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Baltic Yearbook of International Law


territoriality, minority rights, secession, self-determination, independence, Kosovo, Georgia


This article argues that territoriality and minority rights can work in tandem, because most secessionist claims by minority groups involve claims to territory. Thus, territoriality and minority rights are both about land, and the relevant inquiry should be whether to alter the status quo, at the expense of a mother State's territory and in order to accommodate minority rights. This paper seeks to answer this difficult question in the context of recent secessionist struggles in Kosovo and in Georgia. Part 2 discusses the principle of territorial integrity under international law, before turning to a discussion of minority rights, and in particular, the principle of self-determination. Part 3 focuses on Kosovo and describes the recent war in this region, leading toward the Kosovar unilateral declaration of independence in 2008. Part 4 similarly focuses on Georgia, and describes the recent conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Part 5 attempts to propose a reconciliation between territoriality and minority rights, by comparing the conflicts in Kosovo and Georgia, by arguing that the conflicts have produced different results because of politics, not because of law, and by outlining principles which could be relevant in examining future secessionist struggles. The article concludes that the international community should rely on objective legal criteria in judging the validity of secessionist struggles rather than drawing conclusions based on political calculus.