By Marianne Dagenais-Lesperance*
The right to self-determination is an internationally recognised principle which has caused ferocious debates, especially recently. Contemporary controversies include the recent results of the Iraqi Kurds’ and Catalonians’ referendum, where the vote for independence from their respective State passed with a strong majority.
Spain and Iraq’s dismissal of the referendums as unlawful and threat or use of violence against the populations of Catalonia and Kurdistan have added fuel to the fire. But how shouldstates respond to such results? What are their obligations towards the expression of the will to secede from part of their territory?
The right to self-determination is the legal right of people to decide their own destiny in the international order. Articulated under Article 1 of the United Nations Charter, and later reaffirmed in United Nations resolutions (General Assembly 1755 (XVII); 2138 (XXI); 2151 (XXI); 2379 (XXIII); 2383 (XXIII); Security Council 183 (1963); 301 (1971); 377 (1975); and 384 (1975)) and international treaties (ICCPR; ICESCR), it does not clearly state who the beneficiaries of the right are and what it entails in practice.
International scholars such as Alina Kaczorowska and Malcolm N. Shaw refer to the Canadian Supreme Court judgment Reference re: Secession of Quebec when discussing the right to unilaterally secede. In the aftermath of the second referendum on Quebec’s independence, the Governor in Council (‘GC’) referred this case to the court. Three questions were submitted concerning the legal situation in the event of a secession attempt by Quebec. The analysis of this judgment from academics is often limited to the conclusion that there is no such right. This conclusion offers only a limited appreciation of the Supreme Court’s judgment as it also gives guidance on the rights and responsibilities held by States and separatist movements in the event of a positive response to a referendum asking for independence. Its legacy goes beyond the limited question of the right to unilaterally secede. Continue reading
Last Friday, Léon Mugesera has been sentenced to life imprisonment in Rwanda for inciting his countrymen to commit genocide.
Mugesera was accused of having delivered a fiery speech in Rwanda in 1992 in which he suggested that members of the Tutsi ethnic group should be exterminated. His speech is considered to have been a trigger for the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.
Some excerpts from the speech were played repeatedly on Rwandan radio stations, including Radio Mille Collines.
Mugesera was a political adviser to the party of then president Juvenal Habyarimana. He fled Rwanda in 1992 settling with his family in Canada as a refugee and working as a lecturer in linguistics at Laval University.
In 1995, the Canadian government initiated extradition proceedings to send him back to Rwanda, where he was wanted for genocide. Mugesera was extradited in January 2012. His trial began in November 2013 in Kigali.
According to his lawyer, the Canadian government made “a big mistake” in not being more wary of the Rwandan government led by Paul Kagame, claiming that Mugesera did not get a fair trial and was doomed from the start.
“His speech was a very harsh one but it was not an incitement to murder or genocide or hatred,” his lawyer said. He added that Mugesera is a “great democrat” who could have become president of Rwanda.
Representatives of First Nations peoples took part in a march in Ottawa last Saturday
Canadian governments and churches pursued a policy of “cultural genocide” against the country’s aboriginal people throughout the 20th century, according to an investigation by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission into a long-suppressed history that saw 150,000 Native, or First Nations, children forcibly removed from their families and incarcerated in residential schools rife with abuse.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 aboriginal children were forced to attend Christian schools to rid them of their native cultures and integrate them into Canadian society.
Children inducted into residential schools were forbidden from speaking their native languages, subjected to routine physical abuse, inadequate nutrition and neglect. Sexual abuse was common, according to the survivors who testified at commission hearings throughout the country.
More than 3,000 children died and were often buried in unmarked graves without any identification or notice to their parents. Continue reading