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Kosovo’s Membership in the PCA: Some comments on Professor Zimmermann’s post

Published on April 13, 2016        Author: 

It was nice to read Professor Zimmermann’s post on the issue of membership of Palestine and Kosovo in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), as this matter should get more attention from the community of international lawyers. I have already dealt with some of the relevant legal issues in an ESIL Reflection of 11 March 2016 which Professor Milanović has kindly referred to in a comment to Professor Zimmermann’s post. I would like to use this opportunity to engage with some issues raised by Professor Zimmermann, namely: whether the Netherlands should have raised proprio motu the issue of Kosovo’s accession to the 1907 Convention; whether there has been an ‘entente ulterieure’ among the member States of the PCA; what are the powers of the PCA Administrative Council and what is the value of its decision of 4 January 2016, and; what is the way forward concerning Kosovo’s accession to the 1907 Convention.

Calling a meeting of the PCA Administrative Council proprio motu

There was no need for the Netherlands as State depositary to raise proprio motu the matter of Kosovo’s accession to the 1907 Convention within the framework of the PCA Administrative Council. Any State who had an issue with Kosovo’s accession could have called for a meeting of the Administrative Council, even at short notice, like Serbia did, albeit not being a party to the 1907 Convention. Also, it must be noted that by the time of the 4 January 2016 meeting of the PCA Administrative Council, only three out of the 116 Member States of the PCA, namely Russia, Serbia and Mexico seemed to have raised an issue concerning Kosovo’s membership in the PCA. Finally, given that more than half of the member States of the PCA recognize Kosovo as an independent State, there was no need for the Netherlands to raise this issue proprio motu.

Entente ultérieure among PCA member States

Contrary to what Professor Zimmermann claims, there has been no ‘entente ultérieure’ along the lines of Article 60 of the 1899 Convention and Article 94 of the 1907 Convention. The December 1959 agreement among the PCA member States simply authorized the Government of the Netherlands, as State depositary, to send an invitation to new members of the United Nations which were not yet a party to the PCA or whose membership position was unclear. The aim was to increase the membership of the PCA. The document to which Professor Zimmermann refers to as ‘UN support’ is a Study prepared by the Secretariat in 1968 concerning the succession of States to multilateral treaties. Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine at the Gates of the Peace Palace: The long and windy road towards Palestinian membership in the Permanent Court of Arbitration

Published on April 5, 2016        Author: 

To Be or not to be a Party …

It took two lengthy sessions of the Administrative Council of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (‘PCA’ ) before it decided, on March 14, 2016, to confirm that the ‘State of Palestine’ is a contracting party to the 1907 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes (‘1907 Convention’) and hence also a member of the PCA. The decision was made by vote, for the first time in the long history of the PCA, with 54 states voting in favor and 25 abstentions. Notably, the parallel accession of Kosovo is still ‘under review’. This development raises a whole set of legal issues ranging from the role of the depositary in situations of contested statehood, to issues of treaty interpretation, as well as finally the legal consequences of Palestine now having become a member of the PCA.

In order to understand the legal implications of the decision, it is necessary to recall some of the most important steps that led to its adoption. Both Palestine and Kosovo, had within a short space of time (namely on 30 October 2015 (Palestine) and on 6 November 2015 (Kosovo)), submitted their accessions to the 1907 Convention. These accessions were acknowledged by the depositary, the Dutch government, on 17 November 2015 on its depositary website. The website also indicated that the said Convention would enter into force for Palestine on 29 December 2015 and for Kosovo on 5 January 2016, a move that was (somewhat prematurely, as we will see) welcomed by the Kosovo Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Upon the request of Serbia, the Administrative Council of the PCA then met on January 4, 2016, i.e. just one day before the Kosovar accession was supposed to become effective, and decided to keep the situations of Kosovo and Palestine ‘under review’, which in turn led the Depositary to ‘strike out’ the accessions of Palestine and Kosovo, with both of them then listed in the following manner:

“Parties (5 January 2016):

