Developments in Kosovo Receive Mixed Reviews as Security Council Considers Pace of Reconciliation, Scope of Persistent Challenges
Despite outbreaks of hostilities and continuing tensions, progress was still unfolding towards normalization and reconciliation between the authorities of Belgrade and Pristina and within Kosovo itself, said the United Nations top official, as he gave an overview of the Secretary-General’s latest report on recent developments to the Security Council today.
Farid Zarif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), speaking by video link, highlighted the recent successful general elections in Kosovo, which had been conducted for the first time under a unified legal framework and with leadership in Belgrade encouraging Kosovo Serb voters to participate. The next stage would require the political leaders in Kosovo to treat the formation of the next Government as “the most pressing imperative”.
Nonetheless, although Belgrade and Pristina had made great strides since last year towards normalization of relations, the outbreak of violence during a demonstration on 22 June in South Mitrovica illuminated the volatility between the north-south divide in that region, he said. Law enforcement and security had quickly contained the situation, but it nevertheless illustrated the need for close vigilance and continued dialogue between all parties.
There had been some progress made with the return and reintegration of internally displaced persons, he said, noting, however, they were fewer in number than last year. “Deeply disappointing,” he said, was the recent hostile protest against an approved visit of internally displaced pilgrims to Mushtisht/Mušutište, marking the Orthodox feast. In light of the mix of successes and challenges, the Mission remained committed to implementing its mandate as Kosovo continued along the “European Union path”, vital to the Council’s goal of finding a peaceful settlement.
First Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dačić of Serbia said that the Mission had a key role to play in the creation of a peaceful co-existence for residents of Kosovo and Metohija. With the European Union facilitating dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, the commitment to European integration would be a critical driving force for the normalization of relations between the two parties.
The international community must not allow a weakening of UNMIK’s role, he stressed, underscoring his country’s concern about efforts to marginalize it, especially when such issues as the large number of internally displaced persons still needed to be addressed. The most important priority now, he asserted, was to find a lasting solution to the question of Kosovo and Metohija through dialogue. Serbia was committed to finding a comprehensive solution that took into account, above all, the needs of its own citizens.
Enver Hoxhaj, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo, pointed to political and economic stability as well as strengthened democratic governance. Recent parliamentary elections in Kosovo, he said, had been in line with the highest European standards. Dialogue with Serbia continued, with “substantial success” on implementing the April 2013 agreement. However, in light of incidents in the Serb-populated north, he called on the Belgrade authorities to respect the agreement and refrain from promoting instability.
He said it was crucial for the Council to consider ending the UNMIK presence in Kosovo, which, he added, would be timely, cost-effective, and in line with the United Nations commitment to empower local ownership and effect successful exit strategies. The Mission’s presence could be reconfigured from a peacekeeping to a political office, he suggested.
Many members commended the recent successful elections in Kosovo, with the representative of France highlighting the strong participation of the Serb community, which showed the value of dialogue. The United Kingdom’s delegate echoed that sentiment. At the same time, he condemned the June violence in Mitrovica, but commended the response by actors on the ground to constrain it.
The representative of the Russian Federation condemned attempts to undermine UNMIK and called on the Mission to fully express its mandate, including a significant “beefing up” in the areas of human rights and rule of law. He expressed concern about the illegal and corrupt seizing of property under the guise of privatization and other such activities, which were depriving the Serbs of their livelihood. It was ethnic cleansing by economic actions, he said.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Luxembourg, Jordan, Argentina, United States, Chad, Republic of Korea, Australia, Chile, Lithuania, Nigeria, China, and Rwanda.
The meeting began at 3:00 p.m. and ended at 5:25 p.m.
The Security Council met today to consider the Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (document S/2014/558), covering activities from 16 April to 15 July 2014.
FARID ZARIF, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), speaking via video link, noted, with regret, incidents that had occurred in the last 36 hours near the villages of Orlovac and Koshtovë/Košutovo. According to preliminary reports, three people, including a Serbian police officer, had been killed due to illegal wood-cutting. Because of the location of those fatalities, great care should be taken not to “give reign to speculation of political motives”.
In his overview of activities during the reporting period, he congratulated the Kosovo voters, institutions and political leaders on the successful general elections on 8 June, which were conducted for the first time under a unified legal framework. He also acknowledged the constructive role of the leadership in Belgrade in encouraging Kosovo Serb voters to participate. The political leaders in Kosovo should treat the formation of the next Government as “the most pressing imperative”. The Constitutional Court had just ruled as unconstitutional the election of the Assembly President, and had requested the Assembly to complete its constitutive session and to elect, as soon as possible, an Assembly President and Deputy Presidents in compliance with the Constitution and the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.
