July 23, 2010

World Reacts to ICJ Advisory Ruling on Kosovo

Hisashi Owada, President of the ICJ, delivers the court's opinion on the legality of Kosovo's independence

23 July 2010
Balkan Insight

The ICJ's advisory opinion in favour of Kosovo’s declaration of independence has been welcomed by top US and EU officials, but several countries that have not recognised Kosovo have said they will maintain their stance, as this latest development in the Balkans continues to capture headlines around the world.

In a much anticipated decision, on Thursday the International Court of Justice, ICJ, found that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law or UN Resolution 1244.

A number of states which have recognised Kosovo have welcomed the decision and urged other countries to move forward with recognition.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the court's ruling as “decisive” support for the independence of the youngest Balkan state. She urged all countries, whcih have not recognised Kosovo’s sovereignty, to do so.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that both Kosovo and Serbia belong in the EU so the two countries should focus on European future.

"I urge political officials in both Belgrade and Pristina to now focus on their European future and start working in a constructive and pragmatic way on daily coexistence, in the interests of their people," the minister announced.

His French counterpart Bernard Kouchner argued that Kosovo's independence is irreversible.

"The [ICJ's] opinion clearly shows that Kosovo's declaration of independence is not contrary to any international law or resolution 1244, as France has always argued, and this pleases me," Kouchner said in a written statement.

Hannes Swoboda, the head of the Austrian Social Democrats in the European Parliament, said that Kosovo's independence "is a problematic, but unavoidable step for the region", which completes the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, and marks the establishment of a new order in the Balkan region.

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Milan Rocen has said that the advisory opinion will provide answers to a number of dilemmas.

In an interview with TV Montenegro, Rocen stressed that regional stability is of key importance.

"The stability of the region is something that will bring us all together to progress faster on the path towards European integration," the broadcaster quoted him as saying.

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign affairs chief, said in a statement: "The EU welcomes the publication of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice...

"The EU is therefore ready to facilitate a process of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. This dialogue would be to promote cooperation, achieve progress on the path to Europe and improve the lives of the people. The process of dialogue in itself would be a factor for peace, security and stability in the region."

The International Steering Group, ISG, echoed Ashton's call for dialogue. The ISG, made up of states which support Kosovo's independence and aim to guide Pristina in its development, gathered on Thursday and stated that the ICJ opinion represents an important opportunity for Kosovo and Serbia to open a new phase of relations.

“The ISG hopes for a sincere, respectful and constructive dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, as independent and sovereign states, to identify and resolve practical issues of mutual interest to the benefit of the people of both countries,” the ISG press release reads.

Meanwhile, many countries which have not recognised Kosovo's independence said that they will maintain their stance on the issue, and some have argued that there is still room for new status talks.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement which explained that the country's stance remains the same following the ICJ opinion.

"We believe that the solution to the Kosovo issue lies only in the continuation of negotiations between the interested parties based on the provisions of UN Security Council resolution 1244, which, as underlined by the International Court of Justice, remains the universally recognised international legal basis for settlement," he said.

Beijing also announced that China would continue to respect Serbia's territorial integrity.

Chinese MFA spokesman Qin Gang has said that China believes that negotiations within the UN framework are the best way to find an acceptable solution for both sides.

"China firmly believes that the respect of national sovereignty and territorial integrity is the basic principle of international law, and the basis of today's global legal system," he said.

European Union member Romania reaffirmed its position that it will not recognize Kosovo's independence in a press release issued by the Romanian Foreign Ministry on Friday.

"Our position on the non-recognition of the independence of Kosovo remains unchanged. We believe the resolution of the problem of Kosovo is possible only through negotiations between the interested parties,” the Ministry said.

“The ICJ had taken in consideration only the legality of Kosovo’s act of declaring its independence and not the question and consequences of the act of appeareance of a new state,” the statement continued.

Possible Implications for Other Separatist Movements

Some have voiced concern that the decision in favour of Kosovo's independence may have far-reaching implications for other separatist movements in the world.

According to British daily The Guardian, separatists and secessionists from Taiwan, to Somaliland to Georgia, have welcomed the court's opinion, which they argue sets a precedent.

James Ker-Lindsay from Kingston University London told daily Blic that that the opinion of the Court will be quite relevant for other cases of secessionism in the world.

"The court has said with this [advisory ruling] "anyone can declare independence," he said expressing his expectation that other regions in the world will do so, relying on the opinion of the court.

According to Edwin Bakker, a Dutch specialist in international relations, the ICJ's opinion is of great importance because it "blessed" secession, expressing support that has not been seen in the last four decades.

He noted this was the first time since the division of Pakistan in the mid 1970s that an independent state has been created despite loud opposition from the country from which it is seceeding, thus increasing separatist ambitions in the world.

Sergei Bagapsh, president of the Russian-backed breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, told Reuters news agency that "the decision of the International Court once more confirms the right of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to self-rule."

Regional Implications, Concern for Bosnia

There have been mixed opinions in recent weeks as to whether the ICJ opinion will have an impact on Bosnia, where officials of one the two entities that make up the state, Serb majority Republika Srpska, have indicated in the past that the entity might consider seceding from the country.

Politicians in Bosnia were quick to react to the court's decision on Thursday.

The Croat member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Zeljko Komsic, said that the ICJ’s ruling was “expected”.

“I hope that this ruling will help everyone in the region to understand that the time of conflicts is over and that we must move on. This was the final chapter of the breakup of (former) Yugoslavia,” Komsic said.

Komsic said that there will be some “political lunatics” who will try to draw parallels between the Republika Srpska and Kosovo, but that “political fanaticism and dangerous policies always end badly, as exemplified by how Hitler and Milosevic ended”.

He added that unlike Kosovo, the Republika Srpska was not a product of history or a long historical process. “It came into being as a result of war and it never enjoyed the status of a state, while Kosovo was an autonomous province of the former Yugoslavia and it had its government, parliament, judiciary and police as did all federal republics.”

Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, meanwhile, said that the ICJ’s opinion could serve as a “guideline for our struggle for (legal) status and the future” of Republika Srpska.

“For quite some time, we have not been happy to be a part of Bosnia-Herzegovina….we will not exclude the possibility of additional political struggle for status which, in line with this (ICJ) opinion, would not be in contradiction with international law.”

Dodik said that the ICJ opinion amounted to “ridiculing Serbia and Serbs, ridiculing history, violating international law and creating new international law”, and warned that it will have “far reaching consequences”.

He added that the ruling was “a new underestimation and humiliation of Serbia and a new message for the Serbs that only the politics of force and legal violence have a chance to succeed.”

The Serb president of the upper house of Bosnia’s central parliament, Dusanka Majkic, echoed Dodik's statement. She said that Republika Srpska “now has all it needs to follow the same road Kosovo took if it decides to do so”.

“As painful as this (ICJ) decision is, one way to interpret it is to say that if the RS decides to take the same road as Kosovo did, it too will be supported,” Majkic said.

Meanwhile, the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Haris Silajdzic, said that the ICJ ruling was “a result of wrong policies, particularly the policy of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime”.

“Bosnia-Herzegovina was not pursuing such a policy, we were the victims of such a policy, (also) including genocide,” Silajdzic said.

“The integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina are guaranteed and any attempt to undermine them will be prevented,” he added.

For more informationa, please see Balkan Insight's analysis: Kosovo, Serbia Prepare for Post-ICJ Battle, and From Racak to the ICJ Ruling: Kosovo Timeline Since 1999