Party                            Ratification                  Entry into force

Kosovo                        06-11-2015 (T)           05-01-2016                

Palestine                       30-10-2015 (T)           29-12-2015 

This in turn then led to a request by a group of Arab States for yet another urgent meeting of the Administrative Council of the PCA. This meeting was supposed to deal with the status of Palestine vis-à-vis the 1907 Convention, given that by the time the above-mentioned decision of January 4, 2016 had been made to keep the situations of Kosovo and Palestine ‘under review’, Palestine had already become a contracting party of the Convention with effect from December 29, 2015. Hence, the action by the depositary had amounted, as far as Palestine was concerned, to a de facto suspension of a pre-existing treaty membership. Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea, Kosovo, Hobgoblins and Hypocrisy

Published on March 20, 2014        Author: 

One of the more remarkable aspects of the whole unfortunate Ukraine episode is the rampant hypocrisy on part of all of the major players involved in the dispute. Those same Western states that unlawfully invaded Iraq, and supported Kosovo’s secession from Serbia while endlessly repeating that Kosovo was somehow a really super-special sui generis case, are now pontificating about the sanctity of the UN Charter and territorial integrity.  On the other hand, that same Russia that fought two bloody wars in the 1990s to keep Chechnya within its fold, that same Russia that to this day refuses to accept the independence of Kosovo, has now rediscovered a principle of self-determination that apparently allows for the casual dismemberment of existing states.

I am not saying that no distinctions can be drawn between the various situations I just mentioned. In particular, I agree with many of the arguments in the recent posts by Christian Marxsen and Jure Vidmar about the differences between Crimea and Kosovo, the critical one being that Crimea’s secession is the direct result of Russia’s unlawful military intervention against Ukraine, whereas Kosovo’s secession was not tainted to the same extent by NATO’s 1999 intervention due to the subsequent adoption of Resolution 1244, which authorized the presence of international forces in Kosovo while disabling Serbia from taking military action to suppress Kosovo’s secession. I would also note that it is more difficult to levy charges of hypocrisy against international lawyers, rather than states or politicians – and I hope that speaks well of our profession. Most international lawyers after all considered the 1999 intervention against Serbia or the 2003 invasion of Iraq to have been unlawful, and most justifiably feel the same way with regard to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

But even if Kosovo and Crimea are legally distinguishable, they are still close enough. The West’s position on Crimea is undeniably undermined by their previous stance regarding Kosovo, and they can only blame themselves for that. Just consider President Putin’s speech justifying the annexation of Crimea by reference to Kosovo and the ICJ’s advisory opinion:

Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea’s Referendum and Secession: Why it Resembles Northern Cyprus More than Kosovo

Published on March 20, 2014        Author: 

On 16 March 2014, Crimea held a referendum on its future legal status. Reportedly, the choice to join Russia was supported by an overwhelming 95.5 per cent of all votes cast, with the turnout of 83 per cent. A day earlier, Russia vetoed a draft Security Council resolution which sought to declare the referendum as ‘having no legal validity’ and urge the international community not to recognise its results. The draft resolution was otherwise supported by 13 members of the Security Council, with China abstaining. On 17 March 2014, the Crimean parliament declared independence and applied to join Russia.  This contribution explains that while the referendum itself was not illegal in international law, the shift of territorial sovereignty would be illegal. Moreover, in the legal circumstances underlying the situation in Crimea, even the declaration of independence violated international law. As a result, the obligation to withhold recognition of the effective situation is applicable under general international law. No Chapter VII Resolution is required. This is not because international law would see territorial integrity of states as an absolute norm, but because the effective situation was created by Russia’s use or threat of force. Although parallels have been drawn to Kosovo (see the discussion in Christian Marxsen’s post) and even Scotland, in terms of international law Northern Cyprus would be a more accurate comparison.

Secession and neutrality of international law

Groups seeking independence usually present self-determination as an absolute entitlement. Conversely, states countering secession usually present territorial integrity as an absolute entitlement of states. Neither camp is right. As follows from the General Assembly’s Declaration on Principles of International Law (GA Res 2625), the Quebec case (Supreme Court of Canada) and partly also from the Kosovo Advisory Opinion (ICJ), international law is actually neutral on the question of unilateral secession. This means that unilateral secession is neither prohibited nor an entitlement. Furthermore, for the purposes of international law, it does not matter whether or not secession is explicitly prohibited under domestic law. As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec case, an entity may declare independence extra-constitutionally and yet nevertheless become independent if other states are willing to recognise it (the Quebec case, para 155). This further confirms that unilateral secession unto itself does not trigger an obligation to withhold recognition. [I explain this further here].Yet states are very rarely willing to grant recognition on a widespread basis to entities seeking independence unilaterally. By holding a referendum and declaring independence, such an entity in most circumstances does something that remains legally ineffective, yet not internationally wrongful. The burden of changing the territorial status quo lies on the secession-seeking entity and this exercise is very rarely successful if the parent state does not agree. However, a declaration of independence may be given effectiveness through foreign military assistance. This is where neutrality of international law ends. International law is neutral only with respect to a declaration’s unilateral character, but not in general, where territorial illegality is attached to the situation.

