Self-determination – What is it, definition and concept | 2022

Self-determination is the ability of the inhabitants of a certain territory to decide their own political and economic system. As well as the decision and management of the policies that they deem convenient.

Self-determination is a concept that operates in law and political science. And that is used to refer to the freedom of nations to decide their own path. Although in other fields such as psychology it can be used to refer to the ability of a person to make their own decisions.

This self-determination, that of nations and countries, is used to refer to the processes of independence. That is to say, the countries already constituted as sovereign and independent are presupposed this capacity for self-management and decision, although in practice they are quite conditioned by the decisions of other countries or of the de facto powers.

On the other hand, the territories that seek to become independent, regardless of the reasons, do not have this self-determination, they are seeking it through said process.

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Consequences of self-determination

Self-determination, that is, that a territory manages to establish itself as an independent country, entails a series of consequences, among the most outstanding are:

  • Drafting of a constitution.
  • Election of its political regime.
  • Election of the economic system.
  • Development of its own currency and monetary policy.
  • Implementation of the justice system and other institutions.
  • Expulsion from the international organizations to which they belonged.
  • Request entry to the new organizations to which you would like to belong.
  • Establish a new international policy and seek support in other countries.
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The right of self-determination

The right to self-determination is one of the best known aspects of this concept. It is the right of a determined people to choose its own form of Government and to decide everything that is necessary, with total freedom.

The UN includes this principle in article one of its charter. One of the purposes of the United Nations is “to foster friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and the self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.”

Now, not everything can be considered as a people or as capable of self-determination. The UN, so that there would not be a constant threat to the territorial integrity of any country, established a series of limits:

  • That it be a colonized territory: That the territory that wants to become independent and become its own State is under colonial domination. Military occupation would also fit.
  • That there is a violation of human rights: If human rights are continually violated in the territory, its inhabitants have international support for secession.
  • It would not fit in legally constituted States: The States that do not suffer from the previous premises and that have been legally constituted would not be capable of developing self-determination processes within them.

It should also be noted that the constitutions of the countries themselves expressly and emphatically prohibit the development of fragmentation processes in the country.


Throughout recent history we can see some examples of territories that have experienced this route:

  • Algeria: The African country was under French colonial rule since 1830. After the continued exploitation of the territory, and the division between Muslims and Europeans, national liberation movements arose, but they were strongly oppressed by the French government. Finally, after World War II, the coalition of independence forces, the National Liberation Front, achieved independence after eight years of war, ending in 1962.
  • South Sudan: Sudan’s colonial history dates back to 1820, when the country was invaded by the Egyptians, but they never fully controlled the southern part of the country. At the end of the 19th century, the British-Egyptian alliance carried out a joint invasion of Sudan. In 1956 Sudan managed to gain independence from these two countries, but that is when tensions between the north and the south were to begin, inspired by deep religious differences. Finally, after years of civil war and intermediate agreements, in 2011 South Sudan approved its independence in a referendum agreed between the central government and the liberation forces.
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