Monday, 18 February 2008

Kosovo Independence Revives Secession Debate

Kosovo’s declaration of independence revives an ongoing debate in international human rights law about the right of peoples to self determination. Of course, the right is set out in common article 1 of the two International Covenants, but the real quarrel is about whether it includes a right to secede. As the former Yugoslavia was breaking up, the European Union established an Arbitration Commission to rule on the various claims of independence. Chaired by French judge Robert Badinter, it issued a series of opinions. I looked for these on the internet and couldn’t find them, although they must be out there somewhere. Although the Commission did not pronounce on independence for Kosovo, the logic of its rulings would suggest opposition to Kosovo’s claim to statehood. The Badinter Commissions aid that the Republika Srpska, that is, the Serb portion of Bosnia and Herzegovina, had no right to secede. Serbs are going to have difficulty seeing any meaningful distinction between the denial of a right to secede of the Bosnian Serbs and an acceptance of a right to secede of Muslims in Kosovo, and they will have a point. A useful contribution to the debate about secession was delivered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998: Not only does the issue risk reviving conflict in the Balkans, it also contributes to other secessionist claims elsewhere in the world, which explains why states like Spain, Greece and Cyprus are at odds with other EU states on whether to recognize an independent Kosovo.

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