Wednesday, August 24, 2016


The Kosovo Precedent

With its ruling on Kosovo, has the International Court of Justice opened Pandora's box?
With its ruling on Kosovo, has the International Court of Justice opened Pandora's box?
By Ahto Lobjakas
The British science fiction writer Douglas Adams tells the story of a supercomputer called Deep Thought. Asked what is the meaning of "life, the universe, and everything," Deep Thought cogitated for 7.5 million years before pronouncing, "with infinite calm and majesty," its response: "42."

Something reminiscent of Adams' story took place on July 22 in The Hague when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced after months of deliberation that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008 had not violated international law -- because no applicable international law exists.

Unlike Deep Thought, the ICJ refrained from prefacing its verdict with the obvious, "You aren't going to like it." Strictly speaking, the ruling did please Kosovo's government, but even Pristina must have expected vindication rather than evasion from the court.

What the rest of the world most certainly expected was something which could at least begin to address the question, "What now?" In this, it was disappointed.

'Who's Next?'

In a very narrow sense, the ICJ ruling may be interpreted as buttressing the status quo in the western Balkans. The French daily "Le Figaro" observed in an editorial on July 23 that the ruling provides "the best among bad solutions" to the Balkan wars.

But that is hardly saying anything new. Kosovo has been an international protectorate for the past 10 years, secured by NATO and already recognized by the United States and most of the European Union: No conceivable force is going to take it back into Serbia against the will of the majority of its people.

The real issue, which the French editorialist wittingly or unwittingly sidestepped, has to do with the precedent it may now set. Kosovo, as observers were unanimous to observe in the wake of the ICJ pronouncement, forms the tip of the iceberg of global separatism, and the ruling may well have opened Pandora's box.

Most immediate European reactions focused on the question, "Who is next?"

"Die Welt" accompanied its story on July 23 with little blow-up maps of Northern Cyprus, Transdniester, Somaliland, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. "Financial Times Deutschland," on the same day, gave its imagination far freer rein, putting Flanders, Greenland, and Catalonia at the top of its secessionist rankings, with Chechnya and Tibet getting honorable mentions.

In other words, these are no marginal daydreams. A number of EU member states have stakes in the precedent game, not to mention two permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The Blair Doctrine

The ICJ, in its ruling, effectively abdicated all responsibility for international law as it may (or may not) relate to the emergence of a new state from the carcass of an unwilling former sovereign. Where the law is silent, everything can be said. Those pondering the precedent set by Kosovo must look elsewhere.

It seems likely that they will, first and foremost, look to the motivation of Kosovo's supporters and the argumentation used by them for analogies.

Kosovo's story has its roots in what has become known as the "Blair Doctrine," after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (although equally significant contributions were made to the doctrine by U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush). Elaborated in the late 1990s, the Blair Doctrine holds that the international community is justified to intervene militarily in the affairs of sovereign governments whose populations are suffering serious harm through government action or inaction.

In practice, this "responsibility to protect" has been applied highly selectively and carried out, as a rule, by coalitions of the willing. In Kosovo, NATO intervened in 1999 without UN Security Council backing after Serbian forces had killed thousands of Albanians.

NATO's case was based on the perception that Belgrade had lost the moral right to claim Kosovo. That case was accepted by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1244 of June 10, 1999, reaffirming Yugoslavia's territorial integrity, but also deploying "international civil and security presences."

The stripping of sovereignty from Belgrade by the United Nations, however temporarily intended, was in retrospect the thin edge of the wedge. Apart from seeking open conflict with existing authorities, securing an international (preferably UN) presence will from now on be a must in every separatist handbook. The undermining of a sovereign's moral right to a territory will eventually, by means of a sustained international presence, undermine its perceived legal rights. That is what will remain when the dust around Kosovo settles. Everything else -- size, population, previous status, sustainability, etc. -- is secondary.

On this view, Kosovo's status has nothing to do with the juxtaposition of the abstract principles of self-determination and territorial integrity. This confrontation will remain abstract and sterile without the outside support of a coalition of the willing laying claim to a global consensus and mandate.

