Dr. Ashagre and The Right of Secession in the Ethiopian Constitution(By Paulos Milkias)

(By Paulos Milkias)
January 25,2019

Dr. Ashagre’s reminiscences (No. IV) on ESAT’s የሳምንቱ እንግዳ forum are interesting. However, I see a major error that crept into his analysis. His assertion that “self-determination up to and including secession” is universal is totally false.

The U.N. Charter does mention the principle of self-determination of peoples but does not assert that principle as one its members have to follow. The reference is actually an indirect one. When it was inscribed in the Charter, it was meant to apply only to colonial situations. Furthermore, since the founding of the United Nations as a world body, the norm has been invoked by its organs only in a colonial context.

The UN has categorically refrained from applying the principle of self-determination as one that includes the right of secession of part of the metropolitan territory of its member from the rest of the member’s territory. That was why the UN was politically and militarily involved in ending the secession of Katanga from the Congo in 1960. In addition to that, UN Secretary General U Thant, had strenuously opposed the attempted secession of Biafra from Nigeria in 1967. The Security Council had also categorically rejected the right of Biafra to secede.

Indeed, the situation could hardly be anything else. If it did not act in that manner, the UN would have let itself into an intractable political quagmire since its action would infringe on the principle of each nations’ national sovereignty which is untenable.

The concept of the right of secession was Leninist. It was originally enshrined in the Soviet Constitution at the time the Bolsheviks took power from the liberal-oriented Kerensky government in 1917. That right is a far cry for liberal democratic constitutions including those of Britain, France, the USA, and others. One should of course not forget the American civil war fought in opposition to the secession of its southern states and waged from 1861 to 1865; this fratricidal war ultimately consumed the lives of 620,000 soldiers.

Canada toyed with the idea of self-determination and the right of secession but soundly rejected it at the Victoria Conference in 1970. The TPLF made Ethiopia the only other country to follow the Soviet example and enshrined the right of secession into its constitution which still dangles over the head of our nation like Damocles’ sword. I hope the Abiy reform will lead to the ultimate abrogation of Article 39 once and for all and deal a mortal blow to this abominable clause.

In the case of the USSR, the right of secession culminated with the implosion of the Soviet state by the end of the 1980s. We are the only one of the odd twin remaining. I argued in opposition to this clause vigorously in my VOA interview in 1985 when the constitution was promulgated. Should we allow what happened to the Soviet Union, to happen to us? To keep quiet is to enable the evil doers to get away with their treacherous conspiracy; and that by itself is an egregious treason

Paulos Milkias Ph.D. (McGill)
Professor of Political Science
Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

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