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Self-determination and the Baloch national question

By Hassan Hamdam

Introduced during First World War as a political principle in order to resolve the emerging and complex national questions in Europe, the right to self-determination or freedom of choice without outside influence has become a legitimate right of the subjugated people in a 21st century world. Intertwined with the theory of self-determination are secession, sovereignty and territorial integrity which have streamlined the debate in the international legal circles in the last few decades.

The Baloch national question in Iran and Pakistan is among the many unresolved issues of colonial era, causing much bloodshed and regional instability. The Baloch nationalists are demanding the application of the right to self-determination while the states occupying Balochistan dismiss it as intervention in their internal affairs and an attack on their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, taking into account the recent examples regarding the cases in the International Court of Justice, advocacy for the right to self-determination to resolve the Baloch national question appears to have significant legal bindings.

The self-determination has to be defined as a unanimous desire of people to choose their political status. The will of people is not only powerful but it also enjoys backing from international legal norms. This is the will of people which makes a state legitimate and it’s also the desire of people which can challenge the rule of territorial integrity of the country they live in. The right to self-determination includes the right to independence and secession. There’s no such thing as self-determination without the right to secession. The demand for political autonomy and freedom means to ascertain the will of a people.

From the beginning of 20th century, under various compulsions, the colonial powers decided to begin a process of decolonization in Asia and Africa. However, to safeguard their strategic and economic interests, they created many artificial countries, amalgamating various national entities in these states. In the process, families, tribes and national entities were divided creating a mess in which there are many unresolved national questions responsible for protracted and bloody ethnic conflicts in many regions.

The common understanding of ethnic tension is that it provides a political voice of dissatisfaction in the institutions of a state hierarchy. The inequality in the structure of power in multi-nation states causes political unrest and the situation intensified when a state refuses to implement internationally recognized rules and human right values. When a state fails to accommodate the grievances, the affected people ultimately demand autonomy or a separate state which they are entitled to have by the international law. For a century or so, it can be observed in the historical accounts that whenever a certain ethnic entity in a multi-national state found that their ill-treatment and suffering in the hands of the dominant nationality has been followed more damaging consequences on their economic, social and culture fabrics, they reacted with a strong sentiment of nationalism, demanding the right to self-government.

The self-determination and human rights principle are inseparable, which have become partners in various international declarations and covenants. For instance in the International Human Rights Covenant of 1966, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These rules were adopted by the United Nations, and should have been enforced from 1976. Self-determination also has been defined in regional instruments as a principle of international law. In the final Act the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) 1975, and in the African Charter on Human and peoples Right 1981. The UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples states that the subjection and domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.

Following the UN declarations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) also endorsed and defined right of self-determination as the need to pay regard to the freely expressed will of people. The right to self-determination is the fundamental principle in the contemporary international law jus cogens (compelling law; must be followed by all countries) legally binding according to the Charter of the United Nations which has emerged from the Atlantic Charter in 14 August 1941. It has also been recognized in other international and regional human rights instruments such as Part 7 of the Helsinki Final Act 1975 and Article 20 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to the colonial People.

The existence of the Baloch as a national entity with one homeland Balochistan is a historical reality. After the occupation of Balochistan by the British in 1839, the Baloch land was subsequently divided and parts of it were awarded to Iran and Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of the British from India in 1947, the Baloch state of Kalat declared its independence; however, after a few months, the newly-created religious state of Pakistan occupied Balochistan. The contemporary conflict of the Baloch with Iran and Pakistan which is causing tremendous misery to the Baloch is based on the Baloch desire of regaining their sovereign status, and reunification of their divided land. The Baloch strongly dismiss the logic presented by Iran and Pakistan that the inclusion of the Baloch and Balochistan into their religious states is justified as the Baloch are Muslims. The Baloch identify themselves not on religious grounds but they are proud of being a distinct national entity for thousands of years and their ethnic identity is much stronger than a fake Muslim-brotherhood identity which has no meaning whatsoever for them.

There are various reasons that the occupying states have failed to bring the Baloch on board. First, they refuse to acknowledge that their states are multi-national states and refused to grant the Baloch as a national entity in their countries.  Secondly, since the occupation, the Baloch have been excluded from power structure of these states. Thirdly, Balochi language has been excluded as the medium of instruction in educational institutions. Fourthly, these states are systemically implementing a policy of bringing about demographic changes thus converting the Baloch into a minority in their motherland. Fifthly, the states are introducing religion and sectarianism in a fundamentally secular Baloch society thus changing thousands year old cherished social values of the Baloch. Sixthly, both states are using excessive military prowess to suppress the Baloch demand for national rights and national self-determination. The continued oppressive measures against the Baloch have triggered the deep-rooted, protracted and bloody conflict between the Baloch and the occupying states.

