The Right to Self-Determination and Statehood: The Case of Kosovo


Introduction To explore self-determination is, in the words of Antonio Cassese”, a way of opening a veritable Pandora’s Box.” Indeed, the historical evolution of the concept reveals that it has been subjected to ambiguity, misconception and contradictory application. Over the years, it was redefined and re-applied on the basis of the interests of particular states. More recent events, namely the dissolution of the USSR and Yugoslavia, have given a new perspective to the meaning of self-determination. In this post Cold War era, greater attention is being paid to the enforcement of human rights and with it, a broader understanding of both external and internal conceptions of self-determination. The purpose of my scholarship is to apply this new understanding of self-determination in the case of Kosova Albanians. It begins with the pre WWI genesis of the Kosova cause in the Balkans; a period of national awakening on the eve of the Ottoman Empire’s destruction. In this period, Albanian leaders compiled a program to preserve the Albanian national identity and struggle for independence—a program ignored by the Great Powers. In the third chapter, I discuss the impact of the Versailles Conference on the application of the principle of self-determination until WWII. It was at Versailles where Kosova was ceded to Serbia. I also discuss the status of Kosova within the newly established state, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In this period, Kosova would not have any legal status and the basic human rights of Kosovar Albanians would be suppressed. In the fourth chapter I examine the situation of Albanians in general during World War II and give an overview of events under the second Yugoslavia. The 1974 constitution of Yugoslavia advanced the status of Kosova but did not settle the issue of Albanians. I also analyze the impact of the rise of Serbian nationalism and the Yugoslav economic crisis of the 1980s. I conclude that they resulted in an illegal change in the status of Kosova by Serbia and the beginning of the dissolution of Yugoslavia. In the fifth chapter, I discuss the process of dissolution of Yugoslavia and the manner in which it was handled by the international community. Special emphasis is given to the European Community guidelines recognizing new states. I also discuss the political environment in Kosova, the peaceful efforts made by Albanians for international recognition, and the reasons for their failure. The sixth chapter focuses on the failure of the international community to respond to the Albanian efforts to achieve their goal, their resort to arms and the escalation of oppressive Serbian policies toward Albanians. The chapter analyzes the impact of the failed peace talks at Rambouillet and the subsequent NATO air strikes to halt atrocities. The seventh chapter discusses the installation of the United Nations Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) and the ambiguous status of Kosova--legally part of Serbia while in actuality under international administration. The chapter ends with the 2005 negotiation process to determine the final status of Kosova and offers some options for future status. The eighth chapter reviews the evolution of the principle of self-determination. It concludes with reasons why Kosova has the right to self-determination, based on three factors: historical, legal and human rights. The last chapter is the bibliography that includes a variety of sources in English, Albanian, Serbian and Croatian that were used to support the arguments presented in this paper. Throughout this paper, I have deliberately used the Albanian spelling of Kosova--ending with the letter “a”. While most authors refer to it as Kosovo--ending with the letter “o”, this is reflective of Serbian hegemony. Appropriate spelling is reflective of the right to self-determination.


International Law

Date of this Version

August 2006