Unrecognized Countries: Why Are They Not Recognized?

By: Valeriia Pantiukhov

Unrecognized Countries & International Relations

International relations is a set of political, economic, diplomatic, ideological relations between states, national and international organizations. Such connections form a certain legal order in the world.

The main subjects of international relations are mostly countries and international organizations - they participate in solving the most important issues related to world peace and well-being.

After sorrowful experiences of numerous wars and military conflicts, the international community has realized the importance of dialogue, cooperation and mutual support between countries. It caused them to enter peace agreements and to declare human rights.

Theory of law determines the common forms of international relations, which are cooperation, competition and conflict. Cooperation is expressed through the treaties of amity and collaboration and agreements about strategic partnership.

Competition involves situations in which actors seek objectives in ways that elevate their unilateral interests and perspectives above those of other actors rather than moderating their actions for mutual benefit.

Competitive behavior is not necessarily characterized by seeking relative advantage by injuring other parties - but it is self-directed. Competitive behavior is only one of several possible tactics or strategies to achieve national goals.

Traditionally, the term "international conflict" referred to conflicts between different states and conflicts between people and organizations in different states.

Increasingly however, it also applies to inter-group conflicts within one country when one group is fighting for independence or increased social, political, or economic power (e.g., Sudan/South Sudan, Iraq (now that the US has largely left), and Syria.).

In the processes of globalization, it is hard to be outside of economic international partnership. The process of building a strong economy for a country requires cooperation with foreign countries and organizations both to receive financial support and experience exchange.

Being a subject of international trade relations means that people of a certain country are able to have access to different products and services of other countries. Here, educational and cultural exchange takes place.

When a country is open to international cooperation, it can borrow the experience of other countries in economic development. For example, Taiwan is a partially recognized country is a member of the World Trade Organization.

The International Crisis Group paper describes how Abkhaz businessmen are looking to build ties with the West to import European goods and export products such as hazelnuts that can reportedly fetch almost five times the price in the West than they do in Russia.

Unrecognized Countries & Sponsor States

One of the ways in which unrecognized cuntries cooperate with the foreign states is through a 'sponsor state.' Usually, this state is a country which has a partnership with the unrecognized state in order to give it some support - political, diplomatic, economic, and/or military.

Unrecognized countries, or de facto states, have a hard time sustaining their statehood without an external support.

In order to protect state boundaries and to strengthen the positions of governmental institutions de facto states need financial support of their sponsor state.

Examples of such sponsor states include Russia - in the case of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria. In addition, Armenia acts as a sponsor state for the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). In addition, Turkey acts as a sponsor state for the unrecognized country of Northern Cyprus.

Somaliland is a unique example in which it is a functioning unrecognized country without a sponsor state whatsovever.

Besides the wish to acknowledge the nations’ ethnicity and it's right to independence, the sponsor state can benefit from its patronage using use de facto state as a platform to develop the black market of resources and to place its own military bases there.

Why Do Unrecognized Countries Exist?

The subjects of international relations do not want to cooperate with unrecognized countries, as they see a threat from such countries.

This is because they achieved their “independence” through the secessionist movements and self-determination conflicts, so they are seen to violate the principle of territorial integrity.

Although in the Resolution of 2625, United Nations has dedicated to some communities the right to self determination, it has stated that the territorial integrity of states in the international system comes before.

In this context, the United Nations has imposed on the states the duty of ban on the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

So the United Nations has given the right to self determination to some people - but not all. This right is limited only to the people who live under colonial rule.

In the resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 which was adopted by the United Nation General Assembly named Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, it is clearly stated: “All people 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.”

As it is understood from the name of the resolution, the United Nations has given the right to self determination to people who live under the governance of colonial countries.

So de facto states in the international system are mostly not decolonized people, but rather have won their de facto independence after several conflicts with their parent states.

By establishing their own state as a result of secessionist movements, they also violate their parent states’ territorial integrity.

Hence, this situation creates an important problem in the international system because de facto states not only create a recognition problem, but also pose a threat to international peace and security.

Sometimes, unrecognized countries are formed as a result of territorial borders violations. For instance, the Luhansk People's Republic and the Donetsk People's Republic supported by the Russian Federation, were created through the invasion of foreign military groups.

Those forces shared propaganda against the Ukrainian government, creating fear and antagonism within the Ukrainian community of this region.

So, people believed that the “new organization” of these territories will bring them peace and well-being, but as a result, the region is cut from provision of resources, financial system and the military activity does not stop there.

In the modern world, one of the key factors that can define the role of an unrecognized country in the international relations is mass media.

Depending on how the information about forming and functioning of an unrecognized state is presented, the international community supports or refuses the new state. Both negative and positive coverage of the processes of country creation affects this decision.

Unrecognized countries have uncertain status in the international justice system as a part of international relations. Non-recognition means that the country cannot fulfil international obligations and responsibilities or to protect its own citizens according to International justice system.

Rejection of unrecognized countries from being a subject of international justice leads to the following issues: unrecognized countries cannot bear responsibility if there is a violation of law from its side; the citizens of unrecognized countries are not protected by the international justice system, if they cannot be applicants in the international courts, which contradicts the principle of the international community to guarantee equal rights and freedom to mankind.

But legal acts of the international courts do not restrict any subject to participate in the international trial.

Based on the rules of the European Court of Human Rights and the Regulations of The International Criminal Court we can see that the subjects of international justice are the ones who ratified and follow the principles and rules of international conventions of human rights.

Most of unrecognized countries consider themselves as democratic and proclaim the priority of justice and human rights protection.

European Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction to decide complaints submitted by individuals and States concerning violations of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Notably, the person, group or non-governmental organization submitting the complaint (“the applicant”) does not have to be a citizen of a State party.

However, complaints submitted to the Court must concern violations of the Convention allegedly committed by a State party to the Convention and that directly and significantly affected the applicant.

So, in fact, if any violation happened, any subject (individual or state) can become an applicant of international justice system. Even the content of an individual application does not specify what country the applicant must belong to, whether it is European Union member or the rest of the world.

Currently, the international status of unrecognized countries is limited to participation in the international courts and partnership with the sponsor state.

The role of unrecognized countries in international relations is strictly dependent on the willingness of the international community to accept these countries as partners in economic, political and cultural collaboration.

Once it happens, unrecognized country is considered a legitimate subject of international cooperation.


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European Court of Human Rights. Rules of Court. (2019).


Michael J. Mazarr, Jonathan Blake, Abigail Casey, Tim Mcdonald, Stephanie Pezard,

Michael Spirtas.Understanding the Emerging Era of International Competition Theoretical and Historical Perspectives. Research report. RAND (2018).


Pasha L. Hsieh. Michigan Journal of International Law. An Unrecognized State in Foreign and International Courts: The Case of the Republic of China on Taiwan.(2007).


Thomas De Waal. Uncertain ground. Engaging with Europe’s de facto states and breakaway territories.(2018).


Vildan Meydan. International Journal of Economics Politics Humanities and Social Sciences



#UnrecognizedCountries #Abkhazia #SouthOssetia #Artsakh #NagornoKarabakh #Somaliland #Transnistria

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