The United Nation’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on July 22nd that the 2008 declaration of independence by Kosovo from Serbia does not violate international law.
The ICJ’s decision, by a vote of 10-4, does not officially assert that Kosovo is a legal state. Rather, the Court more narrowly says that no international laws were broken when Kosovo declared its independence.
Kosovo’s leaders praised the Court’s decision, with foreign minister Skender Hyseni saying “This is a great day for Kosovo.” Serbia, however, still refuses to recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Both Serbia and its ally Russia, as well as some legal experts and analysts, have warned that the ICJ decision on Kosovo may make declarations of independence by other separatist enclaves in countries around the world more likely.
Kosovo declared itself an independent state in February 2008, following the 1999 NATO military campaign to end hostilities between Serbia and Kosovo rebels and a subsequent eight year period of administration by the United Nations. Serbia strongly opposed the independence of Kosovo, which many Serbs see as a central and historic part of their nation.
Until now, Kosovo has been recognized by 69 countries, including the United States and most of the European Union. The ICJ’s ruling may encourage other countries to recognize Kosovo. The effect of the decision on future declarations of independence by other potential new states around the world—in areas as far-flung as South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenia, northern Cyprus, and Somaliland--remains to be seen.