When are declarations of independence illegal?

Territorial illegality arises under a serious breach of certain fundamental norms of international law, in particular jus cogens. Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea’s Declaration of Independence

Published on March 18, 2014        Author: 

The referendum on Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and on the subsequently planned accession to the Russian Federation has produced the expected results. An overwhelming majority has voted against Crimea remaining part of the state of Ukraine. Already one day after the referendum, the Supreme National Council of Crimea has declared the independence of Crimea and requested other states to recognize it as an independent sovereign state. And today Russia and Crimea signed an agreement on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. Crimean and Russian authorities seek to justify their actions under international law, especially by reference to the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on Kosovo. In a statement of March 11, 2014, the Supreme Council of Crimea proclaimed that it is acting “with regard to the charter of the United Nations and a whole range of other international documents and taking into consideration the confirmation of the status of Kosovo by the United Nations International Court of Justice on July, 22, 2010, which says that unilateral declaration of independence by a part of the country doesn’t violate any international norms.” (link to press report) How do these claims hold under international law?

In evaluating the significance of the ICJ’s advisory opinion to Crimea it is important to highlight that the opinion only had a very limited scope. It did not answer the question whether Kosovo had a right to secession under international law, it did not address the question whether there is a general entitlement to secession; nor did it answer the question of the legal consequences of the declaration of independence or whether Kosovo has become an independent state. Rather, the opinion is limited to an analysis of the legality of the declaration itself (I.C.J. Reports 2010, para. 51, 56).

The Kosovo opinion relies on a brief review of norms of international law, which – as the ICJ concludes – do not generally prohibit unilateral declarations of independence. The principle of territorial integrity only applies in the relations between states, but not in regard to internal secessionist movements. However, the ICJ mentions a situation in which unilateral declarations of independence can nevertheless be in violation of international law, namely where they “were, or would have been, connected with the unlawful use of force or other egregious violations of norms of general international law, in particular those of a peremptory character (ius cogens)” (ibid. para. 81). The violation of international law then does not stem from the unilateral character of the declaration of independence, but from its reliance on the violation of a peremptory norm of international law.

In regard to Crimea, the declaration of independence would have been impossible without Russian troops backing up the steps towards secession. Only the fact that Ukrainian forces on Crimea have been locked in their posts and that the public infrastructure has been taken over by pro-Russian forces made it possible to hold the referendum on which the declaration of independence is based. It can therefore hardly be argued that the declaration would not rely on the use of force. According to the criteria elaborated in the ICJ’s advisory opinion, if that use of force was illegal, so was the declaration of independence.

A further question is whether Crimea has a substantive right to secession under international law. Crimean authorities refer to the UN Charter and rely on the principle of self-determination (Article 1 (2) UN Charter) which, as they argue, would assign them a right to secession. Such a claim is also not supported by international law. State practice is very reluctant to acknowledge a right to secession, since states fear that their own territorial integrity might be endangered by an empowerment of secessionist groups. Indicative for the traditional position on the right to self-determination is General Assembly Resolution 2625 (1970). After acknowledging the right to self-determination this resolution stresses that such acknowledgment may not “be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States” as long as those states internally respect the right to self-determination of peoples. The right to self-determination requires states to respect minority rights, but does not grant a sub-entity of states the right to freely chose to which state a territory shall belong. Self-determination is usually limited to internal measures, such as the right to be granted a certain status of autonomy within a state. Although one might certainly argue about the necessary degree of autonomy, it is important to highlight that Crimea already had the status of an autonomous republic under Ukraine’s constitution. In principle, the institutional arrangements for implementing the right to self-determination were in place.

