Kosova’s Independence and International Law

Update: here you have an uptaded version of this post totally written in english.

Last month I published my first article as a researcher, in the Portuguese Journal Política Internacional, edited by IPRIS. In 22 pages, I tried to shed some light about the implications of the Independence of Kosova, by providing the reader with an overview of the historical evolution of the relationship that both serbs and albanians had with this territory from the Midlle Ages to the present, and with a brief analysis of what the Myth of Kosovo is about. I also analyze the process that lead to the Declaration of Independence in February 17th 2008 and its possible consequences.

The part that was most appreciated by those who already read it and gave me their opinion was the small section in which I give my perspective on whether International Law is violated by the fact that the Independence of Kosova was declared against the serbian government will and without the support of the United Nations Security Council, or if we are before legitimate and legal act. It is my opinion that Kosova’s Independence does not violate International Law. I base my position on the analysis of the Charter of the United Nations, the Helsinki Final Act, the Rambouillet Agreement and the Security Council resolution 1244

I am providing my online readers with the excerpt of my article where I tackle this issue. For now, it is available only in Portuguese, for which i apologize to my readers who still hadn’t the joy to learn this wonderful language.

Here it goes:

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No dia 17 de Fevereiro de 2008, perante o Parlamento do Kosovo, o Primeiro-Ministro Hashim Thaçi proclamou a Independência, ao que a Sérvia reagiu, como seria de esperar, declarando ilegal tal declaração.
A declaração de Independência estipula que o Kosovo será uma republica democrática, secular e multi-étnica baseada na igualdade e na não discriminação, e menciona expressamente a sua vinculação ao Plano Ahtisaari, incluindo nas questões referentes aos direitos das minorias, o que, a concretizar-se, fará do Kosovo um dos estados do Mundo que maior protecção e privilégios confere às minorias étnicas. A Declaração afirma também o desejo de que a NATO continue a exercer as funções para as quais foi mandatada pela Res.1244, e aceita o estabelecimento do Serviço Civil Internacional e da missão da UE tal como delineados pelo Plano Ahtisaari.
A transição para a independência foi preparada em coordenação estreita com os governos dos EUA, Reino Unido, Alemanha e França, bem como com o Alto-Representante da UE para a a PESC, Javier Solana e, em um mês, o Kosovo foi reconhecido como Estado Independente por mais de três dezenas de Estados, que, assim, assumem a sua quota-parte nos riscos que tal atitude necessariamente implica.
Esses riscos consistem, por um lado, no facto de uma solução não consensual ter necessariamente implicações negativas na estabilidade do território, e, por outro, no carácter contestável da sua legitimidade, uma vez que, em termos de Direito Internacionais, a legalidade desta opção fica dependente da interpretação a dar à Res. 1244.

A ambiguidade com que foi redigida permite duas leituras opostas, que, por sua vez, dependem da perspectiva adoptada por quem a interpreta. Se for privilegiada uma visão soberanista das Relações Internacionais, a referência à soberania sérvia e a ausência de uma nova resolução são fortes argumentos contra o reconhecimento da declaração de independência. Mas, se valorizarmos sobretudo o respeito pelos Direitos Humanos e o princípio da auto-determinação dos povos, a perspectiva será diferente.

A resolução não definiu em concreto o método de determinação do estatuto final do Kosovo, mas fez uma importante referência à necessidade de respeitar a Acta Final de Helsínquia. A perspectiva soberanista invoca apenas os artigos relativos à integridade territorial e ao princípio da não ingerência nos assuntos internos dos estados. Por esse prisma, seria ilegal não apenas a declaração de independência, mas todo o envolvimento internacional na questão do Kosovo desde 1998. Não cabe aqui discutir retrospectivamente a legalidade da guerra do Kosovo, uma vez que a Resolução 1244 a legitimou, ainda que a posteriori, ao invocar o Capítulo VII da Carta das Nações Unidas. Quanto à Acta Final de Helsínquia, a resolução não cita nenhum artigo em concreto, e este documento consagra também o princípio à auto-determinação, o respeito pelos Direitos Humanos e a protecção das minorias. Segundo esta perspectiva, o reconhecimento da Independência do Kosovo não viola a Resolução 1244, pelo que tal opção não se traduz numa violação do Direito Internacional, já que a ONU não tem competências para determinar a criação de novos estados. Sobre esta questão, a Sérvia, que considera o reconhecimento do Kosovo ilegal à luz do Direito Internacional anunciou a intenção de solicitar um parecer ao Tribunal Internacional de Justiça.
É inegável que a credibilidade da ONU não sai reforçada deste processo. No entanto, tal deve-se mais aos constrangimentos causados pelas relações de poder no seio do Conselho de Segurança, que não são de todo inéditos, do que à actuação das Nações Unidas no terreno.

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7 Comments

Filed under Kosovo, Serbia, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Kosova’s Independence and International Law

  1. sabine

    Congratulations!

  2. Parabéns🙂 que seja o primeiro de muitos!

  3. AM

    Ainda não tive ocasião de ler o texto com a atenção devida, mas não tenho quaisquer dúvidas da sua excelência.
    Junto os meus parabéns e os meus votos dos maiores sucessos pessoais e profissionais, pois são mais que bem merecidos.

    AM

  4. Sebaneau

    I have two questions relating to international law:

    -Resolution 1244 included a provisional recognition of the territorial integrity of the so-called “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”, and mentioned Serbia only once, in a context which clearly implied that it was a territory distinct from Kosovo.
    The so-called “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” disappeared in June 2006 as a result of Montenegro’s declaration of independence; yet this was not used as an occasion to declare Kosovo’s independence.
    To what extent does Resolution 1244 apply to Serbia, given that it never referred to “Serbia’s” territorial integrity and according to what principles?

    – The Preamble of the Yugoslav Federal Constitution of 1974, “peoples” has a “right to self-determination, including the right of secession”, and “peoples” and “nationalities” had “equal rights”. The Kosovars were a “nationality”, and therefore had the “right to self-determination, including the right of secession” too.
    Kosovo was a constituent unit of the Yugoslav Federation, directly and equally represented in the Federal institutions. Three Kosovars, Fadil Hoxha, Sinan Hasani and Riza Sapunxhiu were members of the Yugoslav presidency after Tito’s death, and Sinan Hasani was even its President from 15 May 1986 to 15 May 1987.
    The constituent units of a federation are only bound to the others by the Federal Constitution and are relieved of such links if said Federal Constitution is destroyed. The Constitution of 1974 was destroyed together with the Constitutional status of Kosovo in March 1989.
    Although intended as a forced annexation, Serbia’s unconstitutional act actually created the legal basis for the Kosovar Declaration of sovereignty of July 1990 and the referendum on independence of September 1991.
    Why did so-called “international law” not recognize that when it recognized the independence of Slovenia and Croatia in January 1992, ? And why are there so few references to the Kosovars’s and Kosovo’s constitutionally guaranteed rights of self-determination in the present discussions about Kosovo’s independence?
    The only reference I have found so far is President Stipe Mesić’s column in Večernji List of February 16, 2008 http://www.predsjednik.hr/default.asp?mode=1&gl=200802200000002&jezik=1&sid=

  5. sarahfranco

    about the first question, the agreement that created the Union of Serbia and Montenegro mentions that, in case one of the two republics uses the right to self-determination, Serbia will be sucessor state in what regards res. 1244.

    about the second question, you are questioning the issue of recognition, which is an act that those states that are alread independent have the power to recognize or not recognize.

    Kosova was ignored because nobody cared about them.

    that’s just it.

    my argument about the legality of kosova’s independence is related to the Helsinki Final Act and the fact that without independence the Kosovar’s Human rights would not be garanteed. They could not be free without becoming independent.

    International relations scholars and political advisers are mainly conservative, even those in the left. Most of them look at the concept of sovereignty as if it was sacred, but most have an hobbesian concept of sovereignty.

    as soon as I have time I will translate this text.

  6. Sebaneau

    Thank you for your answer, which in turn raises further questions:

    – It is quite understandable that Milo Đukanović, when blackmailed by Javier Solana into staying within a loose union with Serbia, chose to leave the thorny Kosovo issue to the Serbian government, but the question in international law is what principles would make that decision binding on foreign governments?

