Secession of Kosovo did not violate law, UN court finds

 

THE UN’S highest court has ruled that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 did not violate international law, a decision that could increase global recognition of its independence.

The non-binding ruling by the International Court of Justice leaves unresolved the antagonism between Kosovo and Serbia, which was expelled from the territory by Nato forces in 1999 after an 11-week bombing campaign.

While Kosovo foreign minister Skender Hyseni said the ruling impelled Serbia to deal with it as a sovereign state, his Serbian counterpart Vuk Jeremic said there was no reason to change its policy of non-recognition.

“I expect Serbia to turn and come to us, to talk with us on so many issues of mutual interest, of mutual importance. But such talks can only take place as talks between sovereign states,” Mr Hyseni said.

Serbs consider Kosovo to be the cradle of their culture and national identity, but had latterly made up only 10 per cent of the territory’s population. Nato’s intervention followed a civil war in which approximately 10,000 people were killed, mostly ethnic Albanians, but also including over 2,000 Serbs.

“The court considers that general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence,” said the ruling, read by the court’s president, Judge Hisashi Owada, at a sitting in The Hague.

“Accordingly, it concludes that the declaration of independence of 17 February 2008 did not violate general international law.”

The court said the UN Security Council resolution which established the interim administration of Kosovo did not bar the declaration of independence. In addition, it said the declaration did not violate the constitutional framework established under the UN mission in Kosovo. The decision, which may embolden separatist sentiment in breakaway regions of other countries, was backed by a majority of 10 votes to four.

The authorities in Kosovo hope the decision will encourage other countries to recognise its independence. Ireland was among the first EU states to recognise the declaration. Five members of the union have so far refused to recognise it: Spain, Romania, Cyprus, Slovakia and Greece.

Diplomats will try to use the court’s ruling as a framework to establish a working relationship between Serbia and Kosovo, without which Serbia cannot enter the EU. A total of 69 countries recognise Kosovo’s independence, but most UN members, Russia and China among them, do not.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said last night that the ruling opened a new phase, adding that the focus should now be on the future. The EU was ready to facilitate talks between Pristina and Belgrade to achieve progress on the path to Europe, she added.

“The future of Serbia lies in the EU. The future of Kosovo also lies in the EU. This is in line with the European perspective of the region and the relevant Council conclusions.”

The court’s ruling was welcomed by the US, a strong supporter of Kosovo. In a statement, the White House said vice-president Joe Biden phoned Serbian president Boris Tadic before the ruling was issued.