Right to Self Determination
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This article is written by Neelam Prusty, from Madhusudan Law College, Odisha. This is an exhaustive article which explains the refugee crisis throughout the world and the role of the right to self-determination in the life of the refugees. This article gives an elaborate description of the status of refugees in the host countries and their struggle and fear to live a secure life like other human beings.


Human beings are an exceptional, indispensable, and exquisite gift of divinity. They are always influenced by their dreams with their nature of innocence, self-confidence, and honest thoughts. Every person has his or her own personal rights by birth. Human rights are included with their right to associate with society and family, human identity as well as the basic needs for physical protection, food, universal state-paid education, health care and laws appropriate for their development, equal protection for their civil rights and freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or nationality.

The principal definition of a “refugee” is contained in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is defined as a forced immigrant who has been forced to leave his or her country because of aggravation, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-grounded fear of aggravation because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. War and ethnicity, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees leaving their countries.

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Which countries have the maximum refugee crisis

The refugee problem has become a worldwide phenomenon in a very gigantic proportion. The refugee has an understandable dread of maltreatment for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political estimation or connection in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot come back home or are scared to do so. The countries like Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia contribute two-thirds or 57% of all refugees throughout the world. More than 21 million people are staying out of their countries as refugees. But in the last few years, the refugees have been proved to be a burden on the host country. The host country is also facing social and economic issues with the increasing number of refugees.

The situation of the host countries is briefly described below as follows.

  • Syria

Syria has the largest number of refugees in the world. Syria has more than one-fourth population of the world’s total refugees. According to the UN report, around 5.6 million refugees from Syria were forced to leave their country to find a safe place to live in neighbouring countries.

  • Afghanistan

Afghanistan has the largest refugee population in Asia. According to the records, there are 2.5 million registered refugees are only from Afghanistan. The refugee from Afghanistan is getting displaced to neighbouring countries since there is always a war-like situation in the country.

  • South Sudan

South Sudan has the largest refugee population in Africa. According to UNHCR, nearly 2.3 million people from South Sudan have shifted to neighbouring countries while 1.87 million got displaced within their country. The majority of the refugees from South Sudan are staying in Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • Myanmar

The refugee from Myanmar has faced discrimination and violence in their country which forced them to leave their country. The latest report of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says that around 909,000 refugees from Myanmar are present in countries like India, Ukhiya, and Teknaf Upazilas. The main refugee group who are facing a lot of problems are the Rohingya refugee.

  • Somalia

Due to the political instability and chances of dangerous civil war, more than 750,000 refugees from Somalia are staying in neighbouring countries whereas over 2.6 million people are internally displaced in Somalia. The majority of the refugees are presently residing in countries like Kenya, Yemen, and Ethiopia.

What are the rights refugees have that are being denied

A harsh reality of a refugee is unbelievable and hard to accept. The situation like war, violence, poverty, and other extreme conditions has forced ordinary citizens of various countries to leave their homes and face a very difficult journey to find a safe shelter to live.

In such filthy conditions, many families have been ripped apart and many died since they didn’t have access to enough food, clean water, or proper sanitation. Many refugees are living without any proper work or decent education for decades.

The refugees have the basic right to receive assistance, protection from abuse, and the freedom to seek asylum, regardless of their origin, religion, or status.

Since they are human beings, they even have the most essential needs which are required to live a peaceful life but unfortunately, most of the refugees never meet their needs.

The main basic needs of the refugee to which they have been denied for years are-

Access to food and drinking water

Violence and displacement have a great impact on the life of the people which destroyed the infrastructure of hospitals, schools, roads, markets, and land. The insecurity of livelihood prevents people from earning their livelihood securely by farming, fishing, and trading beyond the borders. The conflict has forced the farmers not to cultivate their land for more than three years which result in devastating food and water crisis. The immunity of the refugees is very poor since they don’t have access to prove food or medical facilities. Many of them did every year due to unsafe drinking water which spread water-borne diseases like cholera and diarrhoea.

House for safe living

The refugees don’t get enough assistance and help in the host country. The mainland of the country is already occupied by the country’s own citizen and the discrimination faced by the refugees due to lack of trust force them to stay in a hazardous place. They don’t have a house to live in to stay protected from harsh weather or wild animals. They have to live in a plastic sheet in a barren land, an unsafe place where the electric wire runs or the place which is probable to get affected by the disaster.

