LOS ANGELES, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Contrary to widespread misinformation, the Kurdistan Region’s upcoming independence referendum is compatible with international law, said an American professor.
Paul R. Williams, holder of the Rebecca I. Grazier Professorship in Law and International Relations at American University, wrote in the Huffington Post that holding a referendum in Kurdistan is not against international laws.
By the end of 2019, three independence referenda are scheduled to be held: Catalonia, New Caledonia, and Bougainville.
These three are not isolated events. In fact, in the past century, a considerable number of sub-state entities have held independence-related referenda.
Since 1991, 53 independence-related votes have been held, for a total of 105.
Between 1905 and 1991, 52 sub-state entities held independence-related polls.
Although the Iraqi Parliament has disagreed with the Region’s referendum, it is noteworthy that among the 53 referenda since 1991, 26 were without consent from the national state.
As such, Iraq’s disagreement would not act as a legal barrier to the Kurdistan Region’s Sep. 25 referendum.
If the majority of Kurds vote for independence, the next steps include negotiations with Baghdad, Williams wrote, which is a point highlighted by Kurdish officials.
However, a successful referendum would not immediately translate into statehood.
“If Kurdistan continues to pursue independence after those negotiations, there would be an assessment of whether Kurdistan meets the criteria of statehood under international law, and a process of seeking recognition of that statehood by the international community,” Williams wrote in co-authorship with Margaux J. Day.
The authors explained that the sub-state entities’ ability to declare independence was addressed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its Kosovo Advisory Opinion.
When the Kosovo provisional government unilaterally declared independence in 2008, Serbia rejected the move, labeling it a violation of international law.
Serbia requested the UN General Assembly refer the question to the ICJ who provided its advisory opinion two years later in 2010.
“The Court held that ‘general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence,’” Williams explained.
“More specifically, the Court determined that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law,” he added.
The court decided unilateral declarations of independence were compatible with international laws.
There are circumstances when a declaration of independence might be prohibited by international law such as Southern Rhodesia, Cyprus, and the Republic of Srpska.
In Kurdistan’s case, there is no such resolution or lex specialis.
Interestingly, several sub-state entities that held independence votes without the consent of the national states did in fact eventually become independent.
For instance, all of the states that were formerly members of the Soviet Union held independence referenda without the consent of the Soviet Union and are all independent states now.
Similarly, four of the states that were formerly members of Yugoslavia held independence votes over the objection of Yugoslavia. They are all independent states now.
In Kosovo’s case, 111 states recognize it as an independent nation while Serbia continues to object.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany