Kosovo verdict no secession precedent: analysts

23rd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Separatist groups, emboldened by the top UN court backing Kosovo's 2008 split from Serbia, will soon realise that the verdict paves no legal path which they can follow, analysts said Friday.

The International Court of Justice's non-binding opinion was deliberately limited to the specific facts of the Kosovo case, and conferred no right on minorities to declare their own independence, they said.

"For minority groups considering to secede, the opinion is something that seems useful at first sight. But legally speaking it does not help them at all," said Willem van Genugten, legal analyst at the Netherlands' University of Tilburg.

"The advisory opinion is restricted to Kosovo in more or less every paragraph, and the court avoids whatever implication for other minority groups."

On Thursday, ICJ judges decided by 10 votes to four that "the declaration of independence of Kosovo adopted on 17 February 2008 did not violate international law."

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said after the verdict: "From now on there are going to be people in the world tempted to write declarations of independence that are obviously, according to the court, in their narrow sense OK with international law".

But others disagree with that view.

While finding that international law did not prohibit declarations of independence, the court also did not say it was legal to do so.

"The court found an elegant way out by not creating a precedent," said Jean D'Aspremont, international law analyst at the University of Amsterdam.

"In a legal sense, the advisory opinion doesn't help minority groups because there is no entitlement to be found."

Marko Prelec, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the court's finding would create much political interest, "but legally, I don't think it changes very much."

"The legal analysis of the advisory opinion will be interesting for lawyers, not for liberation fighters -- what they will see at first glance will be the headline that says: 'Kosovo independence not illegal'.

"It will be up to the international community how it manages the expectations this will create."

Landlocked Kosovo with two million inhabitants -- 90 percent of them ethnic Albanians -- unilaterally declared independence from Serbia after UN-brokered negotiations to resolve its future status failed.

Kosovo had effectively been a UN protectorate since a 1998-99 war between separatist Kosovo Albanians and Serbian security forces ended with a NATO air campaign against late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

Sixty-nine countries have recognised Kosovo as independent, including the United States and all but five of the 27 EU member states. Serbia and its ally Russia do not.

The UN General Assembly asked the ICJ in October 2008 to render a legal opinion on the issue, at Serbia's request.

Of the dissenting judges, one found that his colleagues had erred and said in a separate judgment that Kosovo's declaration of independence was in fact "unlawful and invalid".

"You can be sure that some minorities, some indigenous groups worldwide, will see these (dissenting judgments) as a swallow in the spring ... something that is not yet law but a signal that something is changing."

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, said the Kosovo decision "has nothing to do with any other cases in the world."

"It is a unique decision, in a unique situation, with a unique historical background," he said on a visit to Cyprus where he met his Cypriot counterpart Markos Kyprianou in Nicosia Friday.

© 2010 AFP

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