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Publication of the "Leiden Journal of International Law" (March 2011) about the ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Kosovo

Publication ouvrage / International

Le 11 avril 2011

We are delighted to inform you about the publication of the "Leiden Journal of International Law" which focuses on the ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Kosovo. It follows the symposium organized by the Interest Group on Peace and Security (IGPS) in collaboration with the Centre for International Security and European Studies (CESICE) (University of Grenoble), and the International Law Centre (Université Libre de Bruxelles), and which was held at Cambrigde on 2 Sept. 2010
The contributors to this symposium are all academics, well known for their works in the fields of self-determination, secession, ethno-political conflicts, and international administration of territories.

Présentation des articles (cliquez sur l'article pour accéder au texte):

"Symposium: The ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Kosovo, Editor's Introduction", par Théodore CHRISTAKIS et Olivier CORTEN

"The ICJ Advisory Opinion on Kosovo: Has International Law something to Say about Secession?", par Théodore CHRISTAKIS.

The objective of this paper is to examine how the Court has dealt with existing general international law governing secession and to evaluate the effects that this opinion could have on future developments in this field. The narrow interpretation of the question submitted by the UN General Assembly permitted the Court to avoid many important questions. The Court made no statements concerning Kosovo's statehood and recognition by third states and made no mention of statehood requirements or the principle of effectiveness'. The Court also refused to examine whether Kosovo (or any other entity outside the colonial context) had a right' to secession, but gave no endorsement to attempts to apply external self-determination outside the colonial context or to the theory of remedial secession'. This paper explains why the Court did not apply the Lotus' freedom principle in the Kosovo case. It welcomes the indirect, but clear, position of the Court that a declaration of independence can, in some situations (and especially in the case of external aggression), be illegal - a position that contradicts the old theory, stemming from Jellinek, that the creation of a state is nothing but a simple fact'. While the Court correctly found that outside these exceptional circumstances, no general prohibition against unilateral declarations of independence exists in international law, it should have added that international law is not neutral' in this field, that it disfavors secession, and that it creates a presumption against the effectiveness of secession. The legal-neutrality' stance adopted by the Court is not without risks. Indeed, the Court should have been more cautious in its assertion that the scope of the principle of territorial integrity is confined to the sphere of relations between states', not only because recent practice clearly indicates the contrary, but also because its position could have an unwelcome effect in resolving future separatist conflicts by rendering countries extremely sceptical of solutions of autonomy or international administration.

"Territorial Integrity Narrowly Interpreted: Reasserting the Classical Inter-State Paradigm of International Law", par Olivier CORTEN.

Paragraph 80 of the Kosovo AO reflects a very traditional conception of international law. By insisting on the inter-state character of the principle of territorial integrity, the Court refused to challenge the classical argument of the neutrality' of international law in regard to secession. The Court also refused any reinterpretation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. As already stated in the Wall Advisory Opinion, the prohibition of the use of force is only applicable between states. It does not apply between states and non-state actors, whether secessionist or not. Similarly, the Court refused the argument of remedial secession', at least as far as it would imply a right to violate the principle of territorial integrity of a state by a secessionist group. Indeed, if the latter principle is not applicable in such situations, it logically cannot be violated and there is therefore no right to infringe it. Finally, the Court refused to consider Kosovo as a special case' or a sui generis situation. According to the Court, this situation must be governed by the traditional rules of general international law. This implies that Kosovo did not violate international law by proclaiming independence. But this also implies that a declaration of independence by a secessionist group inside Kosovo would not be contrary to international law. Moreover, it can be pointed out that if Kosovo is not a state (a hypothesis perfectly compatible with the advisory opinion), then general international law would not preclude Serbia from invoking the argument of legal neutrality' to support such a secessionist group.

"Does Kosovo Lie in the Lotus-Land of Freedom?", par Anne PETERS.

This paper finds that the ICJ's Kosovo Advisory Opinion reached the right result, but in a methodologically not fully satisfactory way. It examines five aspects that underpin the opinion: the temporal (purely ex post) perspective; the Court's equation of legal conformity and non-prohibition and the idea of a deliberate silence of international law; the applicability of the Lotus principle that was evoked by numerous states in the proceedings; the structural analogies between international law and private, criminal, or public law; and the oscillation between legal positivist and jusnaturalist paradigms. Finally, the paper argues in favour of procedural requirements for the international lawfulness of secession, and claims that this approach is compatible with the findings of the Advisory Opinion.

