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Kosovan independence was legal, says Hague court

Joe Biden throws US support behind the fledgling nation as International Court of Justice sanctions

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has today ruled that Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008 did not violate international law or the 1999 United Nations resolution that placed Kosovo under interim UN administration.

Although Serbia has pledged to continue the fight to reabsorb the territory, the ruling is a landmark decision for potentially separatist regions around the world.

Currently, 69 countries recognise Kosovo as a nation, including the US, the UK and much of the rest of the EU, though hardly any countries in the Middle or Far East have followed suit.

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, who met the Kosovar prime minister in Washington yesterday, even went as far as to affirm that even if the UN were to rule Kosovan independence unlawful, the US would continue to recognise it has a nation. However, to qualify for membership of the United Nations, Kosovo will need at least 100 countries to endorse it -- something it looks more likely to achieve following today's ruling.

Serbia argues that the Kosovo region is the birthplace of its national identity. Indeed, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić told the New York Times in January that he realises how Serbian fervour for the place looks to the rest of the world, but argued:

This place, Kosovo, is our Jerusalem; you just can't treat it any other way than our Jerusalem.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has historic roots in the Kosovo region, and the Serbs suffered a historic defeat to the Turks in Kosovo in 1389. This feeds into the Serbian mythology surrounding the area as the birthplace of the Serbian state.

Although today's ruling is a landmark for Kosovo and for other separatist groups in the region (Ossetia and Chechnya in particular), Serbia has no intention of conceding. Following the ICJ's announcment in The Hague, Jeremić restated his country's intention to keep fighting. He said:

Serbia will not change its position regarding Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence and necessity of a compromise. Our fight for such a solution will probably be long and difficult, but we will not give up.

Looking back

You might like to read Kim Bytyci's take on the 2008 Serbian elections from the New Statesman's archive.

Syed Hamad Ali wrote for the NS in July 2008 of the countries that had recognised Kosovo -- also well worth a read.

And, in August 2008, Elena Jurado of the international think tank Policy Network offered her thoughts in the NS on the role of Russia in the region as more states attempt to separate from the former USSR.