Self-determination is a principle in international law that a people ought to be able to determine their own governmental forms and structure free from outside influence. This principle was developed by Woodrow Wilson and was important in the Treaty of Versailles and decolonization.
There is tension between the concept of self-determination and that of territorial integrity. This conflict has been resolved in practice by defining the notion of "people" entitled to self-determination as persons living in a particular nation-state rather than persons sharing a common culture or language. Hence, self-determination as it is understood in the early 21st century does not generally promote the political aspirations of oppressed ethnic minorities unless the state.
The United Nations Declaration on Human rights in 1970 committed the idea of the right for self-determination to the body of international protocol. In essence, all people reserve the right to seek self-determination to address a lack of proper representation or oppression from any given government.
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Self-determination is the concept in international that the people within a state ought to have the power to determine their political status independent of an outside power.
The concept of self-determination was first invoke in the aftermath of World War I in drawing the boundaries of Eastern Europe, although many of the ideas with self-determination can be found in earlier documents such as the Declaration of Independence of the United States.
At the ratification of the UN Charter in 1951, the signatories introduced the right of all people to self determination into the framework of international law and diplomacy.
The purpose of the self determination clause was to allow the former colonies that existed before WWII to have a say in their future. However, after decolonization the right to self-determination became understood to apply only to states and not to peoples, and to be circumscribed by the principles of territorial integrity and noninterference in internal affairs. Many of the newly independent former colonies faced seccessionist and irredentist movements and therefore there was an international consensus that self-determiniation did not apply to these movements.
The right to self-determination has been used in recent decades by people all over the world. In most cases there is an ethnic or religious minority seeking independence from a majority to escape prejudice or persecution.
See also Emancipation.