Recently, the nation of Quebec in Canada and Scotland in the United Kingdom, for example, were accorded peaceful opportunities to freely decide whether or not they would remain in their respective parent states.
In Spain and Zambia, however, the ongoing demands of the people of Catalunya and Barotseland for greater self-determination through independence are considered illegal; resulting in state-sponsored mass arrests, imprisonments and even killings in the case of Barotseland, simply because the two countries claim their laws do not permit the two nations to decide to leave their respective unitary states.
Notwithstanding the legal position held by Spain and Zambia, the claims of independence by both Catalunya and Barotseland are considered legitimate by many!
SO, WHICH IS THE LEGAL WAY TO INDEPENDENCE?
Questions of ‘legality’ in regards to the independence of annexed, colonized, oppressed, marginalized or unrepresented peoples and nations are mere rhetoric because independence by its nature entails defying the laws of the ‘parent’ state to establish one’s own. In reality, a people or nation seeking independence must break and reject the laws of the country it is freeing itself from! Therefore, it is laughable to require that such a break-away state must comply with or follow the specific laws of the parent state it is declaring independence from. Usually, the constitutional laws of the colonizer or parent country are designed to ensure the dependent territory never breaks free ever!
As such, rather than asking whether there is a ‘legal’ way to independence, one should ask whether a dependent territory or a people have a ‘legitimate’ claim to their independence.
Naturally, independence claims will be varied because while some territories are colonized, annexed or oppressed, others may be marginalized, segregated, un-represented and under-represented or may simply seek independence for some other specific reasons. This is why matters of self-determination must always be considered on a case by case basis!
Largely, the specific circumstances obtaining in a territory will determine what processes the territory may employ in their own pursuit of external or internal self-determination. In fact, the United Nations and many other international and human rights conventions promote the idea that all ‘peoples’ have the right of self-determination, and that any oppressed nation or people could use any legitimate means to free themselves from such oppression. By virtue of that right, they would freely determine their political status and pursue their own economic, social and cultural development. It must here be observed that the only condition set is for the employment of ‘legitimate’ means rather than ‘legal’ means!
Therefore, once a people or nation has determined that their claim to independence is legitimate, they are free to consider the use of any legitimate means to attain their freedom. In fact, such a territory is no longer bound by the laws of its former colonizer or parent state! Rather, its conduct will largely be regulated by the international laws or the laws of nature, until it draws up its own laws to regulate its own conduct as a new state.
Therefore, legitimacy must take precedence over legality in as far as the self-determination of oppressed or dependent people and nations is concerned!
While some countries have gained independence through legal and political arbitration, others have had to undertake protracted bloody armed struggle. And yet others have had to employ a myriad combination of processes as their case may have demanded. As history may prove, there is no process of independence ‘better’ than the other; only that some processes are civil and peaceful while others military!
In many cases, including in Barotseland’s case, peaceful legal and political options are more preferred. However, if and when these peaceful attempts are unreciprocated or unappreciated, military alternatives inadvertently become the consequent result.
After all, those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable, as former USA President John F. Kennedy rightly observed!
In most cases, independence pursuits begin with either a unilateral declaration of independence or a mere declaration of the intention to independence, after which any legitimate civil or military processes may be pursued to enforce the declared independence.
Some of these processes may include, but not limited to the following: Legal or political arbitration and negotiation, Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), independence referendum vote, civil and military defiance or out-right military and guerilla (terrorist) warfare, etc.
In conclusion, it could be simply stated that there really is no ‘legal’ way to independence! Only ‘legitimate’ ways to independence!
In PART 02, we will look at the all-important question of whether Barotseland is indeed an independent state.