Secession, law, and rights: The case of the former Yugoslavia

Human Rights Review 1 (2):9-26 (2000)
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A common theme from certain circles during the Yugoslav wars was that the seceding republics lacked a right to secede, but that if a right were accorded them by the EC or international community, it would have to be granted to the Serbian minorities in these republics, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on pain of inconsistency. This microcosm argument is in fact unsound. On a reasonable conception of a right of self-determination and secession elaborated here, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoyed a right of secession, while Bosnian Serbs did not. Nor did Bosnian Serbs restrict their claim to such a right to territories in which they held a majority; rather, they demanded "secession" for a whole swathe of lands which lacked even a Serb plurality before their brutal "ethnic cleansing". Either voluntarist or ethnicist conceptions of a right of secession might have been construed as supporting the microcosm argument, but both of those are terrible conceptions of the right of self-determination and secession.

Author's Profile

Daniel Kofman
University of Ottawa


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