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Top UN court says Kosovo's breakaway from Serbia was 'legal'

Text by Eric Olander

Latest update : 2010-07-23

The International Court of Justice in The Hague declared Thursday that Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia is legal. Outraged Serbia declared it will never recognise an independent Kosovo.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled Thursday that Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008 did not violate international law. 

Timeline of key events in Kosovo history

1389:  The battle of Kosovo that leads to 500-years of Turkish Ottoman rule.  This war prompted the mass exodus of Christian Serbs which was referenced by 20th Serbian leaders as the 1990s Yugoslav war began.

1912:  Serbia regains control of Kosovo from the Turks.

1946: Kosovo becomes is absorbed into the Yugoslav federation.

1974: Yogoslavia's constitution grants Kosovo de-facto autonomy

1989: Yugoslav President Slobodon Milosevic reverses autonomy approved in the 1974 constitution.

1992: War erupts in the Balkans.

1998: Serbia launches full assault on Kosovar rebels amid ultimatums from NATO to cease hostilities.

1999: Serbian forces withdraw from Kosovo after weeks of heavy air attack from NATO forces.

2008: Kosovo declares independence

The opinion from the United Nations’ highest court is non-binding and does not grant the breakaway region formal independence.

The court said there is nothing in international law that prohibits declarations of independence and, as such, Kosovo's separatist vote “did not violate general international law.''

Within hours of the ruling, Serbia denounced the court's opinion and said it would never deal with Kosovo as an independent state.  Prior to Thursday's ruling, Serbian Foreign Minister warned that if Kosovo's "secession" drive is successful then "no frontier in the world or in the region would be safe," according to the Tanjug news agency.

To achieve full statehood and independence, the Kosovo independence initiative will now move to the UN General Assembly where it must secure recognition from at least 100 countries before full statehood can be established. Currently, Kosovo's statehood is recognised by 69 countries.

That could prove to be a difficult challenge, as many of the UN’s largest countries are facing their own secession movements and are unlikely to favour the court’s opinion on Kosovo.
Russia, Spain, India and China are all confronting their own internal separatist movements and have publicly stated their opposition to Kosovo’s independence. 

Date created : 2010-07-22


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