    – Logically, the territorial integrity of the so-called “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” cannot be the same thing as that of the Republic of Serbia.
    Was there a principle of international law according to which the recognition of the former automatically implied the recognition of the latter in 2006 or was the recognition of Serbia an arbitrary decision on the part of foreign governments?
    (In other words, did international law prior to February 2008 recognize the “territorial integrity of Serbia” because of the recognition by most governments in 2006 or because of Resolution 1244, as all people seem to say now?)

    – When Milošević started the war in Kosovo in February 1998, at least two experts argued that Serbia had lost every legal claim on that territory.

    http://pasta.cantbedone.org/pages/OqntBv.htm
    http://pasta.cantbedone.org/pages/ujCIt4.htm

    I am somewhat surprised that no one but Stipe Mesić mentions such Constitutional arguments now, which allows the ignorant to say that Kosovo was a “Serbian province” and is a “pseudo-state”, like they claim that its Declaration of independence was “unilateral”.
    The recognition of Slovenia and Croatia in 1992 was based on their Constitutional status under the 1974 Constitution. How come “International Law” cannot invoke the same Constitutional references now as regards the issue of Kosovo?

    In order to compensate for you trouble, I have made a first attempt at translating your text above. I know it is easier to correct a translation, however inaccurate, than perform it wholesale.

    The process of Kosovo independence
    Sarah Franco, Politica Internacional, April 2008

    … On February 17, 2008, before the Parliament of Kosovo, Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi proclaimed independence, to which Serbia reacted, as would be expected, by proclaiming such a declaration illegal.

    The Declaration of Independence stipulates that Kosovo will be a democratic, secular and multi-ethnic Republic, based on equality and non-discrimination, and explicitely mentions its connection with the Ahtisaari Plan, notably regarding the rights of minorities. If implemented, this would make Kosovo one of states in the world which gives the most protections and privileges to ethnic minorities. The Declaration also formulates the wish that NATO continue to exercise the functions it had under the mandate of Resolution 1244, and accepts the establishment of the International Civil Service an the UE mission as delineated by the Ahtisaari Plan.

    The transition towards independence was prepared in tight co-ordination with the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, as well as the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, Javier Solana; and Kosovo was recognized as an independent state within a month by more than three dozen countries which thus took their part of the risks implied by such an attitude.

    Such risks lie, on the one hand, in the fact that a non-consensual solution necessarily bears negative implications for the stability of the territory, and on the other, in the questionable character of its legitimacy since, according to International law the legality of that option rests on the way one interprets Resolution 1244.

    The ambiguous way in which the latter was written allows for two opposite ways of reading it, which in their turn depend on the perspective chosen to interpret it.
    If a sovereignist way of international relations is privileged, the reference to Serbian sovereignty and the absence of a new UNSC Resolution are strong arguments against recognition. Yet, if we give prominence to the respect for human rights and the principle of auto-determination of peoples, the perspective will be different.

    The Resolution did not define concretely the method for determining the final status of Kosovo, but makes an important reference to the need to respect the Final Act of Helsinki [1975]. The sovereignist perspective only invokes the articles relative to territorial integrity and the principle of non-interference with the internal affairs of the states. Through that prism, not only the Declaration of independence, but the whole international involvement with the Kosovo issue since 1998 would be illegal.
    This is no place retrospectively to discuss the legality of the Kosovo intervention, since Resolution 1244 has legitimized it, admittedly after the fact, if one invokes Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

    As regards the Final Act of Helsinki, the Resolution does not quote any article in particular, and that document also enshrines the priniciple of self-determination, respect for human rights and the protection of minorities. According to that perspective, the recognition of Kosovo independence does not violate Resolution 1244, and thus such an option does not result in any violation of International Law, since the creation of new states does not fall within the competences of the UN.

    On that issue Serbia, which considers the recognition of Kosovo illegal in view of International Law has announced its intention to ask for an advice from the International Court of Justice.

    To be sure, the credibility of the UN hasn’t been enhanced by this whole process. However, this is more due to the well-known constaints upon the Security Council as result from the power relationships in its midst, and to the actual behavior of the United Nations on the ground.

  7. Pingback: Kosova’s Independence and International Law: updated post. « CAFÉ TURCO