The region of Kosovo has long been under dispute. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In The Hague, the United Nations International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s independence is legal. This ruling has been long-awaited by both sides of the debate. This ruling by the ICJ will have long-ranging effects for Kosovo, Serbia and many other countries seeking independence.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence

In February of 2008, Kosovo made a unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. Between 1998 and 1999, Serbian forces cracked down on Kosovo separatists. This crackdown left about 10,000 people dead. Retaliatory attacks killed several thousand more. Ethnically Albanian, the Kosovo region of Serbia has been governed since 1999 by a special administrative mission of the United Nations. Serbia claims that the region of Kosovo is integral to their national identity.

Recognizing Kosovo’s independence

Since the 2008 declaration, Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by 69 countries. One hundred nations must recognize a declaration of independence before the country is allowed to join the United Nations. Serbia asked the International Court of Justice to review Kosovo’s declaration, arguing that Kosovo had no standing to split from the country.

In a ruling made in late July of 2010, the ICJ agreed that Kosovo did have the right. Specifically, ICJ president Hisashi Owada said that international law “contains no prohibition on declarations of independence.” International precedent is thin on the issue, and the ICJ is said to have consulted situations such as the administrative breakup of the USSR to make the decision.

The effect of the ruling

The International Court of Justice ruling that Kosovo’s declaration of independence is within international law will most likely have wide-ranging effects. Separatist movements around the world are celebrating the ruling. Serbia, along with several other embattled countries, are vowing to still fight against these declarations. It is likely that the ICJ ruling will help Kosovo build the 100 supporting countries necessary for UN recognition, though the region will be in dispute long into the future.

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