The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Thursday that Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia [JURIST report] did not violate international law. Serbia argued that UN Resolution 1244 [text, PDF], which ended the war in Kosovo, solidified the country's boundaries, which included the southern region of Kosovo. Kosovo argued that the resolution was not meant to exclude the opportunity for secession. ICJ President Hisashi Owada read the opinion of the court, stating that nothing in international law prohibits a unilateral declaration of independence. The outcome of the proceedings is non-binding, but could have far-reaching implications for other countries with territories seeking recognition as independent states. Serbia was backed by a majority of UN countries, including Russia, China and Spain, but Kosovo has consistently been supported by the US and most European countries. After the ruling, Kosovo officials indicated that Serbia must now address the country as a sovereign state [BBC report]. Serbian President Boris Tadic [official profile] maintained that Serbia will not recognize [statement, in Serbian] Kosovo's independence, claiming the ICJ ruling was limited only to the question of whether the declaration itself violated international law, and not whether the secession was legal.
The advisory proceedings [materials], which began in December [JURIST report], included arguments from 29 additional countries, including the five member-states of the UN Security Council [official website], debating whether Kosovo's unilaterally proclaimed secession complied with international law. In an effort to further the legitimacy of its independence, Kosovo began operations of its own judicial system in 2009. In March of that year, more than 100 Serbian judges, prosecutors and legal professionals prevented the opening [JURIST report] of the first EU-backed trial in Kosovo by protesting in front of the Mitrovica court house. A panel of three judges had been set to preside over a criminal case involving two Serbian defendants. As Serbia and Kosovo's Serbian population have refused to accept Kosovo's independence, the demonstration was intended to bar the EU from holding trial [B92 report] in Kosovo except under UN laws. The trial court was established by EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) [official website], an EU mission designed to guide Kosovo toward independence in accordance with the Rule of Law.