He observed that Belgrade and Pristina had made great strides since last year towards normalization of relations. Both sides were aware that commitment to full implementation on the ground of the April 2013 agreement required concrete and visible actions. Making progress on the formation of the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities would be critical to promoting further normalization. However, lawlessness and violence committed during a demonstration on 22 June in South Mitrovica highlighted the volatility between the north-south divide in that region. Effective intervention by law enforcement had contained incidents, but close vigilance remained necessary. Nonetheless, all parties should address issues related to the Mitrovica main bridge and any other disputed construction work through respectful dialogue.
In northern Kosovo, he went on to say, arrest warrants issued by the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) against the current and former mayors of Zubin Potok had added to local unease, although the mayors and members of the four northern municipal assemblies expressed their readiness to cooperate. In that regard, he stressed that public confidence in the system would be enhanced when justice was perceived to be conducted “professionally and expeditiously”.
Further progress addressing missing persons had been made with exhumation at the Rudnica stone quarry in Serbia’s Raska municipality, he said, commending the efforts of both Belgrade and Pristina to ensure a non-politicized professional operation. The interconnectedness of ongoing crises throughout the world was also affecting Kosovo. Actions by the Kosovo Government and law enforcement had tackled trends of extremism and prevented participation of some Kosovars in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. Large-scale police operations had resulted in significant arrests of persons suspected of supporting extremist organizations. Leaders of the Islamic community of Kosovo, as well as other religious and secular leaders, were taking stands to distance themselves from such groups.
He noted the Mission’s continued focus on resources for strengthening reconciliation efforts among Kosovo communities, as well as its successful completion of its 2013-2014 confidence-building measures programme. However, he was concerned about the protection of cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo. Despite assurances by municipal authorities, protection of the historic village of Hoçë e Madhe/Velika Hoča had not yet been established. In addition, the illegal construction in the Special Protective Zones, including the surrounding United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site of Visoki Decani Monastery, still undermined reconciliation.
Little progress had been made with the return and reintegration of internally displaced persons, with 35 per cent fewer internally displaced persons returning to Kosovo between January and July 2014, as compared to 2013, he said. The recent hostile protest against an approved visit of internally displaced pilgrims to Mushtisht/Mušutište marking the Orthodox feast had been “deeply disappointing”, and in that regard, the Minister for Communities and Returns’ strong and prompt public response was welcome. The initialling of the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the European Union and Kosovo in Brussels on 27 July and the region’s commitment to the “European Union path” remained a driving force for positive political, institutional and socioeconomic changes. That was essential in fulfilling the Security Council’s objective of finding a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo issue. The Mission remained committed to implementing its mandate in that regard.
IVICA DAČIĆ, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said UNMIK had a key role to play in the creation of a peaceful co-existence for residents of Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia expected the European Union to continue to facilitate the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, initiated last year with the aim of finding practical solutions to issues that hampered everyday life. The commitment of Belgrade and Pristina to European integration coupled with continued active engagement by the European Union would be a critical driving force for the normalization of relations between the two parties. Inter-ethnic incidents, unresolved property issues and limited access to public institutions for members of non-Albanian communities contributed to the difficulties in Kosovo and Metohija. Serbs lived in constant fear, and unemployment in Serbian communities remained high.
He said there was incomplete data on the number of ethnically-motivated crimes against members of non-Albanian communities and no investigation into attacks on Serbs or their property had been successfully concluded. Often, the scope of those attacks were concealed and categorized as “general crimes”. The perpetrators of killings, abductions and attacks on Serbs committed since June 1999 had not yet been apprehended and tried. Only judicial proceedings could bring justice and peace to the great number of victims and their families. At the same time, more must be done to determine the fate of missing persons.
The international community must not allow a weakening of UNMIK’s role, he said, noting his country’s concern about efforts to marginalize UNMIK. He hoped that although its budget had been reduced the Mission would still be able to carry out its work effectively, including addressing the large number of internally displaced persons. The creation of real conditions for the return of displaced persons to their homes was among the key factors of reconciliation, and property rights was another area of great concern. The most important priority at present was to find a lasting solution to the question of Kosovo and Metohija through negotiation and dialogue. Serbia was committed to finding a comprehensive solution that took into account, above all, the needs of its own citizens.
