Kosovo Status: “Unique” and “Irreversible”

In an advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the International Court of Justice found that Kosovo’s declaration was not in violation of any applicable rule of international law.

German daily Der Tagesspiegel writes that

[t]his court has shown courage. Hardly anyone had expected that the International Court in Den Haag would arrive at this opinion that clearly, that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 wasn’t colliding with international law. The verdict isn’t legally binding, but it will encourage autonomy aspirations elsewhere in the world.

The right to self-determination here, and every state’s right to territorial integrity there – nowhere in Europe have these fundamental principles of international law been violated as frequently as in the Balkans. Nowhere would both principles collide this heavily. 69 states, among them 21 EU members, have recognized the sovereignty of the former Serbian province so far. Germany and the USA are among them. 120 more nations refuse that recognition, Russia, China and Spain among them. The reason for their reluctance is obvious. You can hardly deny the peoples of the Caucasus, the Tibetans or the Basques what you confirm as right for the Kosovans.

In democratic countries such as Spain, ethnic minorities, in the course of decades, have reached a degree of autonomy which would make violent rebellion appear out of proportions. It’s a different story under dictatorial regimes. China still wants to break up the Tibetans’ cultural and historical identity. The pictures from Grosny, the Chechnyan capital destroyed by Russian forces, went around the world.

The weekly Der Freitag writes:

In the end, the judges decided to keep the question as narrow as possible and to focus on the declaration of independence alone, rather than on the legitimacy or legality of the independence itself. As far as that [the former – JR] was concerned, they went along with the supporters of Kosovo’s independence. The majority of the judges found that a declaration of independence doesn’t conflict with international law.

Der Freitag’s take is basically in line with Tanjug‘s view of the court’s opinion.

Even if so, the Serbian government – which had asked the court’s opinion -, is in a more difficult position than before, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

In September, foreign minister Vuk Jeremic wants to take a resolution to the UN General Assembly – with a demand for new negotiations about Kosovo’s status. But after this opinion by the UN judges this will happen even less – Serbia had lost one of its most important arguments after this decision, says politologist and former diplomat Predrag Simic.

People’s Daily (English) quotes UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as urging “all sides to avoid any steps that could be seen as provocative and derail the dialogue”. According to the statement quoted by People’s Daily, Ban will be forwarding the advisory opinion to the General Assembly, which had requested the Court’s advice and which will determine how to proceed on this matter.

Spain’s El Mundo quotes US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley as saying that Kosovo’s situation had been unique and exclusive, and that these circumstances were not applicable to other situations.

In a daily press briefing on July 22, Crowley was asked if the State Department had any kind of view regarding the issue of preoccupations in southern European countries,

particularly in Spain, where the government of certain sectors of the public opinion fear that this could be used by certain nationalistic movements in the Basque country or in Catalonia as a base for their own political demands. […] Do you think that this could trigger more nationalistic movements in the rest of Europe?

Mr. Crowley: No. The short answer is no. And I should say that there will be a briefing at the Foreign Press Center this afternoon at 4:00 with our legal advisor Harold Koh and our Ambassador to Kosovo. But this was a very – a set of facts unique to Kosovo. The court was applying these facts. We don’t think it’s applicable to any other situation.

In a statement after the court published its opinion, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said that

Bearing in mind the probable disappointment of the Serbs and the likely satisfaction of the Kosovars, I reaffirm my personal friendship and that of the French people to these two countries.
The Court’s opinion consolidates Kosovo’s independence, which has been in effect for more than two years, and is already recognized by 69 States. The independence of Kosovo is irreversible.

Germany was one of the first European countries in 1991 that pushed for recognition of a Yugoslav member state’s independence. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, then Germany’s foreign minister, considered recognition of Croatia‘s sovereignty the only way to end fighting on its territory, Verica Spasovska of Deutsche Welle wrote in a review on July 19 this year. France, Great Britain and Spain, themselves confronted with regionalist movements, had wanted to maintain the status quo. Genscher was particularly criticized for having Germany recognize Croatia before a commission of experts, chaired by French constitutional judge Robert Badinter (and with Roman Herzog, later German federal president, as a member) had published its findings on the issue.

Besides, German weekly Die Zeit wrote in November 1996, the early recognition for Croatia didn’t take Bosnia Hercegovina’s fate into account, which consequently felt compelled to start a referendum at once. And while Serbia had achieved its war goals in Croatia anyway, before  recognition for Croatia, the European Community’s recognition for Bosnia-Hercegovina on April 6, 1992, didn’t stop the Serb offensive which began two days later.

At that time, French foreign minister Roland Dumas remonstrated with Germany for it’s “colossal responsibility for accelerating the crisis”.

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Related
Xinjiang White Paper: Governmental Incapacity, Sept 22, 2009

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