Legality in a unilateral declaration of independence

Víctor Terradellas's picture
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This summer I got to know and studied the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest legal instance in the United Nations, which considers Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence legal according to the principles of international law.

It is worth noting that I cautiously read and devoted a great deal of attention to the words of the prominent lawyer August Gil Matamala: “after having received the integral English version of the sentence, my first reaction was that we are facing a legal document of tremendous importance for our national aspirations.”

Indeed, and for the first time, the International Court of Justice solemnly declares that no principle according to international law opposes, generally speaking, a unilateral declaration of independence by a part of a state, in a non colonial context.

Both at home and in the international sphere, the verdict has been watered down with frightening simplicity: “Catalonia shares very little with Kosovo” some have argued. It is crystal clear that differences are far more obvious than similarities but this is far from being the real issue. Instead, the issue has to do with the fact that in today’s Europe the highest international legal body has appeared as the guarantor of the independence of Kosovo. It is worth noting that independence was brought about following a unilateral decision of Kosovo’s parliament.

In spite of history that persistently demonstrates the changing and dynamic nature of Europe’s map, the states’ organisations and their international bodies are still not very enthusiastic about understanding and admitting the new world map of the 21st century. For this reason the verdict of the International Court of Justice, validating the process occurred in Kosovo, needs to be seen both as positive news for stateless nations and as a break-up with the traditionally dominant UN’s view on the inviolability of a state’s territorial integrity. The latter case can only be sanctioned when it refers to a case of aggression or invasion of one state against another and not regarding democratic self-determination processes.

The whole world is heading towards a new system of actors on the international scene. In Europe specifically it is necessary to go beyond the traditional lists of states in order to find the leading actors in the upcoming decades.  In the latest edition of the Catalan International View (a magazine of international affairs analysis whose digital version I encourage you to read: a we suggest referring to these new (emerging) actors - Scotland, Flanders, Basque Country, Catalonia...- as the NEEWS (New Emerging European Western States). We see them as representing the new Europe that is to come.

A Europe that recognises its roots and at the same time aims to re-emerge and become a new axis of knowledge and interpretation of national diversity in the new global geostrategic map of the 21st century.


Víctor Terradellas i Maré

President of the Fundació CATmón. He is also a member of the Advisory Council of InTransit -

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