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Self-Determination and Use of Force in Rojava

A Correction to this article was published on 16 June 2021

This article has been updated


After living under the colonialism of the Ottoman Empire, France, and Syria, the Kurds of Syria are developing landmark policy atypical of the Middle East. Recent developments triggered by the 2011 Syrian insurgency, the rise of the ISIS, the onslaught on Kurdish cities, and the resistance of People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) under the command of Syrian Democratic Forces, have resulted in Syrian Kurds asserting de facto confederalism in the autonomous region known as Rojava in 2016. This allows the population living in the area to retain independent control over their internal and external affairs within the Syrian state along the border with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. Turkey invaded and occupied the Kurdish regions of Rojava under the pretext of eliminating Kurdish forces and Daesh to prevent an allegedly ‘terrorist threat’. Turkey justified its invasion by claiming the right of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter. However, Turkey’s use of force against the non-state entity of Rojava, which is exercising its right to self-determination, and annexing its territory have legal boundaries. Far from raising any connection between war and terrorism in the Syrian civil war context, the article tries to prove the illegality of the use of force in the context of self-determination. In this situation, other states can take more serious measures to stop Turkey and may request the accused state to comply with erga omnes rules related to self-determination. Also, third states are not prohibited to aid self-determination movements politically—short of dispatching troops.

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The author is grateful to Professor Anne Peters, director at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law; Professor Nehal Bhuta, the Chair of Public International Law at the University of Edinburgh; Dr Michelle Burgis-Kasthala and Filippo Fontanelli, Edinburgh Law School; Dr James Summers, Lancaster University, for their meticulous comments and useful input on earlier versions of this article that helped the manuscript argued with greater rigour.

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Correspondence to Loqman Radpey.

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The original version of this article has been revised. The Introduction section has been corrected.

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Radpey, L. Self-Determination and Use of Force in Rojava. J. Hum. Rights Soc. Work (2021).

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  • Kurds
  • Rojava
  • Self-determination
  • Use of force
  • Syria
  • Turkey