The final political status of Kosovo is ultimately a human rights issue, and a just and viable solution must balance the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia with the human rights of Kosovar Albanians. A century ago Woodrow Wilson publicly endorsed self-determination as a fundamental principle linked to the equal rights of all peoples. Today it is broadly accepted as one of the essential principles of contemporary international law. Despite this exalted normative status, the principle of self-determination is limited by its inherent ambiguities.

Self-determination is a group right, to be exercised only by peoples, but there is no clear standard on how to define an eligible "people." Even if Kosovar Albanians do constitute a people, they might still only be entitled to internal forms of self-determination, involving a degree of self-government within Serbia. International law neither demands, nor excludes, the possibility of independence for Kosovo. It does, however, require an outcome consistent with the fundamental human rights of all concerned as well as with the maintenance of international peace and security.

Determining Kosovo's final political status will be inherently difficult. No one relishes the prospect of compromise on sensitive issues of sovereignty, but only negotiations without unrealistic preconditions can fully explore the possibilities for compromise and agreement. A negotiated solution will require outside political intervention by the Security Council and key states. So far that intervention has come principally in the form of mediation and political guidance. The message in that guidance, both for Kosovo and for Serbia, is that both groups should engage in a realistic and meaningful dialogue. Should the parties fail to reach agreement, the Security Council, acting to protect international peace and security, might eventually have to assume responsibility for deciding upon Kosovo's final political status. There is little reason to believe that an externally imposed solution would satisfy Albanians, Serbs, or any of the other parties. For their own self-interest, these parties should accept responsibility for negotiating their own future.

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