There are things we all agree on even if we don't know them. For example, the self-determination of peoples. Who is against it? Nobody. But what exactly does it mean? "It is a relatively recent concept, yet it has quickly acquired international reach. Self-determination is the right that people possess so as to be able to act for the full realization of their ideals, and it is relevant both from an external and an internal point of view", explains Professor Giuseppe Nesi, Faculty of Law at Trento University, with specific expertise, particularly with regard to international criminal justice, international organizations, protection of human rights and international relations. Common topics at the "Bell".

External and internal?

"External" law applies in situations of decolonization, military occupation and apartheid. In these circumstances, a population could also resort to violent actions to assert their identity.

And "internal"?

From an "internal" point of view, self-determination is achieved when there is the possibility of implementing the form of government desired by the majority of the population.

So violence and democracy united in one right? It might seem like a contradiction.

The two aspects of self-determination may appear very distant one from the other, but they are not contrasting. In fact, while an individual population always has the right to choose the form of government that pleases them, external self-determination is recognized by the international community only if the aforementioned conditions are met, that is to say, a situation of colonial domination, military occupation or a segregationist regime.

As current as ever, it is enough to read the news of the last few weeks which refers to an age-old question of self-determination that perhaps cannot be defined as either internal or external without displeasing one of the parties: the conflict in the Middle East, which started after the Second World War

The situation in the Middle East is very particular, as the Palestinian population considers its territory occupied by Israel, while Tel Aviv considers the same lands legitimately under its rule. The issue was further complicated when the Israeli government, in response to actual or suspected attacks, gradually expanded its territorial base, imposing on the entire population and maintaining what it believes to be its own borders by force. History teaches us that this way doesn't usually work.

An open wound, an emblematic example of how we should not act internationally if we really want to allow each population to decide its own future in freedom and peace.

Unfortunately, yes, but at the same time it must be emphasized that the United Nations has always promoted the vision that envisages two states, one Palestinian and one Israeli, neighboring and peaceful. All attempts to resolve this crisis that have come close to reaching this goal have been inspired by this vision, but in some periods have taken big steps backwards. The latest setback in the peace process was caused by the US administration led by President Donald Trump, which went so far as to manifest provocative behaviour, such as the decision to transfer the US Embassy to Jerusalem, a city that has always been disputed between the two parts for historical and religious reasons.

Taking this reasoning on a global scale, we must ask ourselves whether or not multilateral institutions have the means to promote the settlement of conflicts between peoples or states.

It would be enough to apply the Charter of the United Nations, where already in Article 1 and then in 55 explicit reference is made to the self-determination of peoples. This is the DNA of multilateral institutions. An awareness that dates back to the end of the First World War, with the position taken by US President Woodrow Wilson regarding the need to guarantee each country the possibility of choosing its own form of government. Multilateral institutions have many opportunities to intervene and in several cases they have achieved historic results.

So let's also make some examples of mediations that ended well. Matters that are in the newspapers less, because it is known that peace makes less news than war.

There is too little talk of the decolonization process in the second half of the last century, an enormous phenomenon that mainly concerned Africa, but which also affected Asia. There have been great success stories otherwise today we would not have 54 African states and huge and important countries like India freed from the colonial yoke. Usually we look at the failures of multilateral institutions, but it would also be right to point out that their action, particularly in the 1960s, was particularly effective.

How important is the cultural approach in the export of peace and dialogue?

It is fundamental, if by cultural setting we mean the ability to reason, to understand the motives of others and not to act dishonestly. Unfortunately, it should be noted that in recent years on an international level there has been an advance of openly intolerant political groups. They are not prevailing, except with some unfortunate exceptions, but they have returned, gained a certain following and in some cases have even reached government. We live in a historical moment in which it is particularly important to be vigilant, especially by those who have the cultural background to understand what is happening. We must not underestimate the threats to dialogue, multilateralism, tolerance, respect and above all the ability to listen..

Speaking of the ability to listen, the great Sicilian writer, Gesualdo Bufalino, presenting his novel "La Luce e il Lutto" (Light and Mourning) summarized the social role of art by describing a personal experience: "I learned not to steal by listening to Mozart".

Listening educates, but you have to be accustomed to it. "More concerts, fewer wars" could be an effective slogan.

Giuseppe Nesi

Notice to swimmers in South Africa in 1989. Durban beach is reserved for "the sole use of members of the white race group"

Gandhi, in the center, and the crowd during the "salt march", a non-violent demonstration that took place in 1930 in India against the salt tax imposed by the British government.

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