The U.N. General Assembly has voted to ask the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on whether Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia earlier this year conforms to international law. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The vote in the General Assembly was 77 in favor, 74 abstentions and six against.

Many of the countries abstaining or voting against the resolution referring the matter to the court said they were doing so because they felt Serbia was putting an essentially political issue before a judicial body.

Located at The Hague, the International Court of Justice is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations.

The United States was one of the six countries that voted against the resolution. Representative Rosemary DiCarlo said asking the court for an advisory opinion on this question would be both "unnecessary and unhelpful" and said the United States is confident that recognition of Kosovo's independence by an increasing number of countries is consistent with international law.

"As a practical matter, Kosovo's independence is an irreversible matter. Forty-eight countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, including 22 of the 27 members of the European Union," she said.

But South Africa, which voted in favor of the resolution, said recognition is not the end of the story. 

"While it may be true that 48 countries have recognized Kosovo, it is also important to note that 144 countries of this assembly have not taken that decision," said Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo.

Britain abstained from the vote, and afterwards, Ambassador John Sawers said that while his government strongly supports the court, it questioned the purpose of seeking a non-binding opinion on this matter.

"We question the utility of the question that has been proposed by Serbia. An advisory opinion cannot in itself be determinative of Kosovo's status," he said.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic introduced the resolution to the Assembly and said voting against it would mean that nothing could be done when secessionists anywhere asserted the uniqueness of their cause.

Last week, Kosovo's Foreign Minister, Skender Hyseni, told reporters at the United Nations that adoption of this resolution could harm future relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and could slow recognition of his country by some other capitals.

Analysts say a ruling from the International Court of Justice on this issue could take between one and two years. Some diplomats expressed concern that such a delay is not in the interest of stabilizing the southern Balkans.