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Home Articles posted by Tarcisio Gazzini

Criteria for Statehood as Applied by the EU’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia

Published on December 8, 2009        Author: 

Dr Tarcisio Gazzini is Associate Professor at the VU University Amsterdam. He has previously taught at the Universities of Padova (Italy) and Glasgow (UK_. He is an alternate member of the ILA Committee on Non-State actors and a member of the editorial board of the Leiden Journal of International Law. His publications include The Changing Rules on the Use of Force in International Law, Manchester University Press (2005).   

The recently published Report of the EU’s Independent Fact-Finding mission on the conflict(s) in Georgia can be considered in many respects as a successful experiment and a significant contribution to the establishment of the causes of the conflict(s) and the violations of jus ad bellum and of jus in bello.

Although the report offers several elements for reflection to international lawyers, this short comment focuses on the legal status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which is crucial for the purpose of attributing international responsibility for violations of international law committed by these entities and their forces; qualifying the armed conflicts between Georgia and these entities, and identifying the applicable law, including the rules governing the use of military force and humanitarian law.

Legal Status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

The question is discussed essentially in the first two sections of Chapter 3. The report seems to accept the view – clearly predominant in State practice and literature – that recognition is not a constitutive element of statehood. (see for eg, the Arbitral Commission of the Peace Conference in Yugoslavia, Opinion No. 1, 31 ILM (1992) 1494, ‘the existence and disappearance of the state is a question of fact’.) As a result, statehood needs to be determined on the basis of factual elements or criteria, although these criteria, according to the report, have not authoritatively been defined yet.

The report continues by listing three ‘minimal pre-conditions’ for statehood: (1) defined territory; (2) permanent population and (3) effective government. It then refers to the respect of legal principles of international law, notably self-determination and the prohibition to use force, as ‘additional standards’ for the qualification of an entity as a State (pages 127-8). The reader may have the impression that an entity must satisfy cumulatively ‘minimal pre-conditions’ and ‘additional standards’ before claiming statehood.

The report introduces three categories of entities: (1) (full) states fulfilling the relevant criteria for statehood and universally recognised; (2) state-like entities fulfilling the relevant criteria, but which are not, or not universally, recognised; and (3) entities short of statehood not fulfilling the relevant criteria, or only some of them, or only in a weak form, but eventually recognised by one or more states (page 128). Read the rest of this entry…