Friday

18th Jan 2019

Kosovo independence no violation of law, finds International Court of Justice

  • Kosovo declared independence on on 17 February, 2008 (Photo: CharlesFred)

By a 10-4 majority, the judges of the International Court of Justice on Thursday ruled that the unilateral declaration of independence by the then-Serbian province of Kosovo did not violate international law.

In something of a fudge that will leave no one happy, the non-binding ruling found that as there are no provisions in international law restricting independence declarations, such as that pronounced by Kosovo on 17 February, 2008, the new state is neither abiding by international law nor in violation.

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As of Thursday, while the US and most Western countries immediately recognised Kosovar independence, the issue has split the European Union, with a vocal minority of countries with their own problems of internal demands for self-determination sharply refusing to recognise the move.

Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece and Romania continue to hold up EU-wide recognition, joining Serbia, its traditional ally, Russia, and most of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Serbian President Boris Tadic reacted to the ruling by saying: "Serbia of course will never recognise the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo because it believes that unilateral, ethnically motivated secession is not in accordance with the principles of the United Nations."

However, Mr Tadic went on to say that Belgrade would now seek another UN resolution in order relaunch talks over Kosovo, and Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic urged Serbs in northern Kosovo to not be provoked into violence.

"Difficult days are ahead of us ... It is of crucial importance to keep the peace and to stabilise the entire territory of the province," he told reporters.

Kosovar foreign minister Skender Hyseni called it "a great day for Kosovo" and said that it was time for Belgrade to begin talks with Pristina.

"Now we have legal proof that our independence didn't break an international law," he added. "We can finally really aspire for what every country, what every citizen of this planet aspires for - some freedom and to live the life the way life should be."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the EU "welcomes" the decision, adding that the ruling "opens a new phase" and that Brussels was hoping for a new dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

"The focus should now be on the future. The future of Serbia lies in the European Union. The future of Kosovo also lies in the European Union ... The EU is therefore ready to facilitate a process of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade ... to promote cooperation."

Spain for it's part has said that it "respected" the ICJ ruling, according to the country's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, but without saying anything on the matter of Kosovo's independence.

Slovakia meanwhile has said that the ICJ position changes nothing. According to the country's foreign ministry, Bratislava will continue to support UN resolution 1244, which backs a common solution through dialogue of both sides rather than a unilateral declaration of independence, spokesman Peter Stano told DPA.

The Cypriot Foreign Ministry said in a statement it remained firm in endorsing the Serbian perspective, reaffirming its "unwavering position of respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, which includes the Kosovo and Metohija province."

Neither Greece nor Romania have yet pronounced on the subject, although Laszlo Tokes, an ethnic Hungarian MEP from Romania compared the situation with that of the Hungarian minority in the country, saying that Hungarians should now take to the streets to demand autonomy.

The court's finding is likely to encourage more states to welcome Kosovo into the international community of independent states, but it is also likely to embolden separatist movements in other regions of the world.

However, analysts reckon that recognition of states has less to do with international law than realpolitik, and the key is not winning court cases, but winning a majority of the right kind of other important states on board.

"Lots of pints will be drunk in Catalan, Scottish and Quebecois bars tonight," Richard Gowan, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Affairs, "but alongside the hangover they wake up with, they will wake up with the realisation that not much has changed."

"How many countries have indicated that tomorrow they would recognise an independent Basque Country or Catalonia?" he said. "It's just about zero."

"Whether a region establishes itself on the international stage is fundamentally a political rather than a legal issue at root."

He noted that Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the breakaway regions that declared independence from Georgia in 2009, have only been recognised by Russia, Nicaragua and Nauru. "And in the case of Taiwan, the number of countries that recognise it have dropped year after year as they recognise the hegemony of Beijing."

"The key for Kosovo was that countries had indicated before the fact that they would recognise them. Ten years ago when they first tried it, no one was with them."

Scottish and Flemish nationalist MEPs were indeed quick to welcome the ruling. Frieda Brepoels, of the New Flemish Alliance said that fears of an outbreak of new micro-nations declaring independence was no reason not to embrace Kosovo: "Unfortunately several nations seem to fear that recognising Kosovo's independence would set a precedent for other regions and stateless nations seeking greater autonomy or independence. This is no reason not to seek the best solution for Kosovo, including the prospect of EU membership."

Abkhzia's President Sergei Bagpash cheered the decision: "From a historical and legal point of view, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have much more right to independence than Kosovo."

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