It appears that Pakistan is still going through a crisis of identity, and fighting a war of creating a Muslim nation and forgetting its responsibility as a multi-national state.  The historical and cultural background of national entities comprising Pakistan run for thousands of years in their respected territories and cannot be ignored. On other hand, the ruling junta which is composed of military from Punjab, Mullahs and Muhajirs from north India has been in a complete state of denial regarding the national rights of the Baloch and other smaller nations like Sindhis and Seraikis. The Pakistani rulers have been using Islam and military prowess to integrate their country and in the process, Pakistan has become the epicenter and breeding ground of religious fanaticism, sectarianism, and international terrorism.

In Iran, narrow Persian nationalism has always remained the base of the state power; creating a national perception of excluding non-Farsis from the corridors of state power. Over a period of time, the false perception of Persian greatness and national imagination took the selective approach for constructing an Iranian national consciousness which, because of its subjectivity, led to Persian chauvinism and discrimination towards non-Farsi national minorities. The present Iranian State has added the fanatical Shia Islamic ideology with the coming in power of Ayatollahs since 1979. Any debate on Baloch nationalism has been declared un-Islamic and treasonable and the Baloch are not recognized as a national entity.  Balochi has not been recognized as the national language of the Baloch but as a dialect of the Farsi language. In order to justify the inhuman brutalities perpetrated by the Iranian state and the attempts on the eradication of the characteristics of a Baloch national identity, the Iranian public are forced to believe that the Baloch in Iran pose serious threats to the national security of the state. The Balochi is banned as a medium of instruction, writing and publishing in Balochi is officially prohibited, Baloch mothers are forced to adopt Persian names for their babies and forced demographic changes are among the state measures to deal with the Baloch national question in Iran.

The human rights regime adopted by international community through a legally binding framework. In recent decades, many decisions of the International Court of Justice are becoming beacon of hope for subjugating nations especially in Africa and Asia. Its decision displayed a conception of self-determination as a substantive right that accrues to peoples, or at least to non-self-governing territories, and that those peoples or territories might wish to see enforced. Its declaration on 22 July 2010, known as Advisory Opinion on Kosovo paved the road for the peaceful settlement of international disputes. There are other examples where the national questions were resolved through the application of right of self-determination like, Bangladesh, East Timor, South Sudan, and Eritrea. The Baloch national resistance has been seeking support and recognition for decades from the United Nations and those who share a moral and legal responsibility towards the Baloch people and their legitimate struggle for the right to exist as a nation. For the first time, the Baloch voice for self-determination has been heard in various forums in Europe and the North America. This is a significant recognition by the international community, but there has to be a clear international approach to the Baloch national question in Iran and Pakistan.

Iran and Pakistan have ignored repeated pleas from international humanitarian organizations to stop brutalities on the pretext of state sovereignty. However, in a 21st century world, the principle of State sovereignty must no longer be a license to abuse the fundamental rights of a national entity. The principle of state sovereignty does not give license to abuse the constitutional entitlements of a people and its legal rights; neither does it allow the state to resort to the unilateral threat or use of force in dealing with the political demand of a national entity. The United Nation General Assembly Resolution 2625(1970) para, 1 (3), demands that the States do not to oppress their citizens, as directed by the Article 1(3) of the Charter. This obligation is also included in para 5 and in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 1 and in the compliance provisions of Articles 40 and 41.

Preservation of national identity and the desire of keeping national spirit alive have been motivating factors for national liberation struggles.  Autonomy which constitutes the free will of an individual or a group of people is the most desirable want of all human beings. According to United Nations Charter and from various covenants and resolutions passed by the General Assembly over a period of time, it has been emphasized that people must have access to justice without any political hurdle from the existing states as they are entitled to decide their own destiny. The Human Rights Committee urged upon all states parties to Covenant to take positive action to facilitate and respect the rights of peoples to self-determination, and such positive action must be consistent with the states obligation under the Charter of the United Nations, and international law. In the contemporary world, there are various countries and nations which have been divided by colonial powers. Majority of boundary lines are illegal and must be redrawn according to the will of people concerned.

The demand for separate state has been changing the world for centuries and it seems that more changes are inevitable in coming years. The best way to navigate through self-determination in a peaceful manner is the path of international law which goes through the heart of human rights and dignity; therefore a clear notion and method responding to all human beings equally around the globe is essential. The right approach to a legal account that can meet the difficult task is based on universal rules of international human rights law. However, the theme of human rights in relation to self-determination of the Baloch must be considered a legal responsibility of all involved in conflicts where people having the right to be protected from abuse and sufferings.


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