"The Kosovo Advisory Opinion and UNSCR 1244 (1999): A Declaration of 'Independence from International Law'"?, par Marcelo G. KOHEN et Katherine DEL MAR.

This article focuses on the reasoning employed by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion rendered on 22 July 2010 with respect to the most formidable legal impasse of the accordance with international law of the unilateral declaration of independence: the lex specialis that applied at the critical date, and which the Court affirmed continues to apply to Kosovo, as established by the United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 1244 (1999). The Court's analysis of the applicable lex specialis is questionable. Its analysis was coloured by the narrow approach it took to answering the question it was asked to address. It queried an unambiguous factual qualification made by the General Assembly, and it disregarded factual qualifications made by the Secretary-General, his Special Representative, and indeed all relevant actors. It failed to uphold the legally binding provisions of Security Council Resolution 1244, and it did not qualify as unlawful or invalid an act of a subsidiary body of the Security Council that was undertaken in excess of authority and contrary to the fundamental provisions of that Resolution. The resolute conclusion of the majority of the Court that the unilateral declaration of independence did not violate international law seems to read as a declaration of independence from international law'.

"Modesty Can Be a Virtue: Judicial Economy in the ICJ Kosovo Opinion?", par Marc WELLER.

The Kosovo Advisory Opinion reaches its conclusions in what is admittedly a very condensed and swift way of reasoning. The Court did not expand upon the question that was put to it. However, it is unfair to criticize the Court for failing to address the very issues the drafters of the question carefully and deliberately did not ask. Moreover, the Court did in fact clarify a number of important points that go beyond the narrow question of the lawfulness of Kosovo's declaration of independence. In particular, the Court confirmed that a state is a matter of fact in the first instance. It can come into being in consequence of unilateral secession when attempts to negotiate a separation have been frustrated by the central government. The doctrine of territorial integrity operates among states and furnishes no legal bar in such instances that applies to the seceding entity. Moreover, a decision on independence by such an entity cannot be evaluated according to the domestic legal order of the state from which it secedes. In this instance, Kosovo's secession was in any event not quite as unilateral as it may have seemed. Its declaration of independence and new constitution fully incorporate the entire package of measures proposed by the UN mediators in the final status talks. Hence, Kosovo has implemented what was in fact developed and proposed under the UN mandate for final status talks contained in Resolution 1244. Rather than overturning that resolution, it has acted in accordance with its terms.

"Self-Determination, Secession, and Dispute Settlement after the Kosovo Advisory Opinion", par Ralph WILDE.

This piece provides critical analysis of some of the broader consequences of what is potentially suggested by certain findings in the 2010 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Respect of Kosovo'. The focus is on consequences for disputes generally, and disputes relating to self-determination and secession in particular, in either case including disputes that have been made subject to a Security Council-imposed settlement process. In the first place, the piece considers the relatively specific suggestion that sub-state groups are free to unilaterally terminate a Security Council-imposed process aimed at enabling the resolution of a dispute concerning their aspirations to external self-determination, without this termination having to comply with the principles of justice and international law. In the second place, the piece considers the relatively broad suggestion that the act of any sub-state group of declaring independence and seceding from the state within which it is located, without the consent of that state or any other international legal sanction, is likewise not regulated by international law.

"The Advisory Opinion on Kosovo: An Opportunity Lost, or a Poisoned Chalice Refused?", par Hurst HANNUM.

The ICJ's Advisory Opinion adopted a very narrow approach to the question posed by the General Assembly, but its basic response - that Kosovo's declaration of independence did not violate general international law - was correct. While it might have been preferable if the Court had given more guidance regarding the contemporary scope of self-determination, neither supporters nor opponents of Kosovo's independence gained much from the opinion. No definitive conclusion about Kosovo's status can be drawn without agreement between Pristina and Belgrade, and outsiders should avoid prejudging or interfering in that outcome.


Le 11 avril 2011

Publié le 11 février 2021

Mis à jour le 11 février 2021