To reduce the tension between Kosovo and Serbia, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) have started an intense process of diplomatic steps. In this context, the leaders of the two countries came together in Brussels on 21 November 2022 under the mediation of the EU; however, the parties did not reach an agreement.
Upon the failure of the Brussels talks regarding the tension of license plates on the Kosovo-Serbia line, the US stepped in and asked Pristina to postpone the relevant decision for 48 hours (2 days) on 22 November 2022, and this proposal was accepted by Kosovo. After this, the two countries reached an agreement on November 24, 2022, to reduce the tension in the plate crisis. According to the agreement; Serbia has decided to stop issuing license plates symbolizing Kosovo cities and Kosovo stop re-licensing vehicles.
In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), presents the views of Constitutional Law Specialist Dr. Ditar Kabashi to evaluate the issues on the Kosovo-Serbia line with the dimension of international law
- The West is calling for Serbia and Kosovo to fulfill their obligations under the 2013 Brussels Agreement. There is also the issue of establishing the Union of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo. However, Kosovo states that this is unconstitutional and therefore cannot be established. On the other hand, Serbia is also asked to accept Kosovo’s membership to the United Nations (UN). But Belgrade also emphasizes that this will mean recognition of Kosovo’s independence. How should such disputes be evaluated in terms of international law?
First of all, the Brussels Negotiations between the two countries have been launched as a process where technical issues on telecommunication, energy, etc. will be discussed. However, over time, the negotiations began to take on different dimensions, and especially the political aspect of the issues began to come to light. In this context, in 2013, the two sides agreed to establish the Union of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo. Thus, the First Agreement with the title of “Principles for Normalization of Relations” was signed between Kosovo and Serbia. In 2015, the issue of the Union of Serbian Municipalities came to the agenda again in the negotiations and this time the Second Agreement was signed, which regulates the general principles/main elements of the union.
When the agreement in question was approved by law, a lawsuit was filed with the Constitutional Court by the President of the period. The Constitutional Court, on the other hand, determined that the content was unconstitutional in several places and stated that the Union of Serbian Municipalities could only be established without problematic provisions. Indeed, the general principles determined in the negotiations and the Union of Serbian Municipalities constitute a de facto autonomous entity and are incompatible with the unitary and multinational structure of Kosovo. This issue is still not resolved today. On the one hand, Serbia is putting pressure on international platforms for the realization of this union as envisaged in the negotiations; On the other hand, the Government of Kosovo is taking things uphill based on the decision of the Constitutional Court. After all, the problem persists.
The demand of the international community from Serbia not to prevent Kosovo’s integration with the UN and the EU can be interpreted as a counterbalance to the establishment of the Union of Serbian Municipalities.
When we consider the issue in terms of international law, first of all, it is useful to remember the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the declaration of Kosovo’s independence. The UN General Assembly, at Serbia’s request, asked the ICJ in 2008 whether the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo was by international law. In its 2010 decision, the ICJ pointed out that there is no regulation in international law that prohibits the declaration of independence and that there is no prohibition either explicitly or implicitly regarding Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
Although the decision in question is advisory, it is of great importance in terms of Kosovo’s position as a legitimate subject in the international community. At the present stage, the problems between Kosovo and Serbia should be resolved, in principle, on a political basis. Then legal steps must be taken. This problem is not caused by only two countries. The existence of these problems is a reflection of the conflict between the West and Russia.
As it is known, the economic and military power of Russia in the 1990s was weaker compared to the last two decades. Therefore, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) organized a military operation against Serbia to provide humanitarian aid to Kosovo and ensured the de facto separation of Kosovo from Serbia. However, the strengthening of Russia over time also strengthened the hand of Serbia, which is its natural ally. It should not be forgotten that; When Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, Russia launched operations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in retaliation and recognized the independence of these regions. Similarly, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its current actions in Ukraine are Moscow’s interventions by citing the separation of Kosovo from Serbia as a precedent. Therefore, it can be predicted that the states allied with Kosovo will not withhold their diplomatic, economic and military support. Because there is a goal of de facto deterrence of international law against Serbia.
- It is said that NATO will respond to any attack on Kosovo. However, the NATO intervention in 1999 is still controversial. What would NATO intervention mean in such a situation?
Currently, Kosovo Task Force (KFOR) forces are providing the security of Kosovo’s borders on behalf of NATO. Therefore, any attack on Kosovo means a conflict with KFOR. Serbia is not expected to consider this. Moreover, in the event of such a conflict, there is a possibility that Russia would be involved as a party. And it would mean disaster for the world, not just for Kosovo.
- How can the implementation of the Kosovo license plate decision be evaluated in terms of international law?
Kosovo is a sovereign state. Therefore, how the decision on license plates is implemented concerns the internal workings of a sovereign state. However, some of the citizens of the Serbian community in Kosovo use Serbian license plates instead of the official license plates of Kosovo. In addition, Serbia prohibits the entry of Kosovo citizens into its own country with Kosovo license plates and allocates temporary license plates at the border. The decision taken by the Government of Kosovo is a requirement of the principle of reciprocity in international law. However, Serbia tries to show that it is Kosovo that causes difficulties and does not want a negotiated solution by diverting the attention of the international public opinion to the other side by drawing this on a political basis. Otherwise, it cannot be mentioned that there is any contradiction in this regard in terms of international law.
Dr. Ditar Kabashi
Dr. Ditar Kabashi is a Lecturer at Heimerer College, a private university in Pristina. After completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Hasan Pristina University, Faculty of Law, he completed his doctorate in the Department of Constitutional Law, Department of Public Law, Gazi University. Kabashi’s main field of study is constitutional law. In addition, he has various research in areas such as human rights, administrative law, local administrations, and public international law.