Crimea, Kosovo, and Cyprus: what is the law?

Crimea, Kosovo, and Cyprus: what is the law?

του Ηλία Κουσκουβέλη

Κουσκουβέλης Ι. Ηλίας, Εισαγωγή στις διεθνείς σχέσειςRussian foreign policy, in order to justify Crimea’s unilateral declaration of independence and the annexation that followed, used Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence (February 2008) as an analogy and excuse.
The specific Russian position provoked questions and discussions about the law. It has also provoked worries about whether it could set a precedent for legalising past illegal declarations of independence, such as the one of the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, and open, thus, the way to its future annexation by Turkey.

The answer to these questions is one, clear, and authoritative, as it has been given by the International Court of Justice. In fact, in October 2008, the United Nations General Assembly asked the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion, regarding the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.

Studying the advisory opinion of July 22, 2010,  besides not finding many analogies between Crimea and Kosovo, one comes to the following three solid conclusions about the legality of unilateral declarations of independence:
Κουσκουβέλης Ι. Ηλίας, Αποτροπή και πυρηνική στρατηγική. Θεωρία διεθνών σχέσεων στον Ψυχρό πόλεμο1. The ICJ made clear that international law does not in principle prohibit them.
2. The Court expressly excluded cases of unilateral declarations that had been “connected with the unlawful use of force or other egregious violations of norms of general international law, in particular those of a peremptory nature (jus cogens)”.
3. The ICJ used as an example of an illegal unilateral declaration of independence that of the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. Furthermore, the ICJ (p.50, par. 114) reminded the Security Council 1251/1999 decision, providing that a Cyprus settlement must be based on one state (the State of Cyprus), with a single sovereignty, a single international personality, a single citizenship, and with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded.

Published in Cyprus Weekly., on Saturday, 12th of April, 2014.


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