February 18, 2008

Kosova’s Independence Sets Precedent

As the world’s nations contemplate whether to recognize Kosova’s newly declared independence, many speculate what it will mean for other similar regions, such as Abkhazia, Taiwan, and Northern Cyprus, for international law, and for the definition of self determination in general.

As the world’s nations contemplate whether to recognize Kosova’s newly declared independence, many wonder what it will mean for other similar regions, such as Abkhazia, Taiwan, and Northern Cyprus, for international law, and for the definition of self determination in general.

Below is an article published by UNPO:

Some say that Kosova’s declaration of independence on Sunday [17 February 2008] was a long time coming. Kosova has been a protectorate of the UN since 1999, but Serbia still asserts its claim on the region. Serbian officials declare that this is an unauthorized succession, unprecedented in international legal history, threatening the integrity of international law by redefining the concept of self determination. They also express worry over the ethnic Serbian population that represents 10% of Kosova’s population. In fact, that worry resonates in the reactions of states worldwide as they contemplate whether they will recognize the newest state. Kosova affirms, however, that it will protect its minorities, if only to save them from going through the same plight ethnic Albanians suffered under Serbian rule in the 1990s.

Declaration alone is not enough in international law to become a state. If it were, Taiwan would have equal access to the UN and other international organizations as mainland China. Also, Somaliland, Western Sahara, Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus, etc. would all be considered states if declaration statehood made. Instead, recognition is the key to statehood in the current system of international law, so Kosova must wait for the reactions of the EU and the US, and the windfall that will follow those. There are many obstacles in the way for Kosova, however, and the largest one is Russia. As a Security Council permanent member, Russia has an influential voice in the international arena. Currently, Russia is Serbia's strongest supporter and also rejects Kosova's independent status.

While refusing Kosova's independence, Russia made statements last week indicating that the possibility of Kosova’s independence will greatly affect relations with its neighbors, particularly Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Last week, Russian Foreign Minister stated “The declaration and recognition of Kosova should definitely be taken into consideration in respect of the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” hinting that Russian relations with the regions would change should Kosova be internationally recognized as an independent state. Speculation in Russian news hints that Russia will establish inter-state level diplomatic relations, without formally recognizing the regions as states.

In his annual Kremlin press conference on 14 February, Putin addressed the question of Kosova, relating it to other de facto states, such as Northern Cyprus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestria. He accused Europe of taking a double-standard approach towards resolving world conflicts, and not placing the same standards on similar situations, such as in the case of Kosova. Putin stated further, “We are always told that Kosova is a unique case. These are all lies. It is not a unique case and everybody knows that very well. Everything is similar: ethnic conflict, crimes committed by both sides, de facto full independence. We have to work out a common policy to settle these questions. We are not pushing the situation into deadlock. We are proposing that our partners elaborate common rules of conduct. Why do we have to incite separatism?”

Experts agree that the declaration of independence for Kosova will set a precedent and world leaders are equally aware of the precarious position they face when determining whether to recognize Kosova’s independence. For regions in similar conditions, Kosova’s independence represents new hope for the future of their own potential statehood. Later today, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are expected to give a joint press conference in Moscow concerning their own intentions to declare independence and solicitations of Russian support.

China is also concerned about the declaration of independence by Kosova, considering its own relations with de facto state Taiwan. Taiwan has shown support for the Balkan fledgling state, as the two share similar fates, and has official recognized Kosova’s declaration. In response, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao asserted in a press release on Monday that Taiwan had no right to make an official declaration, pre-empting any movements for recognized independence of Taiwan. He stated, "It is known to all that Taiwan, as a part of China, has no right and qualification at all to make the so-called recognition.” Not acknowledged by China, however, is how Kosova’s independence will affect Chinese ethnic states of Tibet, East Turkistan and Inner Mongolia.

The next days and weeks will be pivotal in the future statehood of Kosova, but will also resonate for peoples around the world. Recognition of Kosova will mean more than redrawing lines on Europe’s maps; it will redefine and clarify key concepts of international law.

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