Abstract: At the present time, we are witnessing the rise of secessionist movements across the world whose political discourse is built on the basis of the right to right to self-determination. Echoes of this trend can also be seen in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with the best example being the independence referendum held by Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.

There is no doubt that the right to self-determination in the framework of international law exists, yet it is also possible to argue that the implementation of the right to self-determination was considered in the colonial context roughly a half-century ago in order to facilitate the legal independence of the colonized states and it is now highly arguable how the right to self-determination should be implemented. It seems that any use of the right to self-determination in a way paving the way for unilateral independence and secession attempts and thus harming the territorial integrity of existing states would not be approved of by the international community. From the perspective of realpolitik, passing over the constitutional framework which is binding for the different “peoples”; ethnic, religious etc. groups within existing states and paving the way for their arbitrary secession would again pose a great danger to the maintenance of the peace both at a national and a global level.

However, turning a blind eye to the serious grievances of different peoples within existing states and defining the implementation of the right to self-determination only in the colonial context would not be right or in compliance with political reality. Consequently, putting excessive emphasis on the division of the “inner-outer” self-determination and contemplating how the right to self-determination can be implemented on the basis of the internal self-determination appears to be the best option.

In the recent months, the international community has witnessed the rise of a global trend: daring attempts by secessionist or autonomous entities to gain their independence from the existing states which they are part of. While rising tensions in different parts of the world from Cameroon to Spain and Italy were seen, of course, it was not expected that this trend would bypass the MENA region. In the wake of the KRG in Iraq holding an independence referendum in September, the fear of similar attempts rose among the ruling regimes in many states in the region, and the concept of the right to self-determination was put firmly on the agenda in other parts of the world. However, what made the concept of the right to right to self-determination the trending topic on both a global and a regional scale was the recent escalation between the Spanish government and the regional government of Catalonia, because it was considered to be the most far-reaching attempt of all the secessionist movements.

The tension between the Spanish government and the regional government of Catalonia, which emerged due to the independence referendum held at the beginning of October by the unilateral initiative of the government of Catalonia, reached the peak after Catalonia unilaterally declared independence on Oct. 27. The central government responded to this declaration very quickly and dismissed the government and the parliament of Catalonia. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stated very clearly that the independence attempt was seeking an “impossible” goal. [1]  

The recent developments in Catalonia, as the best and the most daring example of the current global trend of separatist/independence movements, bring a crucial issue regarding both the today and future of the international law into question: Is it really possible to declare unilateral independence against an existing state on the basis of the “right to right to self-determination”? 

Needless to say, the answer to this question has great importance for the future of the MENA region as well, considering there is great potential for such attempts in the region in the near future.