The United Nations International Court of Justice has ruled that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 does not violate international law.
"The Court considers that general international law does not contain any prohibition on declarations of
independence," said the president of the International Court of Justice, Hisashi Owada, as he read the court's non-binding opinion. "Accordingly, it concludes that the declaration of independence [of Kosovo] on the 17th of February 2008 did not violate general international law."
That ruling came as a setback for Serbia, which had asked the International Court of Justice, the ICJ, to give an opinion on Kosovo's declaration. Serbian President Boris Tadic said Serbia would not recognize Kosovo's independence.
Kosovo officials hailed the decision. In Washington, visiting Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called the ruling "the best possible answer for the entire world."
Trial observers said the court's non-binding ruling could encourage more countries to recognize Kosovo's independence. Kosovo's statehood has been recognized by 69 countries, including the United States and most European Union nations. But Serbia and its main ally Russia and several others have opposed the move.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department expressed support for the ICJ ruling and urged Europe to "unite behind a common future."
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said the U.N. chief urged "constructive dialogue" and urged all sides to "avoid any steps that could be seen as provocative and derail the dialogue." The spokesman said the advisory opinion would be forwarded to the General Assembly, which would "determine how to proceed on this matter."
Kosovo was placed under U.N. supervision in 1999, following a 78-day NATO bombing campaign that ended a two-year war between Serbia and the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, which was then a Serbian province.