In what Serbian newspapers are calling a “great diplomatic victory,” the UN General Assembly has voted 77-6 to ask the International Court of Justice to examine the question “Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the provisional institutions of self-government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?”
The legality of Kosovo’s independence is unclear. Former International Court lawyer Nicolas Burniat says that while there are well-defined formal steps toward independence for former colonies in Africa and Latin America there are no established guidelines for secession within an established state.
The United States condemned the move as unnecessary and unhelpful, with envoy Rosemary DiCarlo declaring that Kosovo’s independence is “irreversible”. The court’s opinion is seen as particularly important to nations like Spain and Cyprus which have separatist movements of their own.
The United States has strongly supported Kosovo’s independence, but has opposed similar secessionist attempts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has taken the opposite position, and the permanent positions on the UN Security Council of both makes it unlikely that the court’s opinion will be put into force, though it may affect the decisions of other nations whether or not to formally recognize the new nations.
More importantly it may establish legal guidelines for secessionist movements in the future, such as the Serbian enclaves within Kosovo which wish to split off from the new nation. The United States has said it will never allow Kosovo to be partitioned, and that it “supports the territorial integrity” of the nation.