Protection against violence

Millions of refugees suffer from inhuman abuses which include murder, torture, abduction, prostitution, and forced employment. They move from countries to countries with the hope to get a safe life and protection from the threats to their lives. Especially women and girls are more vulnerable to such abuses. They suffer from brutal violations such as prostitution, bonded labour, forced marriage, sexual violence, and exploitation. According to the records, every single woman among three in North-East Nigeria suffers from sexual violence.

United family

Violence and forced displacement have affected many families. They have to stay far apart from their families in the form of a group to earn a safe living and find some work. The family network destroys since the children stay away from their parents and grandparents, or siblings in different areas because it’s not possible for them to stay together.

Poor access to proper healthcare facilities

The lack of access to quality health care is a major challenge faced by the refugees. They need proper reproductive health care and psychosocial support to be aware of unwanted pregnancy and numerous unhealthy children.

Lack of safety, security, and freedom of movement

Refugees express concern about their safety, security, and freedom of movement linked to xenophobia and their difficulty obtaining documents because, in some areas, they face harassment from police as well as arrest and detention.

Lack of opportunities to participate in decision making

Youth find a lack of empowerment and engagement opportunities that limit youth involvement in decision making. They have few opportunities to analyze issues, devise solutions, and share their ideas with decision-makers.

Access to asylum and knowledge about refugee rights

Young refugees face challenges related to the lack of relevant, honest, and transparent information about the asylum process, refugee rights, available services provided to them.

Decent job and education

The refugees live with the fear of being arrested due to the lack of valid official documents as well as the license to work by the government of that country which affects their lives from every sphere. Even the limited access to education affects the future of their children. Later, they don’t manage to find a permanent decent job to work and earn their livelihood so they have to travel a long way in search of work in construction sites and results in poor living.

Are there provisions in international law to manage the crisis

There are a lot of provisions in international law to manage the refugee crisis and the violence faced by refugees. Since international law is not codified, the protocols and treaties are the main sources of the provisions. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 declares that “every human being is born with equal rights and dignity of life”. The Refugees are also entitled to some sets of rights under which they deserve respect and protection from the State.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1987 has specific provisions to stop the refugees from facing torture and violence in any form. The provision of the Convention against Torture was comprehensive in nature. Under this Convention, an individual was also allowed to bring a complaint against the state party if they face torture.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 was for protecting child refugees from violence. Under Article 2, 3, 6, and 12 of the Convection, the child refugees are protected from discrimination and right to life and to survival and development.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights, 2007 has provisions on the right to asylum for the refugee and protection from expulsion or extradition to serious risk of death, torture, or inhuman treatment.

There are other conventions such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, 1992, and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 which provide the people with protection from violence and discrimination and provide them asylum to live safely.

Why is international law failing to manage the refugee crisis

There are a lot of conventions and treaties in various countries to safeguard refugees and their rights. The provisions are different from countries to countries. The UN Charter has provisions for security and safety of the refugee but the rules are not compulsory for any country. The countries have to either follow the rules or the UN will not help the country in financial matters. The lack of codified provisions and unbounded enforcement of the law has very less effect to manage the crisis.

Another possible reason is the legal document. Since the refugees are unaware of legal documentation and their rights, most of them are unregistered refugees. The violence on unregistered refugees is not reflected in official documents. The international law fails to fulfil its objective since the people are unregistered refugees and carry no identity during the crisis.

The lack of trust on and difference in the practices of the refugees from various countries make the host countries feel insecure to help the refugee with an open heart. The country administration has to protect its own citizens and safeguard them before providing the innumerable refugees with free assistance and asylums. It becomes difficult for the host countries to provide the refugees with employment and other necessary facilities along with its own citizens.

What is the concept of self-determination and why is it important

The term self-determination describes the potential of a person to decide his own destiny. The people are freely allowed to decide their own political status and control their economical, social, and cultural growth. The right to self-determination is also recognized in international law.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, self-determination is described as the ability to determine their own Government and decide the way of ruling.

Self-determination is very important for any human being irrespective of origin, disability, caste, religion, etc. The self-determination increases the following abilities of a human being.

  1. The people believe in themselves and control their own lives. They overcome them through diligence, choices, and hard work.
  2. People gain self-motivation. They become good at fixing goals and working accordingly.
  3. People work according to their own goals. They work hard to bring their goals close to them.
  4. People gain the courage to take credit for their own success as well as accept the blame for their failures.
  5. Such people easily achieve their goals.