Political Solutions

The greatest weakness of the ICJ ruling is that it allows treating Kosovo as a precedent set by a coalition of the willing. The particular coalition of the willing behind Kosovo may have right and morality on its side, but it's in the nature of all balances of power to be mutable, transitory.

There can be no better example of the dangerous inadequacy of the ICJ verdict than the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia (and South Ossetia, although in this case less so). Quite independently of the merits of its case for independence, the ruling does nothing to permit an authoritative and objective evaluation of the Abkhazia case in the light of the precedent of Kosovo. The argument that Kosovo is sui generis is not a legal argument, but a political one. Like Kosovo's, Abkhazia's independence remains a function of outside backing -- though unlike Kosovo, Abkhazia could be said to have the "wrong" friends.

What does set Kosovo apart from most other secessionist hopefuls is its eventual guaranteed absorption into the EU. Although the EU itself is neutral on the status of Kosovo, with Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Slovakia refusing to recognize it, the bloc has committed itself to absorbing the entire western Balkan region.

Assuming this will happen, there are grounds for hope that given enough time, the differences between Belgrade and Pristina can eventually be moderated and, perhaps, disappear altogether.

But it is equally possible that the EU's political process could see its progress checked or reversed, for whatever reason. Then, any Brussels-inspired rapprochement that does not build on a genuinely local give-and-take could have disastrous consequences once it collapses, leaving the two sides with little or no experience of compromise and a lot of fire under the embers.

Ahto Lobjakas is RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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Comment Sorting
by: Alban Bytyqi from: London
August 01, 2010 13:25
I agree the ICJ verdict on Kosovo is a precedent. Indeed it is a very positive precedent.
A simple interpretation of this precedent would be that: If you commit ethnic cleansing and genocide against a group of people because they are different from you, you will no longer be able to govern those people or the areas they live in; well only if you happen to convince those that matter.
With this decision, the ICJ sent a very strong message to the oppressing regimes around the world, including Serbia, a country that has been involved in ethnic/religious wars against Slovenians, Croatians, Bosnians, and Kosovars, that committing genocide against a people removes your right to govern them any further.
If people in other locations of the world are brutally dealt with, as in the case of Kosovo, then they should all strive to become independent at any cost. Had Kosovars not done so, they would be living in the same conditions as the Palestinian people.
In Response

by: jonh hunt from: perth
August 01, 2010 15:06
The ICJ has deemed that unilateral declarations do not violate international law.THis does not justify Kosovar albanians declaration of independence. The assertion of genocide committed by Serbia against Kosovars is an outrageous conclusion of historical fact.The Kosovar independence movement had its genesis amongst the terrorist group that was the KLA, senior members of which now form the heiracrchy of the Kosovar goernment. How quickly thoise who recgnise Kosovo and the Kosovar version of history forget. THe KLA exerted its own so called version of genocide agasint serbs living in their rightful homeland of Kosovo and continue to perfom ethnic cleansing today under the watchful eye of EULEX. THE ICJ decision caught all by surprise...not one of the so called legal experts stated that there is no law regarding indpendence movements of this type. So much for international law and the experts who interpret it. THe unilateral declaration is a violation of the UN resolution. At the time of allied 'occupation' of kosovo serbia was assured that it would not lose its territorial integrtiy. THis has been conveniently forgotten in time. Kosovo is now a part of greater Albania, a failed state which is the sore of europe and continues to spread its wings through acts of terrorism and antagonism to tits neighbours. US support for Kosovo has delivered Camp Bondsteel, right in the strategic heart of europe, for the US military a co incidental reward for supporting the KLA, an organisation aided by the likes of bin Laden and the extremist elements of the same ilk as the taliban and al queda. Kosovar independence is a tragedy that will haunt the world for a long time to come.
In Response

by: Stephen from: Paris
August 01, 2010 16:13
But Sir,

What about Serbs who lives in Northern part of Kosovo, they also don't wanna to live in independent Kosovo. What about them? In International Public Law if you asking for self-determination then you need to give the same right to all people. I just think that EU and USA mean that this solution (Kosovo independence) is something what will bring peace and stability in the Balkans, but you will not have peace and stability because you will have Serbs who live in Republika Srpska, you will have Serbs in North Kosovo, more then 35% of Serbs who lives in Montenegro etc. One day you will have again to solve that problem.

