In a blow to Serbia, the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday adopted a watered-down resolution by acclamation which “acknowledges” an international court ruling that Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia was legal.
Serbia had introduced a draft resolution to the 192-member world body challenging the July 22 decision by the U.N.’s highest court.
It called Kosovo’s unilateral secession “unacceptable,” declared “that unilateral secession is not a way to achieve statehood or to resolve territorial disputes,” and demanded more talks on the status issue.
But the Serbia draft was unacceptable to the nearly 70 countries that have recognized Kosovo’s independence, including the United States and many in the European Union, which Serbia hopes to join. The EU urged Serbia to withdraw its draft and focus instead on its prospects for EU membership.
After lengthy negotiations, the initial Serbia draft was virtually scrapped and replaced by a new text which simply “acknowledges” the nonbinding advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.
It also welcomes the EU’s readiness to promote a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo which would promote co-operation and “achieve progress on the path to the European Union and improve the lives of the people.”
Kosovo came under U.N. and NATO administration after a 1999 NATO-led air war halted former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. But the Security Council resolution that established the interim U.N. administration left Kosovo’s final status in question.
Kosovo’s predominantly ethnic Albanian leadership declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, with strong backing from the United States and major European Union nations.
But the Serbian government, strongly supported by Russia, insists that Kosovo is still legally bound by the Security Council resolution and the U.N. — at Moscow’s insistence — still retains overall authority in Kosovo though many day-to-day administrative responsibilities have been transferred to a 2,000-strong EU peacekeeping force.
A dispute over whether Kosovo’s representatives had a right to sit in the General Assembly chamber delayed adoption of the resolution by 2 1/2 hours.
When the meeting finally started, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic demanded to know why the representatives were still there.
General Assembly President Ali Abdussalam Treki replied that the representatives from Pristina were present “as a guest” of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and the United States, and “by this, I think I have answered your question.”
Jeremic then introduced the resolution noting that is was cosponsored by Serbia and all 27 EU members, some which support Kosovo’s independence and some which continue to respect Serbia’s territorial integrity.
“Nonetheless, common ground has been reached by ensuring that the resolution is fundamentally a status neutral document,” which makes no judgment on Kosovo’s status, he said.
Serbia maintains that the court did not endorse Kosovo’s claim to statehood, its right of secession from Serbia, or any right to self-determination for Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians.
Jeremic reiterated Thursday that Serbia will never recognize Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.
But he expressed hope that the resolution “would help create an atmosphere conducive to the establishment of a comprehensive compact of peace between Serbs and Albanians, achieved through a good faith dialogue.”
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the consensus resolution marked “a very significant step and a very welcome step.”
“It is now the start of a new phase in the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia,” he said.
U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo urged other countries to support Kosovo’s independence but stressed that it is “a special case and not a precedent for other conflicts.”
“Now is the time for the region to move forward and for Serbia and Kosovo to open a new phase in their relations, focused on their shared future within the European Union,” DiCarlo said.