Thursday 22 July 2010

Kosovo Independence does not violate International Law

The International Court of Justice has ruled today that the Kosovar declaration of independence does not violate international law. Serbia had claimed that it was a "'flagrant violation' of its territorial integrity".

Why has the ICJ ruled otherwise? It's hard to say - at the time of writing, the ICJ website was down and I was unable to get a copy of the judgment. Though the judgment is not binding, this is an important judgment. Politically, it obviously lends greater legitimacy to the Kosovar state (and by implication delegitimises the resistance of its Serb minority, though the judgment's examination of the right of self determination might raise interesting questions there too), and also supports the US and general EU approach to the state.

The judgment could also signal a change in the international legal culture on self-determination and independence. though there are 2 UN General Assembly Resolutions supporting the right to self determination, they were generally intended as anti-colonial, and the UN supports territorial integrity. An explanation can be that self determination does not necessarily mean independence. After all, it's hardly the best idea for international peace to encourage separatism - supporting the idea of ethnically/culturally homogeneous states would cause a lot of disruption, conflict and misery across the world if it was ever carried out.

Hopefully the ICJ website will be back online soon, so the judgment can be available more widely; the legal reasoning will be very interesting.

UPDATE: An EPP MEP, Doris Pack has called on the remaining member states who haven't recognised Kosovo to recognise it now.


  1. I want not comment relation of the court's judgement to various separatist movements in Europe (or the world). I want only say that I cannot understand why many people do not see that there are no Kosovars, there is no Kosovar state. So called Kosovars are Albanians in fact and Kosovo is a second Albanian state in fact, aside from Albania itself, a result of militant Albanian nationalism. The international protectorate was established with official justification that non-Serbian population has to be protected from Serbian ethnic purges, however Albanian armed forces made its own ethnic purges of non-Albanian inhabitants under protection of western forces and their inert watching. Today, the ethnic composition of Kosovo is more uniform (in favour of Albanians naturally) than under Serbian rule. The great temporary (read: perpetual) USAmerican military base Bondsteel shows clearly that independence of Kosovo is a matter of USA geopolitical insterests, not a matter of justice. But naive western Europe has been fascinated by "heroic struggle of Kosovars for their freedom" in the same time.

  2. It took me a minute to understand what citizen was getting at, but they do have a point. At first I thought it was an argument in semantics, but that is definitely not the case.

    Independence struggles are always grey. It can never be black or white and the Kosovo issue is complex.

    Borders will change, territorial integrity is a good idea but it needs to be flexible based on the circumstances.

    Check out my thoughts:

  3. Independence issues are always very grey, and I'm sure that there has been a concentration of ethnic groups in different communities in Kosovo (i.e. Serbs vountarily concentrating in certain areas an leaving Kosovo since it was put under UN administration, along with intimidation of ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the different communities).

    It would be hard to measure the level of official sponsering of the "Albanianisation" of Kosovo after the war, and I can't comment on it as I don't know enough. However, it's clear that ethnic wars cause concentrations of ethnics populations and population movements (see Bosnia). I would be wary of placing the blame on NATO, though there may be a case of favouritism after the war (I don't know though). I would also be wary of talking about US interests in the area - the US was sucked into the area because it wasn't in the EU member state's interests to have ethnic wars destabilising the area and leading to higher international crime and more refugees. There are many areas with local wars that the US doesn't mind staying out of. (Acquiring interests after moving in is a different matter, of course).

    Whatever the answer, it's clear that the war and its effects have cause population movement, and it's very hard to deal with these questions without provoking a nationalist reaction from either side. That's likely to always be the case (hey, I'm from Northern Ireland, and we can trace arguments easily back to the plantation [colonisation of Ulster] and the Flight of the Earls or even further). It will be hard for small states like Kosovo, FYROM and Montenegro to develop and survive without integration with Europe and the rest of the international community, so recognition is very important to Kosovo. EU integration is a long way off with member states like Spain and Cyprus refusing recognition.

    The question of balancing self-determination with territorial integrity is a very sensitive and complex legal question (and obviously highly politically charged. I'd favour territorial integrity, though it's hard to know in these cases where there has been a lot of ethnic violence. It is certainly hard to imagine re-integration of the territory practically working out. So the judgment itself will be very interesting.

  4. Eurocentric, you are condoning the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo a bit too much for my taste. What happened after the 1999 war was that Serbs outside mono-ethnic villages found the situation too dangerous and left en masse. Kosovo's cities are now nearly devoid of Serbs. But unlike what you suppose those villages are going the same road: due to discrimination and large tracks of land that have been occupied by Albanians it has become very hard for those Serb villages to make a living and the young people are leaving to find work in Serbia - and it generally expected that the villages will slowly die out. It is estimated that from the Roma - who were more urban - 80% has been driven in exile.

    You are right that this is the kind of thing that happens in an ethnic conflict. But there are complicating factors that you don't see in (Northern) Ireland and that make the situation worse. The rule of law in Kosovo is much weaker and as a consequence Kosovo's minorities find themselves the victim of discrimination, theft and pressure to sell their properties cheaply. Language differences offer more opportunities to pressure minorities. And the EU and the US have mostly sided with the Albanians and are resisting the strong autonomy and border changes that might Kosovo's minorities more safe.

  5. I'm not condoning ethnic cleansing. I just don't know enough about conditions on the ground over the last few years to say to what degree things are officially sponsered, and I was pointing out that a significant degree of ethnic violence takes place even without official sponsorship. I would never say that NATO/ the EU have got everything right (it remains to be seen whether they have had the focus, attention and commitment to get anywhere near enough right).

    Personally, I doubt the value of separatism and think that automony and other measures would be a better course in most cases. However, it hasn't exactly been proven (whatever the failings of NATO/the EU/Kosovar administration) that remaining within Serbia would have been the best choice either.