act by which a part of the territory and its population is separated from the country to which it belongs.

Secession is an act or process promoted by a part of the population of a region or a country. This act seeks the political separation of the new territory, thus being able to act with full independence with respect to the nation of origin, since a new country would be constituted.

Secession is a term widely used lately in countries like Spain. But do we know exactly its meaning and the difference with other similar concepts?

So far we understand that it is a matter of a territory and its population seeking to separate and establish a new independent state. But there are other interesting questions: how the law collects it, differentiation with independence or its relationship with rebellion and sedition.

Let’s see!

Secession and the law

In international law, the legal backing for secession is the right to self-determination. This is found in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, approved by the United Nations.

This pact, in its first article, highlights that “all peoples have the right to self-determination.” Having the right, also, to dispose of their own resources and the wealth derived from them. However, the UN, so that this did not imply a lack of control and could threaten the integrity of any territory, established a series of limits.

The right is valid in the case of a colonized territory. That is, self-determination is allowed in those territories that are under colonial domination. Or also under military occupation. Although it should be noted that there would be no secession, since there was never a real or voluntary union between the colonizing and the colonized state. There would simply be independence.

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Another valid assumption is in case of violation of human rights. If a territory is suffering from this situation, it is entitled to carry out a secessionist process.

Along these lines, the UN has also indicated that there is no room for any process that threatens the sovereignty and unity of any legally constituted State.

On the other hand, apart from international law, the national constitutions themselves indicate the unfeasibility of secessionist processes. For example, the constitution of Peru indicates, in its article 43, the indivisibility of its territory. Article 2 of the Mexican Constitution states that “the Mexican Nation is unique and indivisible.” And so we could continue with a large number of countries.

Differences between secession and independence

These terms can be used as synonyms, since their meaning can be confusing, but it is necessary to establish their differentiation.

Secession implies that a territory wants to separate from another to which it was previously legally and legitimately linked. That is to say, suddenly, a region that has traditionally belonged to an integrated territory wants to separate. As the most important example we have the American Civil War.

On the contrary, independence does not need this premise.

The territory that seeks independence has never been linked to its invader. As we mentioned in the previous section, this is the case of territories with foreign presence. It was the case of the conflict between Spain and Napoleon’s France; or those carried out against the Spanish Empire on Latin American soil.

Differences between secession, sedition and rebellion

These concepts can also be a source of confusion, since when a related news appears we usually hear or read all of them.

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Thus, we can state that secession is an end and sedition or rebellion the means to achieve it.

Now, sedition and rebellion differ in the level of severity or intensity of the acts carried out to obtain sedition. It is regulated in the own penal code of each country. The crime of rebellion is more serious, thus assuming higher penalties for its offenders.

Civil War

The great example of secession is found in the so-called Civil War of the United States (1861-1865). Although rather it is a failed case.

It is a civil war carried out by two sides, the states of the north and those of the south. The main reason was the conflict generated by the issue of slavery, although it was also aggravated by the economic and social differences between them.

Northerners defended abolition, while Southerners affirmed the need to maintain it due to its economic advantages. The southern states left the Union, establishing themselves as the Confederate States of America. In doing so, they seized numerous Union possessions and pressured Lincoln to sign a separation agreement.

Lincoln was totally against secession and against the slavery proposal, which led to the civil war that we know today. War that resulted in the victory of the Union in 1865.

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