Self-determined creates positivity around the person which transmits successfully to their adult life in the future.

Right to self-determination in the 21st century

The meaning of achieving self-determination was established in the Declaration of Friendly Relations,1970. In the 21st century, self-determination is a political-legal right that provides every person with the legal right to decide their destination. The right to self-determination varies from a different perspective. An individual has the right to self-determination when he either establishes a sovereign and independent state, associates with another state; or has freely integrated with another state after expressing their intention to do so. The right to self-determination provides the power to take legal action against governments or international sectors who are misusing or overusing the resources of the nations in irrational ways. The right to self-determination should not create a barrier to human rights. The right to self-determination includes mainly social and political rights in the current scenario.

Is self-determination a human right

Self-determination is a human right. Although there are many sources to self-determination in General Assembly resolutions, the right of self-determination is declared only in the legal documents of the two international treaties. Self-determination is the right of the people as a whole, not as an individual. Hence, the Human Rights Committee has made clear that the right of self-determination cannot be raised under the First Optional Protocol which applies to the rights of an individual.

Whenever the scope of self-determination is introduced, a conflict between political goals and basic human rights norms arise. The possible impact of self-determination that it may cause violent conflict. Although it is a motto that needs to be remembered that human rights are violated during the time of wars than any other time. The possibility of claims under self-determination is likely to increase if the policymakers are going to ignore the demands and rights of the people. This may raise the number of several conflicts which has a direct impact on international human rights. human rights can possibly decrease the rate of violence but that does not mean the disputes over self-determination will disappear. The countries can only take steps to resolve such a problem. When self-determination has purported the matter, it is always better to ask denials of human rights before attempting to address the denial of self-determination. Rather than entering into the definition of self-determination and secession, a non-governmental organization (NGO) or human rights activist prefers to influence a government of a country by focusing on human rights. It is necessary to keep a distance from the universally recognized and legally articulated provisions of international human rights law to deal with self-determination.

Violation of human rights with respect to the refugees

The refugees are the vulnerable group of people who seek better treatment as a human. International refugee law is very closely related to international human rights law which is meant to preserve the dignity of every individual. The violations of human rights are the primary cause of the refugee crisis in various countries. 

Since human rights law applies to every person, including refugees, the refugees have legal rights to access to adequate treatment in the asylum. The risk of torture, inhuman activity, or degrading treatment is the fear that is always alive in the mind of the refugee after the prohibition on returning a person into his own country under customary and treaty-based human rights law. The Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture have made laws to prevent the expulsion of refugees from facing the risk of torture. Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights has directed not to expel an asylum seeker to another country under its jurisdiction where their rights under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights are probably more vulnerable to be violated. The development of human rights and making the refugee aware of their legal right can be a relevant step in securing solutions to refugee crises. Hence, human rights are applicable to every person including the displaced one.

Self-determination of refugees in international law

The principle of self-determination is clearly defined under Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations. This principle was initially coined under the 1941 Atlantic Charter and the Dumbarton Oaks proposals which were later recognized as the United Nations Charter. The development in the United Nations Charter which is necessary for the maintenance of friendly relations and peace among the states indicates the universal identification of the principle of self-determination. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognized this principle in their first article in 1976. The right to self-determination provides the right to every person to determine their own political status and pursue their economic, social, and cultural development under Paragraph 1 of this Article.

Critical analysis

Refugee Crisis is an inhumane, completely avoidable institution that causes a lot of unnecessary death, sorrow, and sickness. It is a horrid institution in human society. Every person has his own right to live, to enjoy his life, and to speak about his own rights. Finally, it is determinable that this practice of servitude can be exterminated by raising awareness, encouraging sustained government leadership on the issue, engaging the public to become a part of the solution, and supporting the anti-refugee movement. If our will is strong and the goal is fixed, we must get a chance to see our beautiful earth as well as an ideal society without violence. The right of self-determination should be encouraged and the refugee should also be allowed to get normal rights as other citizens of the country.


In 2017, the world leaders gathered in New York for their annual assembly at the United Nations, where they decided to make an intensive shove to do more on behalf of the more than 65 million relocated people worldwide. That’s the sort of high-level importance essential, given the level of necessity.

Former President of the USA, Mr Barack Obama during the last U.N. General Assembly of his term was convening a meeting with the goal of protecting tangible promises from governments to enlarge chances for refugees. The objectives of the summit are threefold: first, to increase financial support for humanitarian aid; second, to get countries to admit more refugees through relocation or alternative legal pathways; and third, to increase refugees’ access to education and legal work. But unfortunately, these goals couldn’t be fulfilled.

