KOSOVO: Challenges to Statehood

Kristine Long, Pitt Law '11, attended a lecture held by Vjosa Osmani, Pitt Law L.L.M '05 and advisor to the President of Kosovo on Legal and International Affairs...



A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture on Kosovo's path to independence and the legal issues currently facing the country. At the beginning of the lecture, Ms. Osmani asked the group what came to mind when it first thought of Kosovo. To be honest, I knew little about Kosovo prior to taking Ms. Osmani's State Building and the Law course and my first instinct was to mention the conflicts in the Balkans. My entire knowledge of this tiny country came solely from its connections to the United States and NATO and its conflicts with Serbia. It was only through class and this lecture that I began to learn about Kosovo and its complicated history.

Ms. Osmani's lecture was held in conjunction with the celebration of Kosovo's second year of independence. While many Kosovars see this as cause for celebration, there are significant legal issues accompanying Kosovo's independence. Within the international community, one of the most important questions is whether Kosovo's declaration of independence establishes a precedent for other contested territories. However, there are strong arguments that Kosovo's situation should be treated as sui generis (unique). For many years, Yugoslavia was defined by turmoil between its ethnic Serb and ethnic Albanian populations, culminating in state-sanctioned oppression of the Albanian population in Kosovo by Yugoslavian (later Serbian) President Slobodan Milosevic. It was only after significant international pressure that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) charged Milosevic and others with crimes against humanity.

While Kosovo is a new state, the international community has been involved in the Kosovo conflict since George Bush's secret Christmas Warning to Serbia in 1992, where Bush warned Milosevic that Serbian aggression in Kosovo would provoke an international response. When Serbia did not remove its troops from the Kosovo territory, NATO responded with an air campaign against the former Yugoslavia. Even after the NATO bombings, it became apparent during negotiations on Kosovo's status that Serbia was unwilling to cede control of the territory. At the same time, Kosovar Albanians were beginning to assert their rights independent of the international negotiations. Eventually, the UN passed Resolution 1244, which placed Kosovo under UN administration for an interim period. As peace talks continued, Finland's former president, Maarti Ahtisaari, drafted a settlement proposal between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo, but after years of negotiations, it became clear in 2008 that independence was the most appropriate solution to the Kosovo conflict. While Ms. Osmani discussed Kosovo's long path to independence, I realized how little attention the media had given the conflict. For over a decade Kosovo's status had been indeterminate, but the majority of the audience seemed to be learning about Kosovo's history for the first time.

As Ms. Osmani noted in her opening, though, Kosovars faced numerous problems even after gaining independence. First, Kosovars had been largely denied educational and career opportunities during Milosevic's presidency. As a result, Kosovo had no economy, no rule of law, and no other governmental institutions. Second, most of Kosovo's population had been displaced during the war and had emigrated to other countries. Therefore, the daunting task of state-building fell upon a population composed primarily of younger Albanians, who through luck and hard work had obtained enough of an education to assist in the rebuilding process. Ms. Osmani, who became became a legal advisor to Kosovo's President at 23, is one such example.

Although 65 countries currently recognize Kosovo's statehood, Serbia has challenged the legality of Kosovo's declaration of independence and asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to render an advisory opinion on whether the "the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo is in accordance with international law." Ms. Osmani strongly believes that this question misleads the court. Due to its narrow drafting, the question fails to address the situation in Kosovo before and after the declaration's signing. As illustrated by the extensive negotiations in Rambouillet, France, the conflict between the two parties was irreconcilable. Further, the question also assumes a law prohibiting states from declaring independence - a law, which, as Ms. Osmani notes, does not exit. At the moment, the ICJ is currently deliberating the merits of Serbia's claim, but until it renders an opinion, Kosovo is a sovereign state with a firm belief in its legitimacy and compliance with international law.

Photos courtesy of: Evin Thana

Mentioned in this article:

International Court of Justice

Advisory Opinion for Kosovo

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