Civil Wars and the Right to Self-Determination

Solomon E. Salako


Thucydides was the first analyst of civil war: the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BC). Since then, the technology of war has radically changed but not the nature of man. Most of the wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were civil wars and most of these wars were caused by political, economic and legal factors and by the quest for secession. The civil wars of the twenty-first century are not different from those of the previous centuries.

The object of this article is to analyse the causes and legality of civil wars and assess critically the scope of peoples’ right to self-determination in international law with a view to determining whether the right (as it stands) can be used by a racial or religious group in a state to effect radical transformation of the whole state or to justify secession from the state.

Finally, the feasibility and desirability of reconceptualising peoples’ right to self-determination to justify secession in case of unremitting persecution, when it is clear that attempts to achieve internal self-determination have failed, are evaluated.

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International Law Research  ISSN 1927-5234  (Print)  ISSN 1927-5242  (Online)  Email:

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