The legal situation in regard to the self-determination of Crimea is therefore rather clear. But, as Nico Krisch has pointed out on this blog, the more formal, traditional norms of international law have come under pressure from what he calls liberal interventionism. In regard to self-determination, Western states have created such pressure, for example, when recognizing Kosovo as an independent state immediately after its declaration of independence in 2008. Those who argued for these exemptions referred to the history of internal conflict and the human rights violations that preceded Kosovo’s declaration of independence. A comparable history of conflict does not exist in Crimea, but since the concept of self-determination has been expanded in the past when it seemed opportune, it is not surprising that secessionist movements try to push the limits even more. Since Russia is powerful enough to pursue its interests anyway, it does not need an ultimately convincing legal justification. A justification that is at least not totally absurd, but somehow arguable, is already good enough for making a case in the international political sphere. In expanding the right to self-determination in regard to Kosovo, Western states bear their share of responsibility in enabling such arguments and in undermining international law.

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Azemi v. Serbia in the European Court of Human Rights: (Dis)continuity of Serbia’s De Jure Jurisdiction over Kosovo

Published on March 13, 2014        Author: 

Following the 2008 Kosovo Declaration of Independence and the change in public powers in Kosovo, Azemi v. Serbia was the first decision in which the ECtHR examined whether Serbia continued to have jurisdiction in Kosovo. The applicant, Ali Azemi, a national of Kosovo, alleged that Serbia had violated his rights under Article 6 (1) of the Convention by failing to enforce a decision rendered by a court in Kosovo in 2002. The applicant argued that Serbia bore responsibility for the enforcement of the Convention rights throughout its territory, including Kosovo.

On November 5, 2013, the ECtHR found that Serbia could not be held responsible under Article 1 of the Convention for the non-enforcement of a decision of a Kosovo court. The Court had previously sustained the presumption of Serbia’s de jure jurisdiction in Kosovo. However, in the Azemi case in examining the period after the Declaration of Independence it departed from that view by way of establishing the presumption of neutrality with regard to Kosovo.

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Russian Ambassador in Belgrade

Published on September 15, 2011        Author: 

Tomorrow (Friday) will probably prove to be a day of high tension in Serbia and Kosovo, with yet another round of nationalistic rigmarole regarding control over customs in northern Kosovo. Consultations are underway in the UN Security Council, NATO forces have been deployed, and the situation can turn very ugly, very fast. I really have nothing useful to add on the matter, so I won’t. I would however like to draw our reader’s attention to today’s rather remarkable performance of the Russian ambassador in Belgrade, Aleksandr Konuzin, at an international conference, the Belgrade Security Forum. I have honestly never seen a diplomat, certainly not a diplomat of a great power, not only repeatedly insult his hosts but also openly stoke Serbian nationalism at such a precipitous moment. The videos below are certainly instructive. Regrettably, I doubt a PNG will be forthcoming.

 

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Kosovo
 

Waiting for Godot: An Analysis of the ICJ Kosovo Advisory Opinion

Published on May 13, 2011        Author: 

Dov Jacobs and Yannick Radi are both postdoctoral researchers at the Amsterdam Center of International Law, University of Amsterdam

[the post has been revised since it first went up]

In an article just published by the Leiden Journal of International Law, entitled Waiting For Godot: An Analysis of the Advisory Opinion on Kosovo, we revisit the advisory opinion issued by the ICJ on 22 July 2010. Two years after the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) submitted a request in relation to the February 2008 Declaration of independence of Kosovo, the Court issued found that the declaration was not in violation of international law.

This opinion gave rise to a number of commentaries which discussed various aspects of the case. Here on EJIL Talk!, See the extensive preview of the legal issues of the case before the issuance of the opinion by Marko Milanovic and the subsequent analysis by Dapo Akande. Elsewhere, you can refer to the initial analysis by Dov Jacobs over at Spreading the Jam (here and here) and the comprehensive online symposium on The Hague Justice Portal. These commentaries usually isolate a topic related to the opinion (exercise of discretion, self-determination, the application of international law to individuals…) and deconstruct the reasoning of the Court in relation to it.

In our article, we try to explain more generally, the feeling that something is missing in the decision irrespective of the specific flaws in the legal reasoning of the Court, which gives the impression that we are waiting for something that will never come, in essence waiting for Godot.

