How do you create a new country?

South Sudan, youngest country in the world, celebrates the 6th anniversary of its independence earlier this year. Image: Getty.

Within the space of a week this autumn, the people of Catalonia and Kurdistan will be asked if they want to live in an independent country. If these two referendums result in declarations of independence, what happens next? It may seem straightforward that Kurdistan, Catalonia, or even both would become the world’s newest countries. But it’s not that simple.

International law states that people have the right to determine their own destiny, including political status. Our right of self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and clarified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This could be taken as the right to have sovereign statehood recognised by the international community. However, it’s most often interpreted as the right of a population to determine how they are governed and who governs them. In other words, self-determination in today’s world most often pertains to choices within an existing country rather than as a path to new statehood.

This is partly because the laws on self-determination were mostly written during the period of decolonisation. That historical context cannot be ignored when interpreting their purpose. During that time, colonial powers were taking steps towards dismantling their empires. They had become expensive to maintain and political pressure was growing within the colonies themselves.

Creating a country

Another complicating factor in setting up a country is the fact that, for one territory to become a new state, another already existing sovereign state must lose some of its territory. That would violate the laws and norms of territorial integrity. These are some of the oldest and most steadfast rules underpinning the international system.

Recognition of a new state essentially means legally recognising the transfer of sovereignty over a territory from one authority to another. An international body, including the UN, cannot just take away territory without the permission of the original “host” state. To do so would be a violation of one of the defining rules of the system of states.

Kosovo, for example, declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but even to this day it doesn’t have sovereign statehood – despite more than half of the UN’s member states recognising its independence. This is largely because Serbia still claims sovereign control over the territory, although other factors are certainly also at play. In the same way, Iraq would have to relinquish sovereign control over territory in order for Kurdistan to become a state.

There are obvious competing and contradicting legal principles here. In at least one instance, these contradictions appear together within the same law. Indeed, what we find is that there is no clear legal path to obtaining sovereign statehood. There is also no legally established mechanism for who determines whether a territory becomes a sovereign state. So we have to look at previous examples to work out how it’s done.

The world’s most recent states are South Sudan, which was recognised in 2011, and East Timor, which was recognised in 2002. In the early 1990s, there was a wave of new states due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of Yugoslavia. In 1993, Eritrea also became a state after a decades-long war with Ethiopia, which had annexed Eritrea in 1962. Prior to that, the world’s new states emerged out of the shifting or collapse of empires, most notable with the end of colonialism.

For East Timor and South Sudan, and in many ways Eritrea, statehood was part of attempts to resolve another problem: violent conflict. In all three cases, the host state (Indonesia for East Timor; Sudan for South Sudan; Ethiopia for Eritrea) agreed to relinquish control of the territory as part of negotiated peace agreements.

All of these new states obtained sovereignty after the disappearance of their former sovereign power, or with the permission of their former sovereign power. What they all have in common is that they became states in order to resolve some kind of problem, meaning there was some international benefit to their recognition. For the world’s newest states, their recognition was more of a political act than a legally defined process.


When is a state recognised as independent?

Although it’s not clearly laid out in law, a territory essentially becomes a sovereign state when its independence is recognised by the United Nations. As the largest and most inclusive multilateral organisation, its sanctioning of sovereign statehood makes sense.

But while procedures for admitting new members are clearly laid out in the Charter and in the rules of the UN, these rules pertain to new members that are already sovereign states. Yet again there is ambiguity in the process that aspiring states must go through in order to become sovereign.

Becoming an internationally recognised sovereign country is not a clear or straightforward process. In many ways, it is determined by power and the international political climate of the day. And a surprising number of entities exist as unrecognised states, many for decades, without recognition of sovereignty.

The ConversationIf Catalonia or Kurdistan declare their independence this autumn, they may get sovereign statehood if their host states agree. If not, though, they could choose to declare their independence, and to exist as an unrecognised state indefinitely.

Rebecca Richards is a lecturer in international relations at Keele University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.