The Unresolved Dilemma of Self-Determination: Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk

Sofia Cavandoli

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The right to self-determination is found in multiple international treaties and conventions, and has ‘crystallised into a rule of customary international law, applicable to and binding on all states’. In simple terms, self-determination denotes the legal right of a people to decide their own destiny in the international order. What this actually means in practice continues to be a contentious issue amongst international lawyers. This article will explore how lack of a consistent interpretation of the right to self-determination by states has led to confusion about its application within the realm of international law. Referenda held in the Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk in March and May 2014 are the latest instances where self-determination has been controversially invoked. This article will discuss the notion of self-determination, its history, and how it has been applied and interpreted over the years by states and the international community. It will then examine the events in Eastern Ukraine and assess what impact they have had on the law of self-determination. It will then conclude by stating that the current law of self-determination needs a clearer and more consistent approach in order to avoid posing a serious threat to the stability of the existing state system
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-892
JournalInternational Journal of Human Rights
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2016


  • self-determination
  • secession
  • Ukraine
  • Russia


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