by: Valon from: NYC
August 01, 2010 14:17
By allowing Serbia to get Kosovo back would also set a precedent to countries who brutally oppress their people that the will of those people does not matter even if they fight back and win the war against a brutal government, it would all be in vane because the will of the people does not matter.
The positive ICJ ruling sends a clear message to those countries who oppress a civilian group of people, it will not be tolerated. It is of no surprise that those countries who are accused of brutal governance, have not recognized Kosovo.
In Response

by: Marco Borg from: London
August 09, 2010 14:20
"It is of no surprise that those countries who are accused of brutal governance, have not recognized Kosovo."

You mean Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece, Romania not to mention the majority of nations in the UN ?

by: Mark from: Canada
August 01, 2010 15:08
I agree with Mr. Bytyqi. If a population is oppressed, then they should have a right to secede and run their own affairs. However, in Kosovo, it should be noted that oppression has occurred in both directions between the Kosovar Albanians and the Kosovar Serbs for centuries and is not the simple black and white picture that is reported by the media. Thus, if ethnic reconciliation is not possible (e.g.., granting increased protections and autonomy to the Kosovo province within democratic Serbia), then both parties should have an equal right at self-determination, which would mean that the Serbian communities in northern Kosovo and elsewhere should be allowed to declare their independence from the pseudo state. This way, the Kosovar Albanians will finally have an opportunity to start building their young nation into an internationally recognized entity without the intransigent Serbian communities and their benefactors in Belgrade blocking their progress. And on the other hand, Kosovar Serbs will be allowed to decide their fates and not be relegated as "European Palestinians" in this frozen conflict because of Pristina's hypocritical usurping of Belgrade's arguments on territorial integrity (frankly, it's amazing how similar their arguments are, one in favor of the territorial integrity of Serbia, the other for Kosovo!?!).
In Response

by: dave from: UK
August 01, 2010 21:41
Firstly the ruling simply stated that Kosovo independence was not illegal under international law this is because there are no laws in place to deal with this situation, the ruling did not say Kosovo was a special case or because of oppression.

This ruling can be applied anywhere in the world because its not illegal under international law.

Its the US/UK who say Kosovo is a special case not international law.

Mark from Canada under the ruling the French speaking part of Canada could in theory claim independence.

You will find that moves by the west will be made to plug this hole in international law.

Kosovo Albanians need to ask themselves why the USA backs them so much when Gaza is being murdered by the Zionists? What's in it for the USA? Also what happens when the USA has had enough, they once backed Saddam.

Under the ruling Bosnia could be divided if RS tore up the Dayton Peace Accord. Also the K-Serbs could push for there independence.

Personally the ICJ got it wrong Kosovo is part of Serbia. To all the Americans who support UDI didn't you fight a civil war to stop the CSA from getting there independence.
In Response

by: Dardan from: USA
August 02, 2010 05:55
Comparing Serbian state sponsored terror with a random spontaneous revenge attack against Serbs is laughable.
It looks like all of a sudden, all the people in Serbia, got amnesia and forgot the atrocities that were committed against the Kosovars since 1912. They either brainwashed beyond recovery by the media in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, or ignore what has happened in Kosovo.
These atrocities, started with Serbia’s King Petar declaration “To the Serbian People” on 18 October 1912 (when the occupation of Kosova began.King Petar actually claimed:
“In Old Serbia (referring to Kosovo), my army will meet not only upon Christian Serbs, but also upon Moslem Serbs, who are equally dear to us, and in addition to them, upon Christian and Moslem Albanians with whom our people have shared joy and sorrow for thirteen centuries now. To all of them we bring freedom, brotherhood and equality."
You can read more about the atrocities that followed this “conciliatory” declaration at This is how in the 1913 report by Leo Feundlich (1875 - 1954) describes what followed:
“How have the Serbs understood the declaration of their monarch, which is not even half a year old?
The thousand and thousands of men, women, children and old people who have been slain or tortured to death, the villages marauded and burnt to the ground, the women and young girls who have been raped, and the countryside plundered, ravaged and swimming in blood can give no answer to this question.
The Serbs came to Albania not as liberators but as exterminators of the Albanian people. The Ambassadors' Conference in London proposed drawing the borders of Albania according to ethnic and religious statistics to be gathered on site by a commission. The Serbs have hastened to prepare the statistics for them with machine guns, rifles and bayonets. They have committed unspeakable atrocities. The shock and outrage produced by these crimes are outdone only by the sense of sorrow that such vile deeds could be committed in Europe, not far from the great centres of western culture, in this twentieth century. Our sorrow is made all the heavier by the fact that, despite the reports which have been cabled home for months now by the journalists of many nations, and despite the impassioned indictment launched to the world by Pierre Loti, nothing has been done to put an end to the killings.
A courageous people full of character is being crucified before the eyes of the world and Europe, civilized Christian Europe, remains silent!
Tens of thousands of defenceless people are being massacred, women are being raped, old people and children strangled, hundreds of villages burnt to the ground, priests slaughtered.
And Europe remains silent!”
In Response

