Court's Kosovo ruling could resonate around globe
By Patrick Worsnip, Reuters: United Nations
Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:26pm EDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The World Court's opinion that Kosovo's unilateral secession from Serbia was not illegal will send a chill blast through other countries that have restive minorities keen to follow Kosovo's example.
In a 9-5 nonbinding ruling on Thursday on the 2008 secession, the Hague-based court said it considered "that general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declaration of independence."
Diplomats at the United Nations said the ruling underscored the clash between two cardinal principles dear to rank-and-file U.N. member states: self-determination, in this case for Kosovo's majority Albanians, and territorial integrity, in this case, Serbia's.
From the outset, this caused a major split among the 192 U.N. nations over whether to recognize Kosovo. Sixty-nine, including the United States and many of its allies, have so far done so but the rest have not, many waiting to see what the World Court said.
Some, including Serbia and its big-power ally Russia, rejected the independence declaration. Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombed it to halt the killing of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war.
Even the European Union was divided, with Britain, France, Germany and others recognizing Kosovo but others with minority problems such as Spain and Cyprus holding back.
"It's not only the problem of Kosovo," one senior U.N. envoy said of Thursday's ruling. "It will be read in a lot of capitals on the basis not of the Kosovo case itself but of the general implications for each country."
"It's very difficult to guess what will be the reaction of the General Assembly," he added.
It was the assembly that, at Serbia's initiative, requested the court's opinion. Diplomats have been expecting Serbia to put a motion before the assembly following the court ruling calling on Kosovo's authorities to negotiate with Belgrade over the future of the former Serbian province.
Edwin Bakker of the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations said the court's ruling was "bad news to a number of governments dealing with separatist movements."
"They may regard the ruling as a serious threat to their assumption that territorial integrity should be untouchable," he said, adding that the opinion would "strengthen separatists around the globe."
Among countries that could be considered in a similar situation to Serbia, Bakker cited Myanmar, Iraq, India and possibly Somalia.
Milos Solaja, director of the Center for International relations in Banja Luka in Serbia's Balkan neighbor Bosnia, said his country could also be affected. Bosnia is divided into a Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation.
Abdi Samatar of the University of Minnesota called the court's opinion "a tricky ruling that could open floodgates." He added to the list of potentially concerned countries Ethiopia, Yemen, Senegal, Nigeria, Angola and even Tanzania.
"What the ruling justifies is the use of violence to create new political realities," Samatar said.
Western countries say Kosovo is a one-off case because of Serbia's repression in the 1990s, and does not justify secession by, for instance, the Russian-backed enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.
Predictably, however, Sergei Bagapsh, president of breakaway Abkhazia, said the ruling "once more confirms the right of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to self-rule."
Because the World Court's opinion was nonbinding, analysts saw it as having political rather than legal consequences.
"A ruling by the World Court is like a statement issued by the United Nations. It doesn't have enforceability unless a consensus of world powers chooses to back it," said Kamran Bokhari of global intelligence firm Stratfor.
Several analysts said the ruling would be followed by a rush of recognitions of Kosovo by so-far uncommitted countries and could lead to Kosovo's admission to the United Nations.
But admission requires a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly -- critically including all five permanent members of the Security Council, which are the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.
That means Russia has the power to indefinitely keep Kosovo out of the world body -- unless Moscow changes its view on the issue, or Serbia does.
First reactions from Russia and Serbia on Thursday to the ruling indicated that they remained as implacably hostile as ever to Kosovo independence.
(Additional reporting by Adam Tanner and Reed Stevenson in The Hague, William Maclean in London and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Xavier Briand)
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Kosovo independence declaration deemed legal
Adam Tanner and Reed Stevenson, Reuters
THE HAGUE | Thu Jul 22, 2010 5:44pm EDT
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Kosovo's unilateral secession from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law, the World Court said Thursday in a decision with implications for separatist movements everywhere.
The non-binding, but clear-cut ruling by the International Court of Justice is a major blow to Serbia and will complicate efforts to draw the former pariah ex-Yugoslav republic into the European Union.
It is likely to lead to more states following the United States, Britain and 67 other countries in recognizing ethnic-Albanian dominated Kosovo, which broke away after NATO intervened to end a brutal crackdown on separatism by Belgrade.
It may also embolden breakaway regions in countries ranging from India and Iraq to Serbia's war-torn neighbor and fellow former Yugoslav republic Bosnia to seek more autonomy.
"The court considers that general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declaration of independence," Judge Hisashi Owada, president of the ICJ, said in the clear majority ruling delivered in a cavernous hall at the Hague-based ICJ.
"Accordingly it concludes that the declaration of independence of the 17th of February 2008 did not violate general international law."
Serbian President Boris Tadic insisted Kosovo remained part of Serbia, a statement which, alongside the unequivocal nature of the ruling, threw confusion over Serbia's path toward EU membership, seen in the West as a way to stabilize the Balkans.
"Serbia will never recognize the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo," Tadic said.
News of the court's decision prompted celebrations in the Kosovo capital Pristina, where people drove through the streets waving Kosovo, U.S. and British flags and shouting "USA, USA!."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said everyone should move beyond the issue of Kosovo's status and seek cooperation.
Kosovo Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni said the ruling would compel Serbia to deal with it as a sovereign state.
"I expect Serbia to turn and come to us, to talk with us on so many issues of mutual interest, of mutual importance," Hyseni told Reuters. "But such talks can only take place as talks between sovereign states."
In the flashpoint northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, Albanians fired bullets in the air and let off firecrackers while Serbs gathered in their part of town and international forces blocked bridges across the river dividing the two sides.
In Serbia the Orthodox Church, which has deep roots in Kosovo, rang church bells and led prayers.
Serbia's dinar currency hit all-time lows, forcing the central bank to intervene for the second day in a row.
CLEAR RULING, CLEAR OPPOSING SIDES
Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign ended a two-year war between Serbia and ethnic Kosovo Albanians, and put in place a U.N. administration and a NATO-monitored ceasefire.
The reaction of Serbia's ally Russia to the ruling contrasted sharply with that of the United States, a reminder of Cold War tensions and of the risk of a continued impasse in the region, one of the poorest corners of Europe.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said the court's decision did not provide a legal basis for Kosovo's independence since it only referred to the declaration of independence and did not address the legality of consequences such as statehood or recognition.
Analysts said the ruling left little room for doubt.
"I don't think anyone was expecting that. It is a clear, strong and unambiguous statement in favor of Kosovo's independence," said Marko Prelec of think tank the International Crisis Group.
"It will strengthen Kosovo's position vis a vis Serbia in the international scenes and weaken Serbia's position. There will be many more recognitions now."
The ruling was being watched closely by other nations grappling with calls for secession from within their borders.
"This is bad news to a number of governments dealing with separatist movements," said Edwin Bakker, researcher at the Clingendael Institute of International Relations. "This ruling brings Kosovo's entry in the U.N. much closer."
Georgia filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Russia at the same court, saying that Russia's incursion into South Ossetia and Abkhazia amounted to ethnic cleansing. Spain, which has its own regions seeking greater autonomy, has said it will not recognize an independent Kosovo.
"The decision of the International Court once more confirms the right of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to self-rule," said Sergei Bagapsh, president of the Russian-backed breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.
In the Balkans, the ruling could fortify separatist sentiments in the Serb half of Bosnia, another former Yugoslav republic which remains divided along ethnic lines.
(Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina, Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade, Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Willam Maclean in London; edited by Philippa Fletcher)
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Instant view: World Court's Kosovo ruling
The Hague, Reuters
Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:17pm EDT
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Kosovo's unilateral secession from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law, the World Court said on Thursday in a case that could have implications for separatist movements everywhere.
The ruling is likely to lead to more countries recognising Kosovo's independence and move Pristina closer to entry to the United Nations. Following is a sampling of reactions:
SERBIAN PRESIDENT BORIS TADIC
"Serbia will never recognize the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo."
"The government will now consider further steps."
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON:
"We call on all states to move beyond the issue of Kosovo's status and engage constructively in support of peace and stability in the Balkans, and we call on those states that have not yet done so to recognize Kosovo."
RUSSIAN ENVOY TO NATO DMITRY ROGOZIN
"The legal debates about Kosovo's independence will continue."
"We will not accept the splitting of a country that is a member of the United Nations. On principle we consider Serbia a unified whole," he said.