ENVER HOXHAJ of Kosovo pointed to political and economic stability as well as strengthened democratic governance. Recent parliamentary elections in Kosovo had been “credible, well organized, transparent and in line with the highest European standards” and the new assembly was currently being consolidated. The Constitutional Court of Kosovo was crucial in building such institutions. The Stabilization and Association Agreement signed with the European Union provided a clear framework for reform and engagement on European Union integration and proved Kosovo’s comprehensive progress on democratic governance, human rights, economic reform, and other areas. It would also open up the European Union market to Kosovar businesses.
With Togo and the Solomon Islands recently recognizing Kosovo, a total of 108 countries now recognized it, he said, adding that it showed that the declaration of independence had been both legitimate and legal. Kosovo was now part of international and regional organizations, including the Venice Commission, the South-East European Cooperation Process and the Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative and would apply for full membership in the Council of Europe. Dialogue with Serbia continued, with “substantial success” on implementation of the first agreement, signed by them in April 2013. Some incidents in the Serb-populated north, however, had hindered implementation, and he called on the authorities in Belgrade to respect the agreement and refrain from promoting instability. He was also concerned that the Constitutional Court of Serbia had nullified agreements on cadastres and mutual recognition of university diplomas. He looked forward to full normalization of relations, highlighting the need for a peace treaty and mutual recognition.
He said his Government had cooperated closely with the Special Investigation Task Force for alleged war crimes in Kosovo, describing the establishment of a special chamber within Kosovo’s legal system to address the allegations. Serbia was cooperating with investigations into a mass grave discovered in Raska, which held the bodies of some 350 Kosovo Albanian civilians killed during the war. While he appreciated Serbia’s efforts to cooperate, he appealed for more positive actions on excavation and identification of the bodies, as well as for identifying the bodies of more than 1,700 other missing persons. Many women had experienced sexual violence at the hands of the Serbian State and security forces, which had not been addressed either by international or domestic transitional justice mechanisms. In conclusion, he stressed the critical importance for the Council to consider ending the UNMIK presence in Kosovo, which, he added, would be timely, cost-effective, and in line with the United Nations commitment to empower local ownership and effect successful exit strategies. The UNMIK presence, he suggested, could be reconfigured from a peacekeeping to a political office.
OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg) congratulated the Kosovar authorities on the conduct of the recent elections, welcoming the participation of many Kosovo Serbs and praising the role played by Serbia. Compromise was now needed for the rapid formation of a government. Welcoming also the overall calm during the reporting period, he condemned yesterday’s shooting and encouraged consensual resolution of other problems. He praised efforts to reinforce the rule of law in Kosovo with the support of EULEX and encouraged cooperation on plans for a special tribunal to adjudicate allegations of organ trafficking and other abuses. With progress in European integration, he invited the United Nations to adjust its presence in Kosovo as the Union had done in reconfiguring EULEX. Finally, he encouraged further normalization between Pristina and Belgrade through dialogue and called on the leaders of both to show the wisdom and courage necessary for further reconciliation and a European future.
EIHAB OMAISH (Jordan) welcomed democratic progress in Kosovo and urged all States to support it. He said it was important to resume the high-level dialogue between Pristina and Kosovo as quickly as possible and to implement previous agreements. He expressed hope that European aspirations would help all in the region achieve stability and prosperity. He welcomed the role of EULEX and condemned the incident in which one of its convoys was shot at. He also welcomed the inclusivity of recent elections and urged the Kosovar parties to form a new government and to pursue justice as a follow-up to the EULEX special investigative task force. UNMIK should continue to address displacement and tolerance issues.
FRANCISCO JAVIER DE ANTUENO (Argentina) emphasized UNMIK’S important role in security, stability and respect for human rights, as well as in liaising between various actors in Kosovo. She maintained that resolution 1244 (1999) remained the legal basis there. She welcomed the holding of peaceful elections, but condemned the recent shooting. She called for a resumption of the high-level dialogue and the consolidation of existing agreements, with the assistance of all actors on the ground. Regarding southern Mitrovica, she expressed concern over the June bridge incidents and called for incendiary statements to be avoided. UNMIK played an important role in reducing tensions in such situations and in helping to determine the fate of missing persons. She stressed the importance as well of allowing impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses and of pursuing justice following the European special investigation.