by: Dardan from: USA
August 02, 2010 05:56
Hundreds of thousands of Kosovars were killed.
In September 1920, a “decree on the colonization of the new southern lands” facilitated the takeover by Serb colonists of large former Ottoman estates and of land seized from Kosovars. By 1925, the Serbian government colonization programme, which had brought some 70,000 Slav colonists to Kosova, equivalent to about 10 percent of the total population, had raised the proportion of Serbs there from 24 percent in 1919 to 38 percent.
In June 1931, a new Yugoslav law “on the colonization of the southern regions” entered into force and, in 1933, the Yugoslav government began negotiations with the Turkish government for the deportation of the Muslim population to Turkey. By 1935, an orchestrated wave of confiscation of land from Albanians was well underway.
On 11 July 1938, expulsions to Turkey were formalized in the following Convention, in which the Government of Turkey agreed to take 40,000 families, receiving as compensation from Yugoslavia 500 Turkish pounds per family. Although there do not seem to be any accurate statistics of this emigration, estimates of the number of Albanians from Kosova to Turkey between 1918 and 1941 range from 77,000 to 240,000. Then the atrocities in the name of communism followed when Serb communists executed over 6000 Kosovo partisan fighters in Tivar, Montenegro.
The stream of expulsions to Turkey continued continued indeed up until the 1960s, with the help of Aleksandar Rankovic’s police.
Then, we also remember 1999...
The Serb government has once more simply put on a new mask and somehow hopes to convince the “sheep to go live in with the wolves”. Ironically, an old Serbian saying goes “Vuk dlaku menja, ali ćud nikako” – meaning “Wolf changes its hair, but not its mood”. Kosovars have been betrayed by Serbia in 1912, 1945, 1974, and 1999. They will not allow that to happen again.

P.S. Alban Bytyqi - please quote your sources in the future. The text posted by you looks way to familiar.
In Response

by: Mark from: Canada
August 04, 2010 15:49
I have come across this text before, almost verbatim. Did you simply cut and paste your response from another source, Dardan? I am familiar with this historical narrative, although the way you (or your source) describe the events appears to this reader to be hyperbole (e.g., "A courageous people full of character is being crucified before the eyes of the world and Europe, civilized Christian Europe, remains silent!" ) and, hence, of a nationalistic bent for propaganda purposes. That aside, I disagree with your contention that the historical oppression committed by Kosovar Albanians against the Serbs is not comparable to that perpetrated by the Serbian state. The most obvious rejoinder are the atrocities committed during the long rule of the Ottoman Turks in this region. After the defeat of the Serbs and their Christian allies (which included Albanians) in Kosovo to the Turkish armies, the Kosovar Albanians converted en masse to Islam and became collaborators to Ottoman rule instead of joining the Serbian resistance movement. In this role, Kosovar Albanians were responsible carrying out terrible reprisals against the Serbian population, including mass executions, ethnic cleansing and slaving forays. This occurred for centuries. Other examples of Kosovar Albanian terror directed against the Serbs include atrocities committed by sympathizers of the League of Prizren during the 19th century and, more recently, the KLA.

