2008 Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence
The NATO bombings in Kosovo marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. NATO’s intervention ending the Kosovo conflict was a mandatory condition to implement a policy of security in Kosovo. If the Albanians had been left to the mercy of fate, the war would have continued for decades. One of the features of NATO intervention in Kosovo was the fact that it was the first time human, communal, civic and national rights of a people were taken into consideration in relation to the sovereignty of a state which had used violence and terror against a people different to the majority population.
Kosovo’s status was established with the declaration of independence on 17 February 2008. Kosovo declared its independence based upon the recommendations of the international envoy for the solution of its status, Martti Ahtisaari. In line with Ahtisaari’s proposals, Kosovo remains a multi-ethnic country, with an ostensible decentralisation in the sense of the competences executed by local government. This plan grants an explicit status to Serbian historical and religious monuments and creates a legal framework which favours the Serbian minority of Kosovo. The Kosovo war and its independence gave a new dimension to regional relations and stability. The challenge for Kosovo was to build its authority and the rule of law institutions in north Mitrovica. This complicates regional integration and cooperation and impedes the tense relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
Revista Studime Historike, nr.1-2, Tirana, 2013. Enver Bytyçi. Diplomacia imponuese e NATO-s në Kosovë. 219-222.
When all the efforts to convince Serbia to accept the Ahtisaari Plan had failed, Kosovo undertook intensive preparations for the declaration of independence. It started its work in coordination with the international community, in particular influential Western countries. The Declaration of the Independence of Kosovo was proclaimed by the Kosovo Assembly on 17 February 2008.
The Declaration of Independence laid out the reasons for declaring Kosovo’s independence. Initially stating the demand and determination of Kosovo people to build a society that respects human dignity and affirms the pride and purpose of its citizens, the declaration also emphasises the commitment to face the recent and painful past in the spirit of reconciliation, forgiveness and pledges to protect the Kosovo peoples’ diversity. The declaration also expresses the gratitude for the international help offered in the process of Kosovo’s journey from 1999. It likewise expresses an appreciation for the recommendations of the UN’s special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, laid down in the document known as ‘Ahtisaari Package,’ regarded as a comprehensive framework that guarantees Kosovo’s development in the future and includes the highest European standards of human rights and good governance. Based on this declaration, representatives of the Kosovo people, democratically elected, in an Extraordinary Plenary Session of 17 February 2008 declared Kosovo’s independence. The Declaration of Independence, for Kosovo as an independent, sovereign and democratic state, was unanimously approved by all the deputies present. They also endorsed the country’s flag and national anthem.
The request for the meeting was tabled by Fatmir Sejdiu, President of Kosovo and by Hashim Thaci, Kosovo’s prime minister. The meeting started after 3.00 pm and was attended by 109 deputies. Ten Serb deputies and one Gorani boycotted the meeting.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence is based upon the fundamental document of international law, the United Nations Charter. In Article 2, it clearly states the right of nations to self-determination, an accepted and applicable principle in some cases when a nation becomes independent following an occupation, when it is freed from that rule. It also states the right of the majority, not the minority, of the population to hold the power, or the freedom from apartheid, principles that give the declaration of independence of Kosovo on 17 February 2008 an international legitimacy. The preamble of the Declaration of Independence reaffirms the desire for Euro-Atlantic integration and states that Kosovo is a sui generis case which emerged from Yugoslavia’s non-consensual dissolution and that it does not represent a precedent for any other situation. Its constituent part lists such principles as: the first one stated is an historical and solemn one, based upon the experience of the US Declaration of Independence; the second characterisation defines Kosovo as a democratic, secular and multi-ethnic republic, led by principles of non-discrimination and equal protection before law. The next principle states the key declaration of Kosovo’s international commitment to fully implement Kosovo’s obligations within Ahtisaari Plan. The next highlights the essential principles of Kosovo’s future constitution and the commitment to respect human rights and citizens’ fundamental freedoms as laid down in the Convention of Human Rights.
Reshat Nurboja. Çështja e Kosovës dhe diplomacia ndërkombëtare 1990-2010. (Tirana, European University, Tirana, 2018), 110-111. (Doctoral dissertation)
During these months, Kosovo and its representatives were preparing and coordinating their preparations with international friends for the declaration of independence. On the eve of 17 February 2008, all the preparations for the declaration of independence were finalised. “Kosovo’s process of becoming independent has followed a highly specific course, including many actors (UN, NATO, EU, the US, and countries of the Contact Group) and was finished only when attitudes of these currently important actors of the world’s decision-makers were completely harmonised…” The declaration of independence was welcomed by numerous countries worldwide, and many of them were willing to recognise it. As expected, Serbia and Russia’s reactions and objections were harsh. Kosovo’s declaration of independence had a broad echo in the region and the world. “Serbian PM, Vojislav Kostunica, called the independent country of Kosovo, a false state and criticised the American government for supporting Kosovo’s independence. Serbian PM, Boris Tadic, had travelled to New York to participate in an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council, organised at Russia’s behest. Moscow had requested the UN to cancel Kosovo’s independence, but the US, France, England and Belgium had opposed this appeal of Russia.
Those who believed that after independence Kosovo would have a good state governance, democratic accountability and complete clarity regarding its future, began to be disillusioned. Kosovo was now being administered by the Kosovo Government, the International Civil Office, EULEX, UNMIK and Serbia through its parallel institutions in Kosovo! Even after independence, the Republic of Kosovo de facto remained divided. “Neither the Kosovo government nor the international presence and its missions had effective control in northern Kosovo. The International Civil Office (ICO) and its representative, Peter Feith, were charged by International Steering Group (ISG) to monitor the implementation of Ahtisaari Plan as a component part of the Kosovo constitution. The ISG and the Kosovo Government were also responsible for the strategy for the North; the former for establishing a North Mitrovica municipality. It can be said that both cases failed.” After independence, UNMIK, likewise, hesitated to hand over its competences to the EU’s new rule of law mission, EULEX. UNMIK was nevertheless forced to reconfigure and redefine its duties and responsibilities in order to secure a permanent presence in Kosovo particularly in the North. UN General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon, somehow complained to the Security Council and reported that “with the enforcement of Kosovo’s constitution, the Kosovan authorities have effectively taken over UNMIK’s power.” However, despite many problems, obscurities and authorities of various missions that generated confusion, Kosovo and its institutions accomplished enough ‘satisfactory’ progress to end the international supervision. The International Steering Group, seemingly (dis)contented with ICO’s work and its representatives, declared the end of the surveillance of Kosovo’s independence.
Xhevat Bislimi. Kosova dhe plani i Ahtisarit.
Serbian Government- Decision on the annulment of the illegitimate acts of the provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo and Metohija on their declaration of unilateral independence
At its session held on February 2008, the Government of the Republic of Serbia brought a Decision on the annulment of the illegitimate acts of the provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo and Metohija on their declaration of unilateral independence.
The Government of Serbia has filed a request for an emergency convening of an extraordinary session of the National Assembly with the Proposal of the Decision of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on confirmation of the Decision of the Government of the Republic of Serbia on annulment of unlawful acts of provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo and Metohija on their declaration of unilateral independence.
The integral text “Decision on the annulment of unlawful acts of provisional self-government bodies in Kosovo and Metohija on the declaration of unilateral independence”, adopted today by the Government of Serbia states: Starting from the fact that the Republic of Serbia is an internationally recognized state, one of the founders and a member of the United Nations and that is a member of many other international organizations; That the basic principles and standards of the United Nations Charter, which guarantee the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent States within their internationally recognized borders is applied to the Republic of Serbia, as well as to all other Member States of the United Nations; That the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia guarantees the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia and that the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia explicitly states that the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija is an integral part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia, that it has a position of substantial autonomy within the sovereign state of Serbia and that from such position of Kosovo and Metohija all state bodies, including the Government of the Republic of Serbia, have a constitutional obligation to represent and protect the state interests of the Republic of Serbia in Kosovo and Metohija; That the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia adopted on December 26, 2007 a Resolution on the Protection of the Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity and Constitutional Order of the Republic of Serbia, stating that a declaration of independence of Kosovo, as well as recognition of the independence of the Province by any state, would represent a gross violation of the international law and, above all, of the Charter of the United Nations, the Helsinki Final Act and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. Such acts and activities would directly threaten the sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order of the Republic of Serbia; UN Security Council Resolution 1244 explicitly provided that Kosovo and Metohija is an integral part of the Republic of Serbia, affirming “the commitment of all States to its sovereignty and territorial integrity” and that this legal fact was also explicitly stated in earlier United Nations Security Council’s resolutions no. 1160, no. 1199, no. 1203 (ever since 1998) and no. 1239 of 1999; Expressing unreserved commitment to the United Nations Charter and to the principles and tenets of sovereign equality of the United Nations Member States which form the basis of the United Nations Charter, respecting United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 upon which the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and Metohija was established and the strong commitment of the Republic of Serbia to respect the international law which forms the basis of universal peace and security in the world, pursuant to Article 97, Point 1. of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Article 123, Point 3. of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Article 182, Paragraph 2. of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia and Article 43, Paragraph 1. of the Law on the Government (“Official Gazette of the RS”, No. 55/05 and 71/05-correction and 101/07), the Government of the Republic of Serbia issues.
DECISION ON THE ANNULMENT OF THE ILLEGITIMATE ACTS OF THE PROVISIONAL INSTITUTIONS OF SELF-GOVERNMENT IN KOSOVO AND METOHIJA ON THEIR DECLARATION OF UNILATERAL INDEPENDENCE
The acts and actions of the provisional self-government institutions in Kosovo and Metohija declaring unilateral independence are abrogated, because they violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, the United Nations Charter, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 and other Security Council resolutions The United Nations, as well as applicable international law. These acts and actions constitute a violent and unilateral secession of part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia and are, therefore, invalid, null and void. These acts and actions do not produce any legal effect in the Republic of Serbia, nor in the international legal order. The unilateral secession of a part of the territory of a sovereign state constitutes legal violence against the Republic of Serbia and violence against applicable international law.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia also confirms with this Decision that the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija is an inalienable part of the unique and indivisible constitutional and state legal order of the Republic of Serbia on the basis of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia and the Charter of the United Nations.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia also confirms with this decision that Serbs and all citizens of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija who recognize the State of Serbia are fully rightful and equal citizens of the Republic of Serbia and that they have every right not to recognize illegal acts proclaiming unilateral independence.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia affirms its readiness to implement the Constitution and laws in the territory of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, as well as the entire legal order of the Republic of Serbia.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia requires that all other constitutionally designated state institutions and bodies of the Republic of Serbia take all constitutional and legal acts and measures that provide and ensure the uniqueness and indivisibility of the territory of the Republic of Serbia, in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Military-Technical Agreement between the International Security Forces (KFOR) and the governments of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia.
Recalling the Resolution of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on the protection of sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order of the Republic of Serbia, in particular Point 5. of the Resolution in which the National Assembly asks the Government of the Republic of Serbia to confirm with the European Union that a mission of the European Union cannot come to the territory of the Republic of Serbia, Kosovo and Metohija, without an adequate decision of the United Nations Security Council, the Government of the Republic of Serbia declares null and void all the decisions of the European Union institutions on sending a mission to Kosovo and Metohija. Being unlawful, these decisions do not have any legal effect on the Republic of Serbia and do not produce any obligations of the Republic of Serbia towards the European Union or towards anyone who may enforce them.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia requests an urgent convening of a session of the United Nations Security Council, at which, pursuant to the United Nations Charter and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, the unlawful act proclaiming the Province’s unilateral independence would be immediately nullified. The Government of the Republic of Serbia requests that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations take all measures at his disposal under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, as well as other acts of the United Nations Security Council, to prevent violations of the United Nations Charter and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and to immediately annul all acts and actions unlawfully proclaiming the unilateral independence of the Province, as well as to prevent any further violation of that Resolution, other acts of the United Nations Security Council, the Charter of the United Nations and applicable norms and rules of the international law.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia requires all United Nations Member States to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia in accordance with international law, the Charter of the United Nations and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244.
This Decision shall enter into force on the day of its publication in the “Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia”.
Politika, 27 March 2008
Ivica Dačić, Head of the SPS (Socialist Party of Serbia) parliamentary floor group, said he supported the government’s decision because the socialists did not want to overthrow the necessary unity, adding that, “unfortunately, this is a satisfaction for the policy that the socialists have led towards Kosmet and we have lost time accusing each other”. He added that politicians in Serbia had no choice but to refuse the seizure of part of their territory. He added that Serbia “cannot watch peacefully; our military and police will have to intervene if KFOR cannot and will not defend the Serbs and prevent their exodus, if attacked.”
Čedomir Jovanović, leader of the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), said that unilateral declaration of independence was also unacceptable for the LDP, that “it is our great defeat, not the first, but perhaps the most painful, because it is full of injustice, cruelty and because each of us feels like a victim because each of us has to pay the price for what has been done on our behalf.” He emphasized that international law was on their side at that time, but “we have bypassed it so many times and others felt the need to violate the international law.” Jovanović said he could not support the government’s decision, that the LDP wanted an agreement with the Albanians, that we needed to deal with ourselves, and that the LDP is ready to “work together to change Serbia and I urge those who organize rallies to call elections”.
Kosovo MPs proclaim independence
Kosovo’s parliament has unanimously endorsed a declaration of independence from Serbia, in a historic session.
Celebrations went on into the night after Prime Minister Hashim Thaci promised a democracy that respected the rights of all ethnic communities.
Serbia’s PM denounced the US for helping create a “false state”.
A split later emerged at the Security Council, when Russia said there was no basis for changing a 1999 resolution which handed Kosovo to the UN.
Seven Western countries said it was quite clear the situation had moved on.
Tens of thousands of people had thronged the streets of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, since the morning.
When news came of the declaration in parliament, the centre of the city erupted with fireworks, firecrackers and celebratory gunfire.
Crowds surrounded an independence monument which was unveiled during the evening and signed by Mr Thaci and Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu.
Ethnic Albanians staged noisy celebrations in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, and in Brussels, outside the headquarters of Nato and the European Union.
The first sign of trouble in Kosovo came in the ethnic Serbian area of the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, where two hand grenades were thrown at international community buildings.
One exploded at a UN court building while the other failed to go off outside offices expected to house the new EU mission.
In Belgrade, demonstrators threw stones and broke windows at the US embassy as riot police tried to fend off a crowd of around 1,000 people.
The protesters, described as gangs of youths, also attacked a McDonald’s restaurant, the Serbian government building and the embassy of Slovenia which currently holds the EU presidency.
Several Serbian ministers had travelled to Kosovo to show their support for the ethnic Serbian minority.
Kosovo’s 10 Serbian MPs boycotted the assembly session in protest at the declaration.
Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica blamed the US which he said was “ready to violate the international order for its own military interests”.
“Today, this policy of force thinks that it has triumphed by establishing a false state,” Mr Kostunica said.
Search for equality
The declaration was approved with a show of hands. No-one opposed it.
“We have waited for this day for a very long time,” Mr Thaci told parliament before reading the text, paying tribute to those who had died on the road to independence.
From today, he said, Kosovo was “proud, independent and free”.
“The independence of Kosovo marks the end of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia,” the prime minister said.
He said Kosovo would be built in accordance with the UN plan drawn up by former Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari.
The international military and civilian presence – also envisaged by the Ahtisaari plan – was welcome, the PM said.
There should be no fear of discrimination in new Kosovo, he said, vowing to eradicate any such practices.
The declaration was signed by all the MPs present.
The UN Security Council went into emergency session on Sunday evening after Russia called for the United Nations to declare the Kosovo declaration illegal.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on all sides to keep to their commitments and refrain from violence.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that the resolution allowing the UN to administer Kosovo since 1999 was still in force so there could be no legal basis for any change in status.
But seven Western states said the UN Security Council could not agree on Kosovo’s future and all attempt to reach a negotiated outcome had been exhausted.
“We regret that the Security Council cannot agree on the way forward, but this impasse has been clear for many months,” Belgium’s UN ambassador Johan Verbeke said.
He gave the statement on behalf of Belgium, France, Italy, the UK, Croatia, Germany, and the United States.
Limitations of independence
The declaration approved by Kosovo’s parliament contains limitations on Kosovan independence as outlined in Mr Ahtisaari’s plan.
Kosovo, or part of it, cannot join any other country. It will be supervised by an international presence. Its armed forces will be limited and it will make strong provisions for Serb minority protection.
Recognition by a number of EU states, including the UK and other major countries, will come on Monday after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, says the BBC’s Paul Reynolds.
The US is also expected to announce its recognition on Monday.
Three EU states – Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia – have told other EU governments that they will not recognise Kosovo, says our correspondent.
Russia’s foreign ministry has indicated that Western recognition of an independent Kosovo could have implications for the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The flag and emblem of the Republic of Kosovo. The stars represent the six major ethnic communities in Kosovo, and the map, the inviolability of its territory.
The New Born monument, a symbol of the birth of the new state.
Cartoons by Jeton Mikullovci in the Koha Ditore newspaper, February 2008.
Cartoons by Jeton Mikullovci in the Koha Ditore newspaper, February 2008.
Serb protesters in Belgrade attacked the US and other Western embassies in opposition to the Kosovo Declaration of Independence, February 2008.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci announces the Declaration of Independence (AP archive)
Clashes in Belgrade in wake of declaration of Kosovo independence (AP Archive)
Independence celebrations in Kosovo (AP archive)
Blendi Fevziu, documentary: Days of Kosovo, Independence