On Wednesday Serbia won a bid in the United Nations General Assembly to have the International Court of Justice review Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence. Serbia considers Kosovo to be a “breakaway province” which unilaterally declared independence and thus wants a ruling on the legality of the region’s actions.
Although the ICJ is often called upon to resolves border disputes, it is rarely asked to make legal rulings of this nature. Kosovo is a particularly difficult case because there are no guidelines to follow in international law for secessions within Europe. Former colonies in regions such as Africa or Latin America have formal steps to follow in order to declare independence, but such steps cannot easily be applied to regions that are more established.
77 countries in the General Assembly voted in favor of Serbia’s request, with six countries voting against it and 76 countries abstaining. The United States and Albania, which has strong ties to Kosovo, are among those voting against the measure, asserting that Kosovo’s independence is irreversible and that Serbia’s request is merely “dragging its domestic disputes into the international arena.” Most European states refrained from voting. However, a number of European countries with separatist factions of their own, such as Spain and Cyprus, voted in favor of letting the ICJ review the issue. These nations are interested in hearing how the court rules in order to determine how it may impact secessionist movements in their own states in the future.