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Kashmir: A unique case of the United Nations’ reluctance to support the right to self-determination

The United Nations : Friend or Foe of Self-Determination?

Mazhar Iqbal//

The Kashmir issue is a unique case of the United Nations’ reluctance to offer unconditional support to the people’s right to self-determination. The reluctance is caused by the UN’s contradictory approach to people’s right to exercise their free will in a situation where they wish to break from a recognized state. This has been argued by an eminent research scholar on the complex nature of the UN’s involvement in movements of self-determination around the globe. The research piece titled “Self-Determination and State Sovereignty: The Case of UN Involvement in Jammu and Kashmir” is part of an anthology of the articles published in the book titled “The United Nations – Friend or Foe of Self-determination?”. The author of the article -Stephen P. Westcott mainly focuses on interstate border disputes and South Asian security issues.


Westcott, in this article, opens the argument with a reference to UN Security Council’s much-trumpeted resolution over Kashmir (resolution 47). The promised plebiscite to allow the people of Kashmir to exercise their free will has yet to be materialized. The writer straightforwardly points out a characteristic problem with the UN’s approach to the Kashmir issue. “By limiting the choice for the people of Kashmir to accession into either India or Pakistan, and its lackadaisical efforts to implement the plebiscite the resolution called for, was privileging another norm: the existing sovereign state’s rights”, Westcott argues.


The argument leads the reader to a far more intricate nature of the UN charter regarding people’s right to self-determination within the context of the rights of sovereign states. The author highlights an interesting and contradictory disposition of the United Nations articles of faith, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice, which was adopted in 1945. According to the author, the first article of the UN Charter gives full support and acceptance to the people’s right to self-determination. However, it shows greater sympathy for the rights of sovereign nations in Article 2.


The writer observes a major shift in Article 2 of the UN Charter from its original position maintained in Article 1. The shift is evident in its phrase “nothing contained in the charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state”. In my opinion, the writer has built his argument, on a document that was mainly focussed on the creation of the United Nations and notably the statute of the International Court of Justice. The events that led to the creation of a conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir should not be examined exclusively through the prism of the right to self-determination.


When dealing with the issue of people’s right to self-determination within the context of the rights of the sovereign states we should give equal importance to the rights of individuals and states enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). Yet, the question raised by Westcott in the book titled “The United Nations: Friend or Foe of Self-Determination?” is valid and points us to a characteristic inability of the United Nations to address the issue of self-determination.


The learned author has proposed a clash between the intent and action of the UN Charter. The contradiction occurs when the UN formerly advocates for the people’s right to self-determination and in practice upholds the principle of territorial sovereignty. While criticizing the incompetence of the United Nations over the successful implementation of various resolutions on Kashmir regarding people’s right to self-determination, the author has appreciated its role in liberating people of various regions of the world from the shackles of colonialism. The principle of self-determination was supported much more vehemently over the decolonization movement.


When did the deviation from a candid support to a dubious stand over people’s right to self-determination occur? The author has noted that the UN Declaration on Principles of International Law, Friendly Relations and Co-operation was a turning point. I would say, this is probably the main support pillar of India with regards to its position over Kashmir in the United Nations. This has been clearly articulated in the UN declaration that “any unilateral efforts by secessionist or irredentist movements to break away from an existing state are not recognized by any UN organs, with such actions only becoming legitimate if the existing state accepts the split”. Why would India accept a split? There is some other interesting content in the article. With the help of plenty of academic references, the writer has described the historic events related to the reason and circumstances of the creation of a conflict over Kashmir. The most striking element of that analysis is the British Empire’s role in leaving the people of princely states, particularly Kashmir, in a quagmire.

“The United Nations – Friend or Foe of Self-determination?” published byE-International Relations.

The book titled “The United Nations – Friend or Foe of Self-determination?” is edited by Jakob R. Avgustin and is published by E-International Relations Publishing, which is a leading open-access website. The details can be viewed here The book is published under a Creative Commons license which means this is a free resource that can be shared and adapted under certain terms and conditions. The book is a quite relevant and handy compilation of writings over the complex theme of self-determination within the context of the United Nations. The editors have pronounced the purpose of an edited collection in the Abstract of the book. The purpose of this collection is to appraise the role of the UN about the principle of self-determination. This book takes a practical approach to discussing what role the UN plays in cases of self-determination and, importantly, it also ventures beyond this area’s usual discussions of the inherent conflict between self-determination and sovereignty. The chapters address the pursuit of the right to self-determination through a variety of case studies, such as post-statehood in South Sudan and East Timor; Indigenous peoples; hybrid self-determination in post-intrastate conflict; the balancing of the human rights approach in Cyprus; remedial right to secede in the cases of failed states; Palestinian and Sahrawi resistance; geopolitics in Jammu and Kashmir; and the forgotten story of micro-states.

1 comment on “Kashmir: A unique case of the United Nations’ reluctance to support the right to self-determination

  1. Pingback: ANALYSIS: Pakistan is to help the newly established government in Afghanistan | By Tabish Abbasi – Insight on Kashmir

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