Unilateral Declarations of Independence

Today's advisory ruling by the International Court of Justice on the legitimacy of Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 is very welcome, because it confirms the right of territories to secede from a state, irrespective of the wishes of the remainder of that state. They ruled that:

international law contains no "prohibition on declarations of independence" and therefore Kosovo's declaration "did not violate general international law."

Sky News, 22 July 2010

There were elections to the Assembly of Kosovo on 17 November 2007 and on 17 February 2008 it voted to unilaterally declare independence from Serbia.


Declaring independence is one thing, but being recognized as an independent country by the other countries of the world is something else again. Because each country is free to do what it likes, it becomes a matter of consensus ... if enough countries recognize your independence, you are independent. The rule of thumb seems to be that it takes recognition by about a hundred countries to get you into the United Nations.

In Kosovo's case, its independence had been recognized by 69 countries including most of the big players. Good, but not quite good enough. Therefore the UN requested an advisory ruling in an attempt to clarify the matter so as to help reach greater consensus. It goes without saying that there are hardliners who will never accept it: Serbia of course, Russia as Serbia's closest powerful advocate, and countries like Spain who will do anything to stop Catalunya and Euskadi breaking away. But this ruling should now pave the way for many undecided countries to recognize Kosovo's independence.

From the point of view of those of us who want to see an independent Catalunya—as well as independence for our own countries, of course—the timing could hardly be better. The Catalan elections are only a few months away, and this ruling confirms that the reasoning behind the strategy adopted by Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència, as mentioned in my previous post, is perfectly sound.

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MH said...

The full text of the judgement is here. But be patient, the server seems to be under strain.

Cambria Politico said...

So when is Wales going to 'declare its independence' unilaterally. Who has the balls?

Anonymous said...

I hope, that at some point in the medium-term, Wales takes it's rightful place amongst the World's sovereign states.

Unilateral declarations of independence, despite the legal acceptance of such seem far too confrontational. I fear if Catalunya did go down the UDI route, "Spain" will respond in a blunt manner and won't let the matter rest. It would probably be a huge setback to our own, and Scotland's, hopes if it becomes a messy, drawn out, even violent divorce.

MH said...

CP, Wales and Scotland are in the fortunate situation of being part of a state that will allow us to become independent if we vote for it in a referendum. In a similar way, the UK will allow Northern Ireland to reunite with the remainder of Ireland if they vote for it. In this respect, the UK is much more enlightened than Serbia or Spain.

It is conceivable that a future UK government might change its mind about this, and not allow such votes. If that ever happens, that will be the time to think about a unilateral declaration of independence. A UDI is only appropriate in situations where mutual agreement cannot be reached.


I trust that answers Anon as well. But, turning to the situation between Spain, Catalunya and Euskadi, the whole point is that Spain are clearly NOT going to agree to let this be decided in a referendum. Therefore a UDI is the only option left.

The point of the ICJ ruling is that any such territory has a RIGHT to declare UDI. Although, as I tried to explain, that does not mean that the new country's independence will be recognized.

In the case of Catalunya, I think the EU (as a more relevant organization of countries than the UN in this context) might well require a referendum to be held to confirm it. I don't think they have to but, in diplomatic terms, it would give other countries a few months to think about it and hopefully reach a consensus ... and give Spain a few months to come to accept what they would not have been able to accept when the UDI was made.

Anonymous said...

Wales needs someone like Catalunya to become independent - preferabally through UDI which then triggers an EU backed plebiscite. We need them to trail blaze for us, as we do not currently have anything like a majority in favour of independence. But a peaceful democratic disolution of a Western European state would set many more precedents than the breakup of the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, and would encourage some of the more nervous nationalists to stop hiding behind the sofa.


glynbeddau said...

M.H. " Wales and Scotland are in the fortunate situation of being part of a state that will allow us to become independent if we vote for it in a referendum. In a similar way, the UK will allow Northern Ireland to reunite with the remainder of Ireland if they vote for it. In this respect, the UK is much more enlightened than Serbia or Spain".

The UK state only gives the impression of this because it thinks it can contain the Nationalist movements. If there was ever a real threat they would respond by a campaign of destabilising these movements. History tells us this but the main weopon will ironically for the Unionist the EU. The UK and Spain will attempt to thwart any creation of a Catalonian or Scottish state .

MH said...

I don't entirely disagree with you, Glyn. I do wonder if either the Labour government or the Tory government before it would have made the statements they did if they thought a majority in Scotland, or Wales, wanted independence. But they did make them; so it would be a big U-turn for a future government to say something different.

Even now, nobody seriously doubts that a referendum on Scottish independence could be called if a majority in the Scottish Parliament voted for it. I'm sure would see some legal challenges mounted when that happens, but I doubt whether the UK government would mount them.

As for destabilizing nationalist movements, I have no doubt that the "powers that be" would resort to dirty tricks, as they have in the past. Equally, I have no doubt that both sides will do all they can to discredit the arguments of the other side and, if that fails, misinformation will be put out as if it were fact. But aren't all political campaigns like that?

However, as I tried to explain at more length here, I do think that the UK has a more flexible attitude to what the UK is than Spain. This is partly because the UK does not have a constitution, and partly because the UK in the last hundred years has got used to seeing the British Empire get smaller and smaller as country after country has gained its independence.

MH said...

Glyn, Here's a report which proves that MI5 infiltrated the SNP. They did the same sort of thing in Wales, although the evidence is more fragmentary.

Welsh Agenda said...

Rhodri Morgan's article in yesterday's Western Mail compared Wales to Catalunya* Some interesting points but less straight forward than he made out. I did a blog post aabout it (ok a pretty blatant plug!)

*I used the anglacised 'Catalonia,' but then I also used the anglacised Wales rather than Cymru

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