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World Court Judges Adjourn to Consider Legality of Kosovo Independence

  • Lauren Comiteau

UN General Assembly has asked judges to give advisory opinion on matter

Judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague have adjourned after nine days of hearings into the legality of Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence. The United Nations' General Assembly asked judges to give an advisory opinion on the matter, which has divided international legal opinion and pitted the US and Russia against each other.

Twenty-eight countries plus Kosovo weighed in on the issue over the past nine days. Kosovo argued that any attempt to reverse its independence could lead to more violence. In 2008, the UN-administered province unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, almost a decade after Belgrade tried to quash its independence movement with attacks that left some 10,000 Kosovo Albanians dead and close to a million more displaced. That led to 78 days of Serbia being bombed by NATO.

During the hearings, the United States backed Kosovo. Lawyer Harold Koh called its independence necessary, saying it has brought stability to the region and an end to the long breakup of what was once Yugoslavia. "Kosovo's independence has finally closed one of the most painful chapters in modern European history; this court should not use its advisory jurisdiction to reopen that chapter. Instead, we should all look to a common future in which Serbia and an independent Kosovo have vitally important roles to play," he said.

But Russia backed Serbia, saying Pristina acted illegally when its provisional government declared independence. It wants both sides to go back to the negotiating table, warning the court that accepting Kosovo's move would send the wrong signal to rebels worldwide. Kirill Gevorgian argued the Federation's case. "We often hear that international law is not the law or it allows exceptions or else that everything that might be achieved by might will automatically be accepted as right. Mr. President, this is a case par excellence to show that international law does matter," he said.

The court isn't expected to issue its opinion for several months. Although neither side will be bound by it, governments worldwide-especially those who have breakaway republics of their own-will be paying attention to see where the UN's highest judicial body weighs in on the issue.