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THE ICJ RECOGNIZED SOVEREIGNTY OF KOSOVO. ITS ARGUMENTS MIGHT BE APPLIED TO POST-SOVIET CONFLICTS AS WELL

The International Court of Justice in the Hague recognized sovereignty of Kosovo.


A dangerous precedent was set in ethnic conflict settlement throughout the world. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague recognized Kosovo with apparently little thought to the effect this decision will have on developments all over the world including the post-Soviet zone. This is the first time in history that the primary judicial organ of the United Nations accepted unilateral withdrawal of a territory from a member of the UN without consent of the latter. Formally, the ICJ verdict is but a recommendation. On the other hand, its arguments might well be applied to ethnic conflicts in other parts of the world.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. “International law includes nothing that will restrict declarations of sovereignty… Consequently, the adoption of that declaration did not violate any applicable rule of international law,” ICJ President Hisashi Owada said in a live broadcasting of the ruling. Ten ICJ members voted for recognition of Kosovo, four voted against.

Sixty-nine countries recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state so far. The ICJ verdict yesterday will certainly increase this number. “Appeal of the Serbian authorities to the ICJ in connection with Kosovo never looked exactly promising,” said Nenad Popovic, deputy of the Serbian parliament representing the Democratic Party. “Considering that the ICJ can only recommend and that its decisions are not legally binding, it is hard to understand really how an appal to it was expected to help Serbia in promotion of its national interests.”

Popovic explained that the Democratic Party of Serbia and other forces of the opposition would take an even firmer stand on the matter of Kosovo now. “The ICJ verdict might provide justification for abandonment of the strategy of the soonest integration into the EU at all costs. It should encourage Serbia to advance relations instead with the countries that, like Russia, do care about Serbia’s national interests. Or else, Serbia might file lawsuits with the national courts of the states that did recognize Kosovo considering how they violate the UN Charter and the Final Act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (1975).”

Nine ICJ members including its president represent the countries that recognized Pristina’s sovereignty. They are Japan, Sierra Leone, Jordan, United States, Germany, France, New Zealand, Somalia, and Great Britain. The opposing faction comprises Slovakia, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Brazil, and China. Since rulings require a mere majority of votes, the verdict in this particular case was as good as known even before the vote.

“Western powers have never even tried to justify legitimacy of Kosovo’s sovereign status in the eyes of international law,” said Yelena Guskova, Chief of the Center for Balkans Crisis Studies. “Open hearing of the Kosovo case in December 2009 made it plain that Albanian separatists and their promoters (the United States and leading EU countries) make an emphasis on “unique nature” of the Kosovo situation. They claim that the policy of violence the Serbian authorities allegedly promoted in connection with the Kosovo Albanians compels the international community to accept Kosovo’s declaration of sovereignty as expression of the will of its people. In the meantime, they have conveniently forgotten to mention that the principle of self-determination does not apply to Kosovo because the Albanians already invoked it within the framework of the Republic of Albania nearby.”

The Serbian authorities meanwhile said that the ICJ ruling yesterday was but a prelude to new political and diplomatic battles. Deputy Premier Bozidar Djelic said that Serbia intended to bring up the matter at the session of the UN General Assembly come September and present a draft resolution. The said resolution will be well-balanced and indicative of Belgrade’s willingness to reach a compromise on all matters including status of Kosovo. “All we want is an agreement that takes into consideration the rights of Kosovo Albanians and Serbians and interests of Serbia,” said Djelic. In other words, Belgrade is going to insist on new talks with Pristina over Kosovo’s status. Foreign Minister of Serbia Vuc Jeremic said that Serbia will demand a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the matter in August.

The Europeans, too, had better draw conclusions because Kosovo is anything but a factor of stability in Europe. “The European Union had better give a thought to how many Albanian states it wants on the continent. Considering separatist trends displayed by the Albanians in Macedonia, Montenegro, South Serbia, and Greece, that is. One does not have to be a genius to guess that all of them will take heart from the ICJ ruling and perceive it as support for ethnic Albanian separatism,” said Guskova.

“Inability of the ICJ to condemn sovereignty of Kosovo will amplify the negative effect the Kosovo precedent is already having on the situation in conflict areas elsewhere,” said Popovic. “It is not just the Balkans that this effect is restricted to. There is also Basque separatism, Cypriot problem, threats to territorial integrity of Belgium. And do not forget the post-Soviet zone either where arguments in defence of Albanian separatists will be hailed as applicable.”

President of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh spoke up as if on cue. “The ICJ ruling became another confirmation of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s right to self-determination. As a matter of fact, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have even more valid legal grounds for sovereignty than Kosovo does,” said Bagapsh. The Abkhazian leader expressed the hope that the ICJ verdict would promote recognition of Abkhazia by countries other than Russia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

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