But, later on, UNHCR took initiative for the protection and upliftment of the refugees by providing funds, shelter, healthcare facilities, etc. These are some proposed solutions which can be implemented to solve the evil of Refugee Crisis:

  1. We have to prioritize monetary hold up for front-line states. The government aims to generate a 30 per cent increase in financing for compassionate assistance, from $10 billion in 2015 to $13 billion this year. That’s a commendable objective since aid is stretched to the point where basic needs frequently go unmet—particularly in the case of that fleeing violence in Syria. The Syrian Crisis Fund projected to finance the internationally agreed humanitarian reply plan for Syria and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) local refugee and pliability plan, is less than half funded.
  2. The resettlement of vulnerable populations and refugees must be needed. The administration aims to double the number of resettlement slots and substitute legal pathways for admission that are available to refugees. That’s a creditable purpose, but even if it’s achieved, the scale of the dislocation crisis is such that a bulk of the world’s refugees will remain in front-line states for the predictable future. Those who are chiefly susceptible — alone minors; survivors of afflicting; the disabled; and single-parent, female-led families among them are in meticulous need of safe haven and deserve special attention. According to UNHCR, 10 per cent of Syrian refugees drop into those categories. As Brookings’s Bobby McKenzie has argued, the administration should place extraordinary importance on securing them, refugees.
  3. A global network for distribution in order among cities must be established. The administration aims to increase the number of refugees worldwide in school and the number of refugees settling the legal right to work, each by one million. Accomplishing this will necessitate action on the part of local actors’ as much as national ones. But so far, the international community has tended to believe about the crisis in cross-border terms.
  4. Opening up safe routes to sanctuary for refugees is one significant solution. That means allowing people to come jointly with their relatives, and giving refugees visas so they don’t have to spend their life savings and risk drowning to arrive at safety.
  5. World leaders also need to put saving lives first. No one should have to pass away crossing an edge, and up till now, approximately 7,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean alone in the two years since the first large remains in October 2013. Thousands of citizens fleeing persecution in Myanmar experienced for weeks on board boats while Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia bickered over who should help them in May 2015. States can stop this by devoting search and liberate operations and directly helping people in distress.
  6. All countries should look into and put on trial trafficking gangs who exploited refugees and migrants and put people’s security over all else. Survivors whom Amnesty met in Southeast Asia said traffickers killed people on board boats when their families couldn’t pay money. Others were unnerved overboard and not present to go down, or died from because there was no food and water.
  7. Governments also need to stop blaming refugees and migrants for financial and communal problems and as alternative combat all kinds of xenophobia and racial bias. Doing otherwise is extremely unjust, stirs up tensions and dread of foreigners, and sometimes leads to hostility – even death. In Durban, South Africa, at least four people died, many were seriously injured, and over 1,000 mainly Burundian and Congolese refugees were enforced to run away after violence and looting ruined out in April and May 2015. 
  8. For the healthcare of refugees, there should be hospitals in every region for their proper medical care.
  9. To decrease the death rate and for the safe travelling of refugees, there should be patrolling by the country’s army, navy, or administration in between their own region of sea area.
  10. They should be given employment in industries and other sectors as like own citizens for their economic development.
  11. The refugees who are living in a particular country for a long time should acquire citizenship of the host country for their permanent resettlement.
  12. They should provide proper food and shelter and by the government, they should get a piece of land to build their own home and live in peace.
  13. They should provide passports and visas if they want to leave the country. 
  14. There should be strict provisions and laws for the refugees so that the crime rate can be decreased. Frequent and strict inspection and strong guidance are mostly needed.


  • UN for UNHCR, UNRefugee (2018), https://www.unhcr.org/what-is-a-refugee.html.
  • 8 ways to solve the world refugee crisis, Amnesty International 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2015/10/eight-solutions-world-refugee-crisis/.
  • Phineas Rueckert, These Are 5 Reasons Why People Become Refugees, Global Citizen (Aug 14, 2017), https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/reasons-why-people-become-refugees/.
  • https://blog.ipleaders.in/right-to-self-determination-in-international-law/
  • https://unpo.org/article/4957#:~:text=Essentially%2C%20the%20right%20to%20self,economic%2C%20cultural%20and%20social%20development.

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