In a nutshell, we argue that the main problem with the opinion is that the ICJ accepted to respond to a question that did not concern its core ratione personae jurisdiction which is primarily States and the UN. By considering the conduct of non-State entities, the ICJ let itself be dragged in a sort of twilight zone of international law where its conclusions could in fact not make sense.

The article therefore highlights the inconsistencies in the Court’s logic and how they relate to this ratione personae issue, and, ultimately suggests that the ICJ should have looked beyond the conduct of the authors of the declaration, to the responsibility of the UN, as the administrator of the territory, and the responsibility of Kosovo, which we argue, was implicitly recognized by the Court as an autonomous State.

As an illustration of our reasoning, here are two points of interest in our article.

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Kosovo Opinion

Published on August 6, 2010        Author: 

 Christian J. Tams is Professor of International Law at the Univeristy of Glasgow. His publications include Enforcing Obligations Erga Omnes in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

The International Court of Justice’s Kosovo opinion of 22 July had been much expected. It was one of the not so frequent instances which the world (as opposed to State parties, or a small group of international lawyers) was waiting for the world court to speak. Great expectations can lead to great disappointment. And judging from the first round of reactions and responses on this blog and in other fora, there is indeed a feeling of disappointment: of course among those who expected a different outcome, but also among those who would have hoped for a fuller discussion of the legal issues raised by the unilateral declaration of independence of 17 February 2008.

I share many of the points made in the posts by Dapo and Zoran in their posts on this blog, notably their surprise at the Court’s strained conclusion on the identity of the authors of the declaration of independence – a readjustment of the request that is rightly criticised by Vice-President Tomka in his declaration. Instead of reiterating my agreement with other criticisms, I will use this comment to make two broader points on the scope of the opinion. The first comes back to the “minimalist” focus of the opinion, and essentially is an attempt to shift some of the blame away from the Court. The second is a reflection on what seems to be the crucial substantive statement of the opinion – namely that general international law does not prohibit declarations of independence.

A narrow answer to a narrow question

First, the Court’s minimalism. Few fail to mention it, some even speak of a “non-opinion”. I agree: the Kosovo opinion is narrowly argued, and its advisory value limited. But unlike some others, I do not think the Court can really be blamed for that. Of course, some of the judges may have been relieved to offer a narrow/cautious/minimalist reasoning, yet this is not unusual: when faced with high profile disputes courts often decide to be technical, and the ICJ is no exception. The real point is another one, and while obvious, I do not think it is properly reflected in the discussion so far. It is this: Read the rest of this entry…

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Preliminary Thoughts on the Kosovo Opinion

Published on July 26, 2010        Author: 

Zoran Oklopcic is Assistant Professor, Department of Law, Carleton University, Ottawa. Hs previous EJIL:Talk! post on Self-Determination and the Status of Kosovo can be found here.

As we digest the meaning and implications of the recent Advisory Opinion, Separate and Dissenting Opinions, I’d like to offer two preliminary remarks: the first deals with the (lack of) mention of the right to self-determination of peoples, and secondly regarding the identity of the author of the Declaration of Independence of Kosovo.

In its decision, the Court declined to ‘apply’ straightforwardly the norm of self-determination to judge the UDI ‘illegal’ or ‘legal’. Had it chosen to follow the suggestions of Spain, Argentina, Serbia, China and others, Kosovo’s UDI would have been judged illegal because ‘external’ self-determination doesn’t apply outside of the contexts of decolonization and military occupation. Conversely, if following Albania, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Ireland and others, Kosovo’s UDI would have been legal under the ‘remedial’ variant of self-determination.

The Court chose instead to follow the suggestions of the United States, Britain and several other countries, and not to engage in interpretation of the question of self-determination at all. In a situation where opinions on the applicability of self-determination sharply diverge, seeking the lowest common denominator, the lex specialis of UN Resolution 1244 to judge Kosovo’s UDI, could have appeared as a prudent strategy. Interestingly, the Court did not refer to the parallel prong of the US argument—“the unique combination of factors”—that sought to provide a moral component to the otherwise technical reasoning that anchored the legal argument in the interpretation of Res. 1244. Read the rest of this entry…

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