Misuari’s Mindanao Independence Move : Miserable Musings or a Masterstroke ?

Elpidio V. Peria
17 August 2013

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Founding Chairman Nur Misuari figured in the national consciousness recently with his reported declaration of independence for the entire island of Mindanao, including Palawan and Sabah, from the Philippines calling the new state “Bangsamoro Republik”.

Misuari cited as legal basis for his move United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514, of 14 December 1960, which Resolution is entitled “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples”, a document of certain vintage which echoed past historical decolonization efforts especially the year 1960 which saw the birth of some 17 subSaharan countries, 14 of whom were French colonies, (Cameroon, Togo, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania).

The question here is whether the UN General Assembly Resolution cited by Misuari will give him legal credibility, and it seems it may be, since a key paragraph (para. 2) of that resolution states:

All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that
right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue
their economic, social and cultural development.

Whether a UN General Assembly Resolution will have a legally-binding effect, a legal scholar, Marko Divac Oberg, wrote in the European Journal of International Law in 2006 that :

Although General Assembly (GA) resolutions are recommendatory
as a rule, especially regarding external relations with Member
States, the International Court of Justice has recognized the
binding legal effect of GA decisions pertaining to the admission of
new Member States, voting procedure, or apportionment of the
budget, and in general has confirmed that the Court possesses
certain powers of decision. The Court has never clarified whether
the GA has any decisional powers in mandate/trusteeship matters.
Resolutions of the GA have no binding effect in the operational
realm of international peace and security. Neither the GA’s
budgetary powers in this area, nor its enforcement powers to
suspend or expel UN Members, fall outside of the organizational

What this survey of International Court of Justice opinions from this legal scholar shows is that on certain aspects, the said UN GA Resolution can have some binding effect, especially if it can be interpreted that such Resolution will eventually pertain to the admission of new member states of the UN and if we go by UN history, the right to self-determination of peoples appears to have matured already as customary international law, but this is a matter of debate among legal scholars.

The only thing Misuari needs now is a recognition by another state of his move, and presto, such independent Mindanao republic, which includes Palawan and Sabah, may eventually be born.

Now we wait what country a member of the United Nations might be inclined to do this.


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