Yesterday, the UN General Assembly by 77 votes in favor, 6 votes against and 74 Member States abstaining backed Serbia’s proposal to submit the question of the legality of Kosovo’s independence to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
According to the resolution the ICJ will thus have to give an opinion on whether “the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo [is] in accordance with international law?”.
After Kosovo’s February 17th declaration of independence Serbia proclaimed it will defend its territorial integrity by diplomatic means and in accordance with international law. According to Serbian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vuk Jeremić they beleived that sending the question to the ICJ would provide politically neutral and judicially authoritative guidance to many countries still deliberating how to approach such unilateral declarations of independence in line with international law.
In the debate several countries presented their statements, explaining the vote, many of them questioning the “use” of the advisory opinion since (UK) “Kosovo’s independence is, and will remain, a reality.” Several EU Member States also reminded Serbia of its European integration prospects. They however did not vote against the proposal but abstained, whereas the EU Member States that have not recognized Kosovo (so far) voted in favor of the request. The United States were the only member of the International Steering Group for Kosovo that voted against the resolution.
Kosovo is currently still administered according to Security Council Resolution 1244 which deployed international civil and security presences in Kosovo, under UN auspices. The Resolution was passed after the second Kosovo crisis in 1999 had led to NATO air-strikes which in turn led to the removal of Yugoslav forces from the region. The Resolution established civilian executive powers in the form of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and an international military presence, the Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led international force responsible for establishing and maintaining security in Kosovo. In spring this year the EU has started implementing its February 2008 Joint Actions, on the appointment of European Union Special Representative in Kosovo (EUSR) as the International Civilian Representative and the establishment of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX Kosovo). EULEX was foreseen to replace UNMIK, but due to lacking consent among the UN Security Council Members, especially Russia’s opposition, it now seems that UNMIK and EU mission will operate concurrently.
This is not the first time that ICJ has been requested by the General Assembly to give an opinion on also very sensitive political issue. In 2003 the “World Court” was requested to answer the question of the legal consequences arising from Israel’s wall built to separate part of the West Bank from Israel.