Stark reactions to ambiguous World Court ruling on Kosova

In an equivocal ruling that sparked voluble reactions while resolving nothing, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague found by a 10-to-4 vote July 22 that Kosova’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia was legal—but carefully avoided calling the state of Kosova legal. ICJ president Hisashi Owada stated rather obviously that international law contains no “prohibition on declarations of independence” and that Kosova’s declaration therefore “did not violate international law.”

James Ker-Lindsay, a Balkan expert at the London School of Economics, told the New York Times that the ICJ “has essentially said that Kosovo’s legitimacy will be conferred by the countries that recognize it rather than by the court.” Of the 192 countries in the UN General Assembly, only 69 have thus far recognized Kosova, including the US and a majority of European Union members. Only when the number exceeds 100 will Kosova be eligible to apply for membership in the EU and NATO. For Kosova to obtain UN membership, it needs a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly, plus the approval of all five permanent members of the Security Council. It was the General Assembly that referred the Kosova case to the ICJ.

These realities had little impact on official reactions. Calling it “a great day” for his country, Kosova’s Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni added after the ruling that “my message to the government of Serbia is, ‘Come and talk to us.'” But Belgrade was predictably unyielding. “Serbia will never recognize the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo,” Serbian President Boris Tadic told reporters after the ruling. Belgrade’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic warned the ruling could make separatist movements elsewhere “tempted to write declarations of independence.”

The US State Department hailed the ruling as “a judgment we support,” adding: “Now it is time for Europe to unite behind a common future.” Russia said its position of not recognizing Kosova’s independence remains unchanged.

Five of the 27 EU member states have not recognized Kosova’s independence: Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain. Among these, reactions to the ruling were mixed. Spain (obviously concerned about its own Basque question) did issue a statement saying Madrid respects the ruling. But the Foreign Ministry statement was ambiguous on whether it would lead Madrid to reconsider its stance of non-recognition. Cyprus (long divided by a Turkish separatist movement) issued a statement reaffirming its support for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity “which includes the Kosovo and Metohija province.” (BBC News, AP, RIA-Novosti, DPA, July 23; NYT, July 22)

Corruption, ethnic division: no changes there, alas
There are still plenty of signs that Kosova may not be a sustainable state. The day after the ruling, Kosova police arrested central bank governor Hashim Rexhepi after raids on his office and home in a corruption investigation. Agents from the Anti-Corruption Taskforce of the Special Prosecutor’s Office searched the residences of four suspects, including Rexhepi, as well as the central bank offices and a private company in Pristina. The action was coordinated with the European Union Rule of Law Mission to Kosovo (EULEX). (Bloomberg, July 23)

EULEX is also investigating an attack on Kosovar Serb lawmaker Petar Miletic in the north of the country. Miletic was shot and wounded outside his house in Mitrovica on July 5. EULEX is additionally investigating an explosion that killed one man and injured 11 other people during a Serb protest in the divided city, just days prior the attack on Miletic.

EULEX chief Yves de Kermabon said last week that no deadline has been set for the return of Serb and Albanian judges and prosecutors to the Mitrovica District Court. The court closed more than two years ago, after Serbs clashed with international security forces and looted court files, following Kosovo’s February 2008 declaration of independence. (SETimes, July 14)

New charges for Ramush Haradinaj
Both Kosova and Serbia also reacted quickly to a July 21 decision by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to retry some of the counts against former Kosovar prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, due to apparent witness intimidation. Haradinaj was acquitted of all counts in 2008, prompting prosecutors to appeal the verdict. The ICTY has sent an arrest warrant to EULEX police, ordering the mission to ensure that Haradinaj appears in court.

Kosova’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said he is convinced Haradinaj, a former leader of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), will prove his innocence, just as he did in the original trial. Officials in Belgrade praised the tribunal’s decision, of course. Serbia’s President Tadic called the ruling “proof that the court is objective,” while Rasim Ljajic, head of Serbia’s council for co-operation with the tribunal, said it could have a positive impact on Belgrade’s future co-operation with the court. (SETimes, July 22)

See our last posts on Kosova and the ex-Yugoslavia.

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