Monday, December 07, 2009

Kosovo And International Law

A legal process that will likely have no direct impact, but long term consequences is underway at the UN's International Court of Justice, at The Hague, in Holland.

The Serbian government has brought a case to the court, asking it to rule on Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia.

Serbia argues the declaration is illegal, and that the territory, with deep religious and cultural ties for the Serbs, is theirs.

Not so, say the Albanians, who argue the treatment meted out to them by the Serbs make any return to rule from Belgrade impossible.

Since the declaration, 63 countries have recognized Kosovo, including the United States and most of the EU's 27 nations.

Opposing it are Serbia, and a few EU nations, including Romania, Spain, Greece and Slovakia.

The reason for their opposition is at the core of the trouble Kosovo's independence offers. A domino effect. All four states have significant minorities of their own.

Spain has the Basque who have been fighting a terrorist campaign off and on for decades now for an independent states. Catalonians, also, don't feel too Spanish as well.

Slovakia has a large Hungarian community. So spooked are the Slovaks over the idea of the Hungarians rising up to assert more rights, the government in Bratislava has actually outlawed the use of any language outside of Slovak in official usage. It was seen as aimed at the country's Hungarians.

Hungarians are also scattered about in Romania, all a remnant of the once truly multi-ethnic empire of the Habsburg Empire, which joined with the Hungarians in 1867.

Greece -- and Macedonia -- have their own ethnic Albanians, and worry a "Greater Albania" could swallow up parts of their territories one day.

Here, the BBC interviews lawmakers from each country to explain their position.

While Russia protested the West's recognizition of Kosovo, it played the game a bit itself, using the Kosovo example -- off the record of course -- to justify their own similar actions. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions of Georgia -- were recognized by Moscow shortly after Russia fought a short war with Georgia over South Ossetia.

There is also a pro-Moscow statelet sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, Transdniester, which wants to break away from Moldova, Europe's poorest nations, where a leading export is the kidneys of some of its more hapless citizens. So far, Moscow, which has about 100 peacekeepers in Moldova, has refrained from recognizing Transdniester's independence.

Tuesday at The Hague, the two sides, those for Kosovo independence and those against, will lay out their cases, with the U.S. and Russian lawyers expected to take center stage.

The Russians seem to have international law on their side. They can point to UN Resolution 1244 which sanctioned NATO bombardment of Serbia in 1999 for its abuses of the Kosovar Albanians.

That resolution includes the following key phrase:

the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

How the other side will get around that is any one's guess.

Serbia also objects to an EU force that has deployed in Kosovo, again noting that any such decision to handover any administrative tasks to the EU would have required a UN resolution, which was tasked with administrating Kosovo after NATO's 78-day bombing campaign back in 1999.

There has not been a UN resolution authorizing the EU to send thousands of police and bureaucrats into Kosovo.

On top of that there is the elephant in the room, or more precisely, the huge U.S. military base in Kosovo.

Camp Bondsteel is said to be the biggest U.S. military base ever assembled since the Vietnam war.

The U.S. has no intention of leaving the base, which is nearer to the 'action' in the Caspian Sea and its oil and gas riches, plus another planned pipeline.

To many, it's the AMBO pipeline that's keeping U.S. troops in Kosovo.

Others ask exactly what type of state the West is backing in Kosovo. As Pepe Escobar points out in this piece Kosovo is fair from an ideal, democratic state.

This "model" new independent state saluted by the US, Germany, France and Britain - and virtually no one else - is, according to Vladimir Ovtchinky, a criminologist and former head of Interpol's Russia bureau during the 1990s, "a mafia state in the heart of Europe". It's basically run by Hashim Thaci, a former Marxist who then embraced a nationalist socialism with criminal overtones as one of the youngest chiefs of the UCK (the Kosovo Liberation Army), operating under the codename "The Serpent".

Here, Alexandre del Valle, a French expert on the Albanian Mafia, spells out quite convincingly what Europe has sanctioned in its midst.

As I've written elsewhere, whatever the court decides will matter little. What matters more is not what the law says, but who's enforcing it. And right now, no one can challenge Washington's might.

Russia and Serbia can site international law all they want and it will matter little.

But if the court does rule in Kosovo's favor, international law will have another stake pounded into its coffin.

It's ruling is only an opinion however. Gutless.

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