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Declaration of independence

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A declaration of independence is a proclamation of the independence of a newly formed or reformed independent state from a part or the whole of the territory of another, or a document containing such a declaration. Declarations of independence are generally made by one side without the consent of the previous government, and hence are sometimes called unilateral declarations of independence (UDI). Used without qualification, "The Declaration of Independence" sometimes refers to the United States Declaration of Independence: the first such declaration so called.



In international law, unilateral declarations of independence are generally frowned upon, since preservation of territory is one of the few things that the countries of the world universally agree upon. Declaring independence or supporting such a declaration is seen as a hostile act, that may easily lead to war. Money is often an important factor when one state attempts to succeed another, with control of important resources such as ports, oil fields or strategic towns or geographic features leading to dispute. If a government has extemely large debts to other organisations, there will be international pressure for these debts to be taken over by successor governments, even if the original governmental organisation is disbanded.

Many states have come into being through a UDI. The legality of a UDI is often the subject of debate and unsurprisingly the previous government typically asserts that a UDI is illegal. Often, international bodies and other countries decline at first to accept the legitimacy of the declared state and its government. If the declared state becomes a functioning entity, it may gain diplomatic recognition over time and a form of retrospective legitimacy. Not all declarations of independence result in actual states and those governments that do result from UDIs do not always survive and are often rivaled by the previous government. A significant number of unilaterally declared governments collapse or otherwise give way, with control returning to the previous government or shifting to a futher, successor government.

Many declarations of independence, including those of Texas (now part of the United States), Rhodesia, and Vietnam have been modeled on the United States declaration.

List of UDIs

  • Easter Proclamation (Ireland, 1916) - During the Easter Rising in Dublin Irish rebels proclaimed, on behalf of the Irish people, the establishment of an independent Irish republic. Unlike the later Declaration of Independence of 1919, the Proclamation of the Republic was not issued by an elected body and was not followed by the establishment of any de facto political institutions.
  • Icelandic Declaration of Independence (1944) - Iceland unilaterally declared its independence from Denmark, following a plebiscite of the local population, on June 17, 1944. The Danish King Christian X, whose country was under Nazi occupation at the time, had urged Iceland to wait until the end of the war before making any such move but otherwise did nothing to prevent it (and was unable to do so in any case).
  • Katangan Declaration of Independence (1960) - Katanga, a former a province of the Belgian Congo, attempted to seceded by means of a UDI in 1960, when Congo was granted its independence. The attempted secession was ended by the implementation of the United Nations supervised National Conciliation Plan in January, 1963.
  • Rhodesian Declaration of Independence (1965) - Ian Smith's white minority government declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. Few states accepted this declaration's legitimacy. The UDI Rhodesian state was ultimately replaced under the Lancaster House Agreement by a restored British regime under a governor: Lord Soames. Within a short time, a new, much more widely recognized independent state, Zimbabwe, came into existence.
  • Declaration of Independence of Guinea Bissau (1973) - Guinea Bissau, formerly Portuguese Guinea, declared independence from Portugal. The declaration was recognized by many countries, before Portugal formally granted independence in 1974.
  • Declaration of Independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (1983) - The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed in northern Cyprus in 1983. The area had been occupied by Turkish forces since a Turkish invasion in 1974. The state has only received international recognition from Turkey.

Possible future UDI in Quebec

The Canadian province of Quebec has made public its intention to issue a UDI if the federal government of Canada were to refuse negotiations for secession after a winning referendum on sovereignty. The Supreme Court of Canada issued an opinion that there was nothing in the Canadian constitution, nor in international law to give legal effect to a UDI. Many jurists stated that if indeed this was true, it was also true that there was nothing legally preventing a UDI either. The Supreme Court also stated that were the Quebec people to vote 'Yes' in a referendum on independence, the federal government and the provincial governments would have to negotiate. (see Reference re Secession of Quebec).

Independence without a UDI

In many cases, independence is achieved without a declaration of independence but instead occurrs by bilateral agreement. An example of this is the independence of many components of the British Empire, most parts of which achieved independence through negotiation with the United Kingdom government.

One notable example of de facto independence in the absence of a formal declaration of independence is Taiwan, which is administered by the Republic of China (ROC). The People's Republic of China (PRC) has stated that a formal declaration that Taiwan is independent of China would be one of the conditions under which the would use force against Taiwan.

The political status of Taiwan remains controversial; the position of most supporters of Taiwanese independence has been that since Taiwan has never been a part of the PRC, and the governing institutions of the ROC function as an independent and sovereign state, there is no need to formally declare Taiwan to be independent. Opponents of Taiwanese independence on Taiwan itself, who are sometimes but not always supporters of Chinese reunification, also see no point in a declaration of independence in that they argue that Taiwan is and should be part of a greater cultural entity of China, and a new Republic of Taiwan would only bring about a change in name in exchange for an invasion attempt Taiwan could little afford.

See also

Last updated: 02-03-2005 00:13:02
Last updated: 03-15-2005 10:01:34