UN Court Rules Kosovo Secession Was Legal

No Legal 'Prohibition on Declarations of Independence'

In a non-binding ruling, but one which could have serious ramifications the world over, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Kosovo’s formal secession from Serbia in 2008 was not in violation of any international laws and was therefore legal.

ICJ President Owada Hisashi declared that there was no part of international law that was meant to be a “prohibition on declarations of independence.” Serbia had refused to recognize the secession, as had a number of other nations with prospective separatist movements.

Though Kosovo’s declaration of independence is comparatively recent, the nation has been separated from Serbia in practice since 1999, and continues to be occupied by NATO troops to this day, though the exact purpose of the occupation at this point remains unclear at best.

And while the ruling has Kosovo officials crowing about their victory and may well give them ammunition in their quest for international recognition, the ruling is a knife that cuts both ways, and it could have an even bigger impact elsewhere, in nations whose secession is even less recognized internationally.

For while the US and NATO have been on the Kosovo secession bandwagon for years, in no small part because it came as the result of a NATO invasion of the region, a virtually identical situation exists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two other republics that declared their independence in 2008.

But in those later cases they declared independence from US-ally Georgia, and the foreign military that enabled it was the Russian military. In this case, the US and NATO members have angrily rejected South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s secessions, and the US has vowed to use its power to ensure that neither is ever recognized internationally.

Even within tiny Kosovo, the ruling could have a secondary effect, as an ethnically Serb portion of the region has sought to secede from the seceders. The international community is fighting against that secession at this point, but it must be asked: if Kosovo can secede, why can not a part of Kosovo do the same thing?

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.