News / Europe

    Crimea Referendum Illegitimate says US Legal Scholar

    Pro-Russian people celebrate in Lenin Square, in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 16, 2014.
    Pro-Russian people celebrate in Lenin Square, in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 16, 2014.
    Michael Bowman
    Crimea’s secessionist referendum is one of many examples of a region or territory attempting to part from the country to which it belongs.  Experts say some secessionist movements have the backing of international law, but many do not.  An American legal scholar says Crimea’s referendum was illegitimate, and its annexation by Russia would be illegal.

    Around the world, there are many places where majority sentiment favors secession.  But most do not meet international legal standards for doing so, according to John Bellinger, who served as the State Department’s top lawyer during the former Bush administration.

    “While international law in general speaks about rights of self-determination, in general international law prefers the principle of territorial integrity of states, and only recognizes the right of a people or a group to secede from a larger state in very limited circumstances.  Namely, if the government of the larger state has absolutely denied that group or people their rights inside the country or has committed gross rights violations against them," said Bellinger.

    Bellinger notes that whatever fears pro-Russian Crimeans may have about their treatment under Ukraine’s new government, gross violations have yet to be documented.  In other words, Crimea’s secessionist bid is entirely premature.

    Moscow notes that Crimea was once part of Russia, and that popular sentiment in Crimea is decidedly pro-Russian.  Bellinger says neither point legally justifies secession.

    “Historical facts or even the popular will inside Crimea, as a matter of international law, do not matter.  Otherwise, the international system would fragment and break down," he said.

    Bellinger says Crimea’s secession could embolden groups from Spain to Cyprus to East Asia and beyond.

    Russia compares Crimea’s secessionist bid to that of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.  Bellinger says the two cases are very different.

    “Kosovo was a unique situation, part of the overall break-up of the former Yugoslavia.  Kosovo was subject to U.N. supervision under a U.N. Security Council resolution for over a decade.  The Kosovar people had been subjected to gross human rights violations by the Serbians.  And after a long period of time to remedy the situation, a specially-appointed U.N. envoy had actually recommended independence for Kosovo.  None of those circumstances are present here [in Crimea]," he said.

    Bellinger notes that enforcing international law can be difficult, pointing to Russia’s veto of a Security Council resolution that would have declared the Crimean referendum invalid.  He notes a General Assembly resolution condemning the referendum would be non-binding, as would any finding by the International Court of Justice.

    You May Like

    South Sudan Sends First Ever Official Olympic Team to Rio

    VOA caught up with Santino Kenyi, 16, one of three athletes who will compete in this year's summer games in Brazil

    Arrest of Malawi's 'Hyena' Man Highlights Clash of Ritual, Health and Women's Rights

    Ritual practice of deflowering young girls is blamed for spreading deadly AIDS virus

    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    VOA finds things Americans take for granted are special to foreigners

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora