Little Fish in a Giant pond

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I hate to admit it but...

Every now and then Prime Minister Stephen Harper does something I can support. This time it is his decision to recognize Kosovo.

Like a lot of Canadians, I have been really nervous about this issue for fear that recognizing a state that has unilaterally seceded from another state might set a precedent that would allow Québec to do the same in our country, but about a month ago, I decided to take a look at the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Reference Re Secession of Québec. It is a decision from 1998 that made reference to a number of interesting concepts from international law.

I won't get into too deep of a legal analysis of the subject, since I did that already in the posting I made on February 19th, but the gist of it is as follows. International law recognizes that a people has the right to self-determination, but every international agreement that recognizes this right also expressly states that it is not to be used to support the dismemberment of a state. An exception is made for colonized or oppressed peoples, when secession is the only way of realizing their right to self-determination.

Given the prominent positions attained by so many Québécois in Canadian society (i.e. chief justices of the Supreme Court, Ambassadors, cabinet representation, prime ministers, etc.), the fact that they have been recognized both as a distinct society and as a nation by the Canadian parliament, and the fact that on two previous occasions they voted in favour of remaining a part of our country would make it very difficult for a separatist government from Québec (even if a third referendum produced a clear majority in favour of secession) to make an argument before the international community that the Québécois are somehow oppressed or colonized. The Kosovars on the other hand, were the victims of a brutal genocide committed by the state they wish to secede from. The two situations are hardly parallel.

One other concept that the Supreme Court alluded to was the notion of a recognition of a factual reality. Simply put, when a state has no-longer any presence or control in a territory, the international community will eventually have to recognize the government that is in control. As it stands, the government of Canada still maintains a significant presence in Québec, with military bases, federal buildings, national parks, and even a part of its national capital region. Whereas Kosovo has been administered by the UN since a NATO led bombing campaign pushed Serbian forces out of there several years ago.

The only downside to recognizing Kosovo that I can see, is that other nations that don't wish to recognize Kosovo might recognize a separatist Québec in order to punish Canada for recognizing Kosovo. Even still, a lot of these nations have separatist movements of their own and may not want to broaden the standard for unilateral secession any further by recognizing a secessionist nation that has never been the victim of a genocide.

I do believe that the government has made the right call in this case. I would also like to extend my congratulations to the people of Kosovo.

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  • Just to add that Dion suggested Canada recognize Kosovo weeks ago. No dithering on his part.

    By Blogger Loraine Lamontagne, at 6:07 AM  

  • Thanks for adding that Loraine, I did a little checking online and couldn't find anything about Dion's position, so I decided that it was best to say nothing at all rather than risk misquoting him.

    I find it rather amazing, how someone who is supposedly "not a leader" seems to be leading Harper's government around by the nose. After all, this is the same prime minister who denied global warming was even a problem, and then suddenly decided it was necessary to introduce the Clean Air Act when Dion's leadership campaign helped bring the issue to the forefront.

    By Blogger Fish, at 9:17 AM  

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