SERGEI BAGAPSH, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN-BACKED BREAKAWAY GEORGIAN REGION OF ABKHAZIA
"The decision of the International Court once more confirms the right of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to self-rule."
"And from a historic and legal point of view, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have much more right to independence than Kosovo."
BOSNIAN SERB PRIME MINISTER MILORAD DODIK
"The opinion of the International Court of Justice on Kosovo independence is a disappointing move and yet another sign that legal violence against Serbs and Serb states is continuing."
"This is a new humiliation of Serbia and a new message to the Serbs that politics of violence is successful and that politics of legal violence could help legalize issues that have been impossible so far."
BOSNIAN SERB MAIN OPPOSITION LEADER MLADEN IVANIC
"The ICJ's ruling is a tragic decision that will have very negative consequences in the long run. Such a ruling will encourage separatist movements in the world and everyone will be lead by the logic: If Albanians in Kosovo can do it, we can do it as well. The main message from this ruling is: organize the army, enter war, be persistent and (you) will get independence. This will discourage all those people in the Balkans who have tried to be reasonable."
DESANKA MAJKIC, BOSNIAN SERB SPEAKER OF UPPER HOUSE OF BOSNIA'S CENTRAL PARLIAMENT
"The Serb Republic has its territory, population and government, thus all elements in place to follow the Kosovo-like path if it decides so. Regardless of how painful the ruling is, we may interpret it in the way that the Serb Republic, if it decides to do so, may find a similar way and receive the support just like Kosovo in this case."
ALBANIAN PRESIDENT BAMIR TOPI
"I wish the decision serves as an appeal to all those countries, which have not yet recognized it, but also other countries that are skeptical and have recognized it partly, to build real relationships politically, diplomatically and in other sectors."
GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER GUIDO WESTERWELLE
"The ICJ's ruling confirms our view that the declaration of independence was legal. It supports our view that the independence and territorial integrity of Kosovo are irrefutable facts.
JERZY BUZEK, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
"The International Court of Justice has shown its strong commitment to promoting international peace and stability, with regard to what the EU perceives to be a sui generis case."
CYPRUS FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT
The ministry noted "that the argumentation used by the Court differentiates the issue of Cyprus from that of Kosovo."
"Cyprus would like to reiterate its position of principle on the issue of Kosovo and reaffirm its unwavering position of respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, which includes the Kosovo and Metohija province."
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL
"This Advisory Opinion does not affect KFOR's mandate: KFOR will continue to implement its mandate to maintain a safe and secure environment in an impartial manner throughout Kosovo, for the benefit of all communities, majority and minority alike."
EDWIN BAKKER, HEAD OF SECURITY AND CONFLICT PROGRAMME AT CLINGENDAEL NETHERLANDS INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS:
"I agree this ruling will strengthen separatists around the globe."
"The cases that are somehow comparable to the Kosovo case are also limited: Burma (Karen, Shan), Iraq (Kurdistan - although currently there is no repression from Baghdad), India (Kashmir).
"Perhaps Somaliland may feel that this ruling is helpful to them. Several European cases (Basques, Cyprus) are not really comparable, although I believe that this ruling will keep the flame of hope of an independent state alive among some of the more radical separatist elements in these countries.
"The most interesting question after today is what Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania will do vis a vis Kosovo. Will they follow their European partners in recognising Kosovo? My expectation is that they will postpone that step as long as possible and wait and see what will happen within the UN."
MILOS SOLAJA, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS IN BANJA LUKA, BOSNIA
"The ruling is obviously not in accordance to what Serbia has expected, although there is still space for further discussions. One thing is that they have the right to ask for independence and another thing what they can get within the framework of the international system.
"It is quite clear that the ruling is opening the issue of national sovereignty of some territories in southeastern Europe. It will certainly have effects on Bosnia and Republika Srpska, where such requests are set to increase. The ruling will bring new instability in the region."
STEVEN GROVES, ANALYST AT THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION IN WASHINGTON:
"They're not saying, 'Hey ... we endorse what you're doing.' They're not saying that. They're not saying that if you do what you do then whoever you're declaring independence from doesn't have the ability or perhaps the power or the right to try to maintain control over that territory and go to war over it. All they're saying is that the fact that you did it does not violate international law."
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux, editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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