CHRISTOPHER KLEIN (United States) welcomed Kosovo’s continued steps towards membership in the European Union. Such efforts were cementing its place in the international community. He praised Serbia and Kosovo for their participation in the European Union-facilitated dialogue and for their implementation of the April 2013 agreement, saying that he was encouraged by the upcoming meeting in September to continue such efforts. Both Governments had made “difficult decisions”, which had helped to stabilize the region. The recent elections and the positive reports by international observers of peaceful and broad participation were also to be commended. It was important to follow constitutional rulings, he went on, urging leaders, parties, and Assembly members to move lawfully and quickly in the formation of a new government. Security forces merited praise for their quick response to the violence at the Mitrovica bridge in June. At the same time, that incident highlighted the need to continue dialogue.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation), associating himself with the statement by the representative of Serbia, said that UNMIK remained the main international presence in Kosovo. However, there was concern about the lack of progress in, among others, national reconciliation and the protection of religious shrines. Further, the illegal and corrupt seizing of property under the guise of privatization and other such activities were depriving the Serbs of their livelihood. It was ethnic cleansing by economic actions, and had a significant impact on minorities, as seen in Mitrovica. Given the broad range of problems, he called on the Mission to fully express its mandate, including a significant “beefing up” in the areas of human rights and rule of law, and he condemned attempts to undermine UNMIK.
Noting that only 41 per cent had participated in the recent elections in Kosovo, he said that reflected a deep distrust of the institutions in the region. A political crisis persisted, as did slow progress in the formation of a new government. The interests of Serbs and non-Albanians, among others, should be taken into consideration in line with the Brussels agreement. The “Marty” report exposed many crimes committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which had resulted in ethnic cleansing. The perpetrators must be held accountable, regardless of the role they might currently occupy. He stressed that the Russian Federation’s position remained unchanged and that resolution 1244 (1999) must be fully enforced and binding on all parties.
GOMBO TCHOULI (Chad), reviewing the Secretary-General’s report and the Special Representative’s briefing, commended all efforts to achieve peace in the region, including the recent holding of elections in Kosovo. Such achievements should be built upon to ensure a legitimate constitution. Further, the implementation of the April 2013 agreement showed significant progress, and he welcomed the adoption of a new statute in the north. He also noted the activities in the judicial sector, with investigations being carried out on allegations of ethnic cleansing, among others. Nevertheless, the continued allegations could be addressed once a tribunal was in place, he said, calling for its establishment. The international community and the Security Council should redouble efforts regarding Kosovo as it continued its transition to peace and stability.
OH JOON (Republic of Korea) congratulated Kosovo on its conduct of elections and looked forward to the speedy formation of a government. He hailed progress on the ground in many areas and encouraged the resumption of the high-level dialogue, which he hoped would accelerate the normalization process. He expressed concern over recent tensions in Mitrovica, however, stressing the need for reconciliation and strengthening of the rule of law, for which he welcomed investigation of all past crimes. He praised EULEX and UNMIK for their contributions.
MICHAEL BLISS (Australia) welcomed the extension of EULEX so that it could continue to investigate organized crime, corruption and war crimes and help Kosovo build rule of law. He also welcomed the peaceful elections under a unified legal framework, while acknowledging the role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). He said that the delays in the high-level dialogue were understandable, but called for its resumption, along with continued progress on the ground. He commended the response to the June troubles in southern Mitrovica and called for further reconciliation efforts, stressing that yesterday’s shooting must be investigated. He also called for the planned special court to be put in place as quickly as possible. He encouraged the newly elected leadership in Belgrade and Pristina to work towards a peaceful future for their peoples which was now in reach.
Mr. OLGUIN (Chile) called for further progress in the normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade as he welcomed the conduct of recent elections. He urged the earliest resumption of the high-level dialogue, which had paused during the elections. He welcomed the extension of EULEX and expressed concern over June tensions in Mitrovica, which he said was a reminder that reconciliation between communities was a long and arduous process. His country’s experience showed, among other things, that it was important to continue work to identify missing persons and resolve past crimes, including through research at grave sites. He stressed the need for women’s voices to be taken into account in all efforts in Kosovo, and he underlined the continued relevance of resolution 1244 (1999).
ALEXIS LAMEK (France) welcomed the holding of transparent, peaceful elections in Kosovo with strong participation of the Serb community. That showed the value of dialogue. He encouraged the rapid formation of a government to deal with the urgent economic and regional challenges, adding that it was in the interest of all parties that the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade quickly recommence in a constructive spirit to allow normalization of their relations, implementation of previous agreements and further progress in European integration. Affirming the need to shed light on past abuses, he welcomed investigative work on the “Marty” report. Given the gravity of the alleged crimes, Kosovo must now institute a judicial process. He condemned violent incidents and welcomed measures to reduce tensions, while expressing hope that Pristina and Belgrade would soon reach agreements allowing future progress.
