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Principles on a collision course? State sovereignty meets peoples' right of self-determination in the case of Kosovo

Journal article
Authors Joakim Berndtsson
Peter Johansson
Published in Cambridge Review of International Affairs
Volume 28
Issue 3
Pages 445-461
ISSN 0955-7571
Publication year 2015
Published at School of Global Studies, Peace and Development Research
School of Global Studies
Pages 445-461
Language en
Keywords Sovereignty, rights of self-determination, Kosovo, International Court of Justice,
Subject categories International law, Social Sciences Interdisciplinary, Peace and conflict research


Sovereignty and self-determination are central features of international relations and international law. The concepts are often depicted as onflicting and incompatible. In addition, the meaning, application and relevance of both concepts continue to form the subject of debate. In practice, they remain important, fiercely protected and centrally placed in conflicts concerning territorial integrity or political status. In this paper, we argue that our understanding of the concepts and their interrelationships can be enriched by looking past conventional and often rigid conceptualisations, instead placing more emphasis on the ways in which they are used in particular cases. The aim of this paper is to analyse how state sovereignty and peoples' right to self-determination are given meaning in state practice. The paper focuses on the case of Kosovo, and in particular statements submitted by 36 United Nations member states to the International Court of Justice. Analysing the ways in which states use the concepts to rationalize and justify their position on the Kosovo case reveals several diverging and sometimes conflicting understandings that indicate a need to go beyond and problematize the clear-cut and inflexible conceptualizations that often shape the academic debate on the concepts of state sovereignty and peoples' right of self-determination.

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