The Right to Self-Determination vis a-vis Irredentism: Comprehensiveness of Article 39 of the FDRE Constitution in Addresing Irredentism

  • Abera Abebe Zegeye
Keywords: Article 39, FDRE Constitution, House of the Federation, Irredentism, self-determination


Since Ethiopia got constitutionally structured as a federal state in 1991/94, the issue of self-determination has whelmed the socio-economic and political lives of the people. Consequently, different explicit and implicit quests of self-determination had been and are being made by nations, nationalities, and people of Ethiopia. The FDRE Constitution is a centrepiece both in activating and addressing these self-determination quests. Article 39 of the Constitution specifically provides the right to self-determination of nations, nationalities, and people of Ethiopia (hereinafter NNPs) shall be respected. However, it is not clear whether or not this provision addresses an ostensible self-determination case commonly known as irredentism. Irredentism is the simultaneous desire of the trans-border ethnic kin people and the adjacent parent state to their socio-political unification. Even if it is a real phenomenon, irredentist cases are rarely addressed both in national and international legal instruments. The right to self-determination, allegedly an unsettled right in terms of its normative contents, may or may not embrace irredentist cases. This study is doctrinal legal research, which, by analysing relevant national and international legal instruments and scholarly literature, appraises the comprehensiveness or otherwise of Article 39 of the FDRE Constitution in addressing irredentist cases. To substantiate the theoretical analysis, the Welkaite case, a prolonged and on-going quest of Welkaite people to secede from the regional state of Tigray so as to be incorporated within the regional state of Amhara has been highlighted. Doing so, the study has revealed that the self-determination clauses stipulated both under international and domestic legal instruments are incomprehensive to address irredentist cases.