But the point of my earlier comment was not a tit-for-tat tally of the historical grievances that Kosovar Albanians and Serbs have (the list is long and is NOT "unique", just ask the Palestinians-Jews, Armenians-Azerbaijani, French-Germans, Kurds-Turks, etc etc etc), but rather question whether or not the Kosovar Albanians and Serbs BOTH have a right to self-determination? My argument is yes, they both do. The realist in me says that if a fair compromise is not reached, this disagreement will remain a frozen conflict for decades to come, hurting only those directly involved, the Kosovar Albanians and Serbs. Morally, I think both sides have a claim to the province; geopolitically, the world is divided. And legally, which I think is the most important consideration, the UN charter, Helsinki Accords and UN Resolution 1244 are all against Kosovar secession. I feel international law should be adapted to allow for peaceful, negotiated secession, of all parties involved. There is no way that Kosovar Albanians would ever accept being a part of Serbia again, as there is no way Kosovar Serbs would accept being apart of this new state. Let's reach a compromise and move on. There is nothing special about Kosovo, a small, landlocked piece of land only noteworthy for its Serbian Orthodox Christian churches. It should not be a source of potential future bloodshed in the Balkans, a region that has seen way too much of that in history.

by: i love USA from: canada
August 01, 2010 19:12
first lett me cangratulate all the Kosova people on there independence,and also from the bottom of my heart thank you to the all democratic countres that recognise the Republic of Kosovo, thank you USA god bless.

by: Meister from: Melbourne
August 02, 2010 10:10
ICJ ruling is not a precedent in as much it will not help all secessionist movements. Since the position of the those outside powers, that decided it was too difficult to accommodate wishes of the Serbian nation not to be scattered within three different states, has constantly been that Kosovo is special case, they are hardly to grant recognition to anybody else that they don't consider to be a special case.

Moral posturing aside, national interests come before all. To be able to exercise them with impunity, one has to be powerful or have powerful friends. At this point in time Serbia falls short on both.

by: I love Serbia from: Serbia
August 02, 2010 15:52
There will be no recognition of illegal albanian state of Kosovo, neither Kosovo Serbs will ever accept this travesty of international law, orchestrated by USA. If Albanians have the right to form 2 states next to each other which will merge into "greater albania" then by the same exact principle nothing, repeat nothing but the brutal American force can stop forming of 2 Serb states next to each other, and also having Kosovo Serbs declare the north as part of Serbia. The borders of "illegal Kosovo" are not more important then real, internationally recognized borders of Serbia. Just try to break this rule and we'll be in this fight for decades to come.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
August 03, 2010 05:04
It simce that Albanians have right blaim Serbians for last Century,
Considering also that during the expansions of Ottoman Empire
Serbians were receiving victims of Turks and Austro-Germany
And Muslim dress versus military one don't excuse deadly fire
And inherrited by Serbians artillery no killier than cutof throats.

Second, Serbians were told by conspiracy of Russia, Britains
Germany and Austria to train with them by cutoff heads mode,
Devide Europe and clear German nazis by blaiming Serbians
That at least in part explains their alleged above bloody deads.

Another thing is to missnumber by "Little Mukies" propaganda
That count expulsion once of Ottoman and Mugehedin armies.
Many of those were intermarried with locals who also suffered,
But expelled of Balkans and Caucasus meant to be insurgents.

Otherwise Turks wouldn't accept such deal, they were no fools.
If Russians and Germans-Austrians deviding Eastern Europe,
What good is for Serbians and their neighbors be the very tool?
Periodicly and rightfully, with missnumbering, blaim like dupes
Each other, while crolling under Empires, instead of real Truth?


by: Marco Borg from: London, United Kingdom
August 09, 2010 14:30
Well in many ways it is a good precedent. Now the Serbs in Northern Kosovo and in Bosnia should have their own states. So should Catalonia in Spain, Flanders in Belgium, the Dniestr Republic, not to mention the 40 million Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, Eastern Bolivia, in fact quite a few dozen areas. I suppose the US got Bondsteel but really to declare a totally criminal state from top to bottom which would collapse without aid from the hard=pressed European tax-payer is poor exchange.