The right to self-determination is proclaimed by numerous international documents, including the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. However, this right has never been precisely defined and has thus come to denote different things to different peoples and governments at different times.

Report from a Roundtable Held in Conjunction with the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. Department of State

The right to self-determination is proclaimed by numerous international documents, including the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. However, this right has never been precisely defined and has thus come to denote different things to different peoples and governments at different times. To examine the complex self-determination issue, the United States Institute of Peace, together with the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State, organized a series of meetings to help U.S. policymakers develop a response to self-determination demands. Experts on international law and state sovereignty discussed the right to self-determination—its origins, what it entails, and the nature of international legal language sanctioning and defining it. Focusing on U.S. policy toward actual self-determination and separatist movements and the strategies and options available to the United States to mediate or intercede in them, the Institute of Peace and the State Department's Policy Planning Staff held a second meeting in March 1996 to examine ways that the United States and the international community might work to promote successful outcomes to territorial or separatist disputes, with "successful" broadly defined as nonviolent and nonsecessionist.

Patricia Carley is program officer for the former Soviet Union and Turkey at the Institute, where she also works on broader issues such as the OSCE and Western relations with the Islamic world. She is the author of several Institute publications, including The War in Tajikistan Three Years On, Turkey's Role in the Middle East: A Conference Report and the Future of the CSCE.

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