Crimea has finally seceded from Ukraine. It made a history of sorts when 97% of its population, including the sizeable minority of Tatars voted in favor of the secession. The event has brought Crimea to the centre of international attention. Some may argue that soon after its declaration of independence, it was annexed by Russia but that is a different story and subject matter of a separate debate.
The right of self determination resulting in secession from a State got first conceptualized as a response against colonialism but following World War I, it took a definite shape as a principle of International law. The pronouncement of two Human Rights Covenants extended the ambit of this right as one available to all peoples. Simultaneously the Resolutions of the General Assembly, laid emphasis that this right was available to even peoples of sovereign states. In the last two decades, no contemporary norm of International law has been as much widely debated as the right of self determination of various groups of people or sub-groups of a nation, has been. This right means the choice of a people or a nation to determine freely by itself, its political and legal status as a separate entity and therefore it is the norm which is entrenched upon fundamental human-rights thesis that states that all peoples are equally entitled to be in control of their own fortunes & destinies.
This has raised an all important question of Kashmir’s right to self-determination, even accepting for a moment for discussion sake, the Indian claim of Kashmir being its integral part. The answer is provided by Matthew J Webb in his Book published in 2012- Kashmir’s Right to Secede: A Critical Examination of Contemporary Theories of Secession. According to Matthew, an Australian professor of political sciences & Humanities, there are generally three theories which justify the right of people to a self determination or secession from a nation State. These are “nationalist theory”, “liberal-democratic theory” , and ‘just cause theory” and he has explored the issue of Kashmir’s right to secede with a critical & scholarly evaluation & analysis of these three streams of secessionist theory.
Webb upholds the right of Kashmir to secede from Indian Union on “Just cause theory”. He claims that since the act of accession of State to India, without knowing the will of his subjects, there has been a wide gulf between India’s democratic and secular ideals and the reality of it’s relationship with Srinagar. This has led to various bouts of disillusionments, the first of them as early as the 1950s. Persistent calls for Kashmiri secession have only intensified through the next three-and-a-half decades as disenchantment with assertive Indian actions mounted and finally took a violent turn in November 1989.He says that Kashmir has been treated unjustly & unfairly since inception. He cites reports by Amnesty International (1998, 2008 and 2011), Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights (1993), which have detailed arbitrary arrests, beatings, electrocution, intentional destruction of property, rape, torture, execution. To further substantiate his case, Webb also discusses the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1990 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which have contributed to the detention without trial of an estimated 8000 to 20,000 Kashmiris. He cites presence of mass graves & enforced disappearances as proof enough of India’s complicity in committing crimes against humanity rendering itself liable to international intervention & coercive action. Webb presents the two-decades of physical, psychological and sexual abuse resulting from the heavy-handed tactics of Indian security forces and the accompanying lack of legal redress as “perhaps the most compelling just cause for Kashmir’s secession.”
This book provides a new way of looking at the Kashmir dispute, by asking what these theories tell us about Kashmir, and in turn what the example of Kashmir allows us to learn about these theories. More importantly it lays a theoretical foundation for Kashmir’s right to secede from Indian Union.
(The author is a practicing Chartered accountant)