Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Opinion

Kosovo's future among the free nations

On 22 July, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) recognized what Kosovars have known for two years - that Kosovo is a sovereign, independent state.

The Court's 10-four majority was decisive, and its conclusions were clear: the adoption of our 17 February 2008 declaration did not violate international law; it did not violate United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244; and, it did not violate the constitutional framework that had been established by the United Nations to guide the interim stabilisation of Kosovo.

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  • Independence day in Kosovo in 2008: 69 UN members, including the US and most of the EU, have recognised Kosovo in the past two and a half years (Photo: European Parliament)

The opinion affirmed Kosovo's place in the international community, something which 69 countries have already recognised. I call on those states that have not yet done so to recognize Kosovo now.

The people of my country did not arrive at the decision to declare their independence lightly or in a political vacuum. We were long deprived of the most basic human rights, and in 1999, subject to a murderous campaign of ethnic cleansing from a Serbian government led by Slobodan Milosevic. These events prompted international intervention, and ultimately UNSCR 1244, which, as the Court made crystal clear in its ruling, suspended Serbia's authority over Kosovo. After close to 10 years of UN supervision, Kosovo accepted the terms of a UN-mediated process on Kosovo's final status, which concluded that "the only viable option for Kosovo is independence."

As this history makes clear, and as the ICJ acknowledged in its advisory opinion, the circumstances that led to Kosovo's declaration of independence were, and are, unique. The narrowness of the court's ruling on this subject should reassure those countries that have been reluctant to recognise Kosovo. Kosovo's declaration of independence is not a precedent, and attempts to argue that the Court concluded otherwise or that its ruling opens a Pandora's Box are wrong.

Some in Serbia have argued in recent days that the court did not address the question before it. It did. The legal question about Kosovo's independence has been asked, and the ICJ's affirmative answer was unambiguous. Attempts by Serbia to reframe the question after the court's ruling, or to say that the court did not answer questions that were not put to it, are deliberately misleading. These are not legal arguments. They are Serbian efforts to reopen long-exhausted status negotiations via another UNGA resolution because it did not like the answer it received from the Court.

For its part, Kosovo sees the ICJ advisory opinion as an opportunity to put the past behind us and to move forward with all the countries of the Balkans, including Serbia, towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

My country is prepared to sit down with Serbia to discuss practical issues that would improve the lives of our citizens. We are neighbors. We face common challenges. Our police forces should work together to combat international crime. Our two countries should co-operate on practical issues such as energy, telecommunications, and education. We have a common interest in working together to ascertain the fate of missing persons – both Serb and Albanian – from the period of armed conflict.

We cannot, and we will not, discuss Kosovo's status as an independent sovereign state, Kosovo's territorial integrity, or the creation of de facto or de jure autonomous regions within our borders.

We do not expect Serbia to recognise Kosovo immediately, and we understand that it may take time before Serbia is ready to sit down as equals to discuss practical issues. In the meantime, Kosovo will continue to do what it has been doing for the last two years. We will complete implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan, including its far-reaching guarantees for the protection of the rights of members of all ethnic groups in Kosovo. We will continue to strengthen the democratic institutions of our young country, and we will take the decisions necessary to promote long-term, private sector-led economic growth here. Finally, we will strengthen the rule of law by tackling organised crime and corruption.

Kosovo will continue the reforms necessary to secure its rightful place in the United Nations, in Nato and the EU, and it will continue to behave as the sovereign, independent state that it is, and that the ICJ so resoundingly confirmed.

The writer is prime minister of Kosovo

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