International Law, Politics, and the Future of Kosovo

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

International Law, Politics, and the Future of Kosovo

This panel was convened at 1:00 p.m., Thursday, April 10, by its moderator Justice Richard Goldstone, former Chair of the International Independent Inquiry Commission on Kosovo, who introduced the panelists: John Bellinger of the U.S. State Department; Hans Corell, former Legal Counsel of the United Nations; and Paul R. Williams of American University and the Public International Law and Policy Group.


I would like to welcome you all to this session on Kosovo, and I would like to congratulate the organizers for this breaking news event. It is a situation that is replete with interesting legal, political, and moral issues that have been very much debated, particularly since the NATO military intervention in 1999.

It has been debated at the governmental and international level, at the UN Security Council, and also by many international and domestic NGOs. I first became involved when I was sitting peacefully in my chambers at the Constitutional Court in South Africa, and I received a telephone call on behalf of the Swedish Prime Minister, Goran Persson. I was invited to chair an independent, international investigation on Kosovo. This was very soon after the military campaign ended with the Security Council Resolution that put a UN Administration into Kosovo. In particular, he was concerned about the law relating to humanitarian intervention. He was interested in the way the military campaign was implemented, and the aftermath--the future of Kosovo.

Typical of the Swedish approach--I am sure Hans Corell will not object--Prime Minister Persson said, "ff you agree, I would like you to have as a co-chair, Carl Tham, a leading Swedish diplomat. Here is x-million dollars. Spend it as you wish. Work out your own mandate. And that is the end of Swedish Involvement. You are now independent and you choose what goes on in this commission." The commission, consisting of members from a number countries, issued a unanimous report. We recommended that Kosovo should be given conditional independence. We concluded that it would not be fair, just, or politically acceptable, to expect the Albanian population of Kosovo again to be ruled from Belgrade, after the way they were treated by the Serbian Army and paramilitary.

Nothing came of that recommendation and the Security Council went on and on debating their resolution, which of course, contains a contradiction in terms. Its resolution both recognized the sovereignty of Serbia over Kosovo, and at the same time, said it was going to put in a UN Administration. And of course, there is a built-in contradiction between doing those two things--the Russian Federation concentrates on the sovereignty aspect, and the NATO countries and UN on the other. Then in 2007, Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland who had been appointed to make recommendations regarding Kosovo to the Security Council, came up with a solution not all that different from the one we had recommended many years before. Russia, of course, thwarted the acceptance of his solution, and the time literally ran out for the Kosovo Albanians. On the 17th of February of this year, Kosovo unilaterally declared itself to be an independent republic. At the end of last month, the independence had been recognized by thirty-six nations, including the United States and a number of members of the European Union. The independence announced by Kosovo raises a number of complex political and legal issues relating to self-determination, secession, and so on.

The American Society of International Law has assembled a remarkable panel, the members of which will speak in the order in which they are sitting, from left to right. I will introduce them very briefly because we do not want to take more time from them and from you. Professor Paul R. Williams holds a joint appointment as a Professor of Law and International Relations at the American University School of International Service and the Washington College of Law. …

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