The messenger logo

Possible outcomes of Kosovo decision

By Messenger Staff
Monday, July 26
The UN's International Court of Justice in The Hague issued an advisory conclusion on July 22 which stated that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law. This has been met with a very controversial reaction. In Georgia the conclusion has encouraged the separatists of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. International analysts maintain that the Kosovo case is not a precedent for Georgia and its Russian-controlled separatists territories because you are not comparing like with like, but there is always room for different interpretations of any court conclusion.

The Chairman of the international court, Japanese judge Xisas Iovada stated that Kosovo's declaration of independence on February 17, 2008 was not in itself a violation of the norms of international law. The Hague court's conclusion decision is not binding on any state, as a formal decision would be, but it gives the Kosovo Government a very convenient platform it can use to further legalise its independence, and many countries which have doubted whether to recognise it might now do so.

Kosovo was originally an autonomous region of Serbia, 90% of whose population of 2 million was of Albanian origin. The Serbian Army, on the orders of President Milosevic of Serbia, tried to suppress an uprising of Kosovo Albanians but in 1999, after several weeks of bombardment of Serbian positions and checkpoints by NATO Serbia was forced to leave Kosovo, which was ruled by UN forces from 1999-2008. Serbia has submitted a claim to the court that Kosovo's declaration of independence was an illegal act, violating Serbia’s territorial integrity. Senior Serbian state officials now claim that after the Hague court's conclusion no international disputed border could be ever safe and secure.

Kosovo's declaration of independence split the international community. Out of 192 UN member countries 69 recognised it, including the USA and 22 from the EU (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain did not). It was not recognised by China and Russia.

Georgian analysts keep repeating that there is a great difference between Kosovo and the Georgian breakaway territories: In Kosovo the Serbs conducted an ethnic cleansing of the Albanian-populated territories while in Georgia the contrary occurred, with the Abkhazian and South Ossetian population, encouraged and supported by Russia, conducting an ethnic cleansing of Georgians. Moreover multiple atrocities have been recorded in these regions by both Georgian and international witnesses. The fact that ethnic cleansing was conducted against the Georgian population in these regions was confirmed by the 1994 Budapest and 1996 Lisbon OSCE summits, therefore, as Professor of International Law Levan Aleksidze states, The Hague conclusion does not threaten Georgia's territorial integrity.

There are now disputes in Georgia about whether it should submit an application making similar claims to the Hague court. Different arguments are presented but one thing is evident: the Kosovo precedent could be understood by some separatist groups around the world as something they can use in their favour, and all in all it is a short sighted decision. The consequences of it for any disputed region could be very dramatic. Unfortunately the world will pay dearly for this because if it wanted to at least prevent itself suffering extra nationalistic headaches it should have preserved the international borders fixed by the end of 20th century. In fact Russia's position on this court conclusion is clear proof of this. Russian officials are already claiming that it gives Abkhazia and South Ossetia more chance of gaining international support. If Kosovo can be independent why not Abkhazia and South Ossetia? ask Russian officials. We can therefore add, why not Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Catalonia or numerous other places around the world? Who can stop the spread of separatism now?