LL4K4      Half Unit
The International Law of Self-Determination

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr James Irving


This course is available on the LLM (extended part-time), LLM (full-time), MSc in Human Rights and University of Pennsylvania Law School LLM Visiting Students. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at 30 students. Students must apply through Graduate Course Choice on LSEforYou.


Some prior knowledge of international law is useful but not essential.

Course content

This course will provide a general introduction to the doctrine of self-determination in international law. Self-determination will be historically contextualised from its intellectual progenitors in the Enlightenment through to its political birth at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and its formal induction into international law by virtue of the 1945 UN Charter. Both the detail of the doctrine's content and the dynamic governing its development will be explored. The relationship between self-determination and state formation (including decolonisation and secession), minority rights, aboriginal rights, women's rights and the nascent right to democratic governance will be central topics. Reference will also be made to the interplay between self-determination and economic rights, including permanent sovereignty over natural resources, the right to development and the "third generation rights" movement more generally. Self-determination's influence upon the international rules governing the use of force will be discussed, but these rules will not be a primary focus. Upon completion of the course students will be in a position to legally analyse contemporary fact patterns and to identify both strengths and weaknesses in the existing legal framework. Students will have considered new and novel approaches to self-determination and will be able to situate the doctrine in relation to international law and human rights. Those taking the course will gain an appreciation for self-determination's particular contribution to political and economic liberty.


20 hours of seminars in the MT.

(Please note that week six will be a reading week.)

Formative coursework

Students will be asked to submit one 2,000 word essay.

Indicative reading

Introductory reading: James Crawford, "The Right of Self-Determination in International Law: Its Development and Future" in  Philip Alston, ed., People's Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 7. Additional sources: Philip Alston, ed., Peoples' Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); S. James Anaya, , Indigenous Peoples in International Law, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Allen Buchanan, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Cassese, Antonio, Self-Determination of Peoples: A Legal Reappraisal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Hillary Charlesworth, & Christine Chinkin, The Boundaries of International Law (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000); James Crawford, ed., The Rights of Peoples (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); Hurst Hannum , Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination: the Accommodation of Conflicting Rights, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1996);James Irving, "Self-Determination and Colonial Enclaves: The Success of Singapore and the Failure of Theory" (2008) 12 S.Y.B.I.L. 97-122.; Christian Walter, Antje von Ungern-Sternberg & Kavus Abushov, eds., Self-Determination and Secession in International Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).


Essay (100%, 8000 words).

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2018/19: 16

Average class size 2018/19: 15

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills