Territorial Integrity Narrowly Interpreted: Reasserting the Classical Inter-State Paradigm of International Law
Leiden Journal of International Law, March 2011
Posted: 12 Apr 2013
Date Written: 2011
Paragraph 80 of the Kosovo AO reflects a very traditional conception of international law. By insisting on the inter-state character of the principle of territorial integrity, the Court refused to challenge the classical argument of the ‘neutrality’ of international law in regard to secession. The Court also refused any reinterpretation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. As already stated in the Wall Advisory Opinion, the prohibition of the use of force is only applicable between states. It does not apply between states and non-state actors, whether secessionist or not. Similarly, the Court refused the argument of ‘remedial secession’, at least as far as it would imply a right to violate the principle of territorial integrity of a state by a secessionist group. Indeed, if the latter principle is not applicable in such situations, it logically cannot be violated and there is therefore no right to infringe it. Finally, the Court refused to consider Kosovo as a ‘special case’ or a sui generis situation. According to the Court, this situation must be governed by the traditional rules of general international law. This implies that Kosovo did not violate international law by proclaiming independence. But this also implies that a declaration of independence by a secessionist group inside Kosovo would not be contrary to international law. Moreover, it can be pointed out that if Kosovo is not a state (a hypothesis perfectly compatible with the advisory opinion), then general international law would not preclude Serbia from invoking the argument of ‘legal neutrality’ to support such a secessionist group.
Keywords: legal neutrality, non-use of force, remedial secession, self-determination, territorial integrity
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation