THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The United Nations’ highest court ruled Thursday that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was legal, dealing a blow to Serbia, which vowed never to accept its former province as a separate state and warned the ruling could embolden separatist movements around the world.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci hailed the ruling as a “historic victory” and “the best possible answer for the entire world,” while Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni said outside the International Court of Justice: “My message to the government of Serbia is ‘Come and talk to us.’ ”
A tiny patch of the Balkans with a population of 2 million, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 after years of fruitless talks with Belgrade about its desire to break away.
Issuing the nonbinding advisory opinion, International Court of Justice President Hisashi Owada said international law contains “no … prohibition of declarations of independence” and therefore Kosovo’s declaration “did not violate general international law.”
In the capital, Pristina, ethnic Albanians honked their horns and waved Kosovo and U.S. flags to celebrate the ruling.
Kosovo’s independence has been accepted by 69 countries so far. U.N. diplomats say they expect the court’s decision to spur recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. After more than 100 countries grant such recognition – more than half the 192 U.N. member states – a senior Western diplomat said it will in effect have achieved “full statehood.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will forward the advisory opinion to the General Assembly, “which had requested the court’s advice and which will determine how to proceed on this matter,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.