Evolution of Autonomy and Federalism

  • Hans-Joachim Heintze
Conference paper

Federalism, devolution, autonomy and other power-sharing arrangements are in general seen as political and legal arrangements to resolve domestic and ethnic conflicts. Power-sharing systems might solve internal armed conflicts and are often linked with autonomy regulations and federalism (Lijphart 1985, pp. 3). Many politicians and scholars understand political decentralization as a means of conflict resolution, because it is based on the idea of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity has according to Carozza accepted as a principle of human rights law, because it allows on the one hand the application of universal human rights norms and on the other respect for the diversity and freedom of human cultures (Carozza 2003, p. 39). However, practice also shows that many federal and autonomy attempts have failed and fostered regional divisions (Mansfeld and Snyder 2002, p. 301). The contradictory opinions are very often a consequence of the different understanding of the concepts of federalism and autonomy. Some authors argue that the legal basis for federalism has to be always a contract while others think federalism can only survive if exposed to external threats (see Christin and Hug 2003, p. 4).

The different approaches have caused an expanding discussion about peaceful solutions of self-determination conflicts. One of the outcomes seems obvious: The strict respect of minority rights is a precondition to reach the goal of a peaceful coexistence of different groups within a given society. Otherwise territorially concentrated peoples and other groups will demand statehood on the basis of the right to self-determination (Heintze 2004, pp. 289; see also Packer 2000, p. 31). The common reaction of the concerned state is the rejection of this claim, very often enforced by military power that in many cases results in an armed conflict. To avoid such developments one has to establish systems in which all groups can participate in the decision making. According to international law states “shall create the conditions necessary for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them”.1 However, in international law this obligation is formulated in rather vague language “programmatic terms which remain a far cry from creating any standard as to the different mechanisms to be applied in order to reach the aim of securing participation” (Frowein and Bank 2001, p. 1). This approach is symptomatic for all norms dealing with the protection of groups within States. These norms are in need of effective implementation to develop case-by-case solutions. Indeed, as Hannum rightly argues, what may appear to one lawyer as desirable flexibility may lead others to criticize the vagueness of the term autonomy as unlikely to encourage a meaningful dialogue (Hannum 1996, pp. 12). Thus a democratic system in itself does not automatically provide a solution.


Autonomy Regulation Armed Conflict National Minority Ethnic Conflict Effective Participation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans-Joachim Heintze
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of International Law of Peace and Armed ConflictRuhr UniversityBochumGermany

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