Ms. JAKUBONE (Lithuania) said the historic agreement between Belgrade and Pristina was “one of the most salient examples of progress” in the region, stressing the importance of successful implementation and translation of agreements into results on the ground. She welcomed the smooth conduct of parliamentary elections, which had seen high turnout across Kosovo, and looked forward to swift formation of a new government that reflected the expectations of the electorate. Accession to the Council of Europe was another step towards international recognition, and the Kosovo multinational security force (KFOR) would continue to help maintain peace and stability in the territory. She was pleased about the extension of the EULEX mandate and commended the decision to create a special court on war crimes to follow up cases stemming from the European Union Special Investigative Taskforce. Stressing the importance of continued international support, she called for review of the current UNMIK reporting cycle.
KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) took note of the recent electoral reforms and the participation of Serbs in that political process. He also noted the convening of the European Union-facilitated talks on technical matters, among other activities, saying that such efforts should demonstrate to the international community Kosovo’s commitment to peace. At the same time, he called for an end to the inflammatory rhetoric in order to enable peaceful efforts to continue. He condemned the protests in Mitrovica, but commended the security efforts to contain tensions. Noting the internally displaced persons who had returned to Kosovo, he called for more programmes that supported those people.
LIU JIEYI (China), affirming his country’s respect for Kosovo’s sovereignty, said that it was imperative to uphold the Charter and relevant Security Council resolutions, and find appropriate solutions for both parties. The situation remained largely peaceful, although there had been outbreaks of violence in the north. All parties should make all efforts to respect the legitimate rights of all, but they should adopt a prudent approach and resolve conflict through dialogue, avoiding actions that would escalate tensions. He voiced support for efforts by Belgrade and Pristina to further the political dialogue and implement existing bilateral agreements. A pragmatic approach would help achieve lasting stability, including in the Balkans and Europe as a whole. He expressed support for UNMIK, saying its presence, along with that of other international stakeholders, would continue to play a constructive role in all those endeavours.
OLIVIER NDUHUNGIREHE (Rwanda) welcomed the holding of the recent elections, praising all actors involved, but noted the slow-down of the high-level dialogue. He anticipated the soonest resumption of those talks, which, he said, showed the contribution that could be made by regional organizations sponsored by the European Union. He expressed concern over recent security incidents and hoped that all sides would continue to work together to reduce tensions. He supported the establishment of a special court, calling for the process to be expedited to ensure that justice, and he encouraged Belgrade and Pristina to follow through on their dialogue and implement agreements to bring about a positive future.
PETER WILSON (United Kingdom) welcomed progress in Kosovo and called on those States that had not yet recognized it to do so. Full implementation of the dialogue agreement and all others was also critical for further progress. He condemned the June violence in Mitrovica, but commended the response by actors on the ground. He called for communities to be made aware of information that was relevant to them. He welcomed the arrest of persons planning to join the fighting in Syria. Finally, he suggested that to recognize progress in Kosovo the Council might consider changing the format of its meetings on the issue.
Mr. HOXHAJ, replying to the statement by the Russian Federation, said that Kosovo, along with the rest of the international community, had condemned the acts of violence taking place in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine and other conflict areas. Kosovo had taken legal measures against people from its territory who were planning to travel to Syria. The Russian Federation, on the other hand, was crossing all red lines in international relations. He condemned Russian actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, saying the Russian Federation was becoming the main threat to international peace and security. In that light, he said mutual military exercises between the Russian Federation and Serbia were dangerous.
Mr. DAČIĆ (Serbia) said that Kosovo was not in a position to give lectures on international law in light of its unilateral declaration of independence. He called on leaders of Kosovo not to be more Catholic than the Pope. He condemned all who travelled to fuel conflicts in other countries, but that was not the subject of today’s discussion. He was trying to forge agreements and understanding. It was important to adjudicate issues of the past, but it was also important to look to the future. He had not reacted when the President of the Council called for other States to recognize Kosovo. Serbs and Kosovars would not resolve the world’s problems, but could resolve the problems between themselves.
Mr. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation), taking the floor for a second time, said that comments made by Kosovo were attempts to draw the dialogue away from the matters at hand. He said that 80 per cent of voters in Crimea had turned out to vote, as compared to 41 per cent in Kosovo. Only when 90 per cent voted in favour of the referendum was a decision made to include Crimea in the Russian Federation.
Mr. WILSON (United Kingdom), also speaking again, expressed appreciation to the Secretariat and all it did quietly behind the scenes. He especially thanked the interpreters, who had a particularly tough time with the five-minute rule, which made delegations read faster. He also voiced great appreciation for the spirit of compromise shown by delegations during the month’s controversial and difficult debates.