Briefing Security Council on Serbia, Kosovo, Top United Nations Official, Speakers Urge Restraint, Continued Dialogue Amidst Violence, Rising Tensions, Accusations
As senior officials from Serbia and Kosovo asserted discordant opinions regarding where the blame for regional insecurity should lie, the United Nations top official in Pristina, along with Security Council members, urged restraint amidst recent violence and called for continued dialogue, even as some questioned whether the Organization’s continued presence in Kosovo was warranted.
Caroline Ziadeh, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), told the Security Council that, although the final results of elections held on 3 April are pending, the current majority party in Serbia retained a secure public mandate. While eligible Kosovar voters’ participation was not secured — and public opinion was sharply divided along ethnic lines — more than 19,000 voters from Kosovo cast their votes at special polling stations established in Serbia. “The resilience of democratic institutions throughout the Balkans region is a crucial factor in the maintenance of a secure and democratic Europe”, she emphasized.
However, a comprehensive normalization of relations remains elusive, she said, urging both sides to seek permanent solutions to outstanding issues, such as vehicle registration plates and freedom of movement. She also stressed that her responsibility as the Head of UNMIK is to offer objective information to the Secretary-General and the Security Council. The Mission’s role is not to be a determinant factor — nor the voice of any particular view — regarding a just and lasting settlement between the parties. Thus, the Mission will continue working towards common objectives held by authorities, communities and institutions in Kosovo.
Nikola Selaković, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, pointed out that Pristina’s goal is to force Serbs and other non-Albanians to leave and to terminate any form of cultural or national diversity. Further, its actions made it impossible to organize Serbian presidential and parliamentary elections in Kosovo and Metohija on 3 April, which marked the first time since 1999 that citizens there were prevented from participating in Serbian elections. Pristina’s disregard for the political representatives of Serbs in its institutions, among other things, creates an atmosphere of complete insecurity, he stressed. Against that backdrop, he called for clear political will and accompanying measures to demonstrate that discrimination on national grounds is not a desirable social value.
Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz of Kosovo, detailing her country’s strong performance in democratic, political and economic terms, stated: “We are part of the West, while Serbia remains Russia’s satellite”. Recalling war crimes and massacres of her people perpetrated by Serbia, she underscored that Belgrade is the biggest threat to normalization and peace in the region. Kosovo is eager, willing and ready for dialogue, she said. However, Serbia is in the midst of an unprecedented military build-up with donations of warplanes from the Russian Federation and Belarus. “If we do not close the Pandora’s box opened by Putin, Vučić and Dodik, the Balkans might become a dark place again,” she warned the Council.
In the ensuing debate, Council members urged continued, constructive dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade within the framework of the dialogue facilitated by the European Union. Many also expressed concern over recent attacks against police in Kosovo and spotlighted the need to ensure the rule of law. Others pointed to Pristina’s decision to not allow participation in Serbian elections, emphasizing the need to protect the rights of Kosovo Serbs and avoid unilateral actions that serve to exacerbate tensions.
On that point, the representative of Brazil pointed out that Serbs and other minorities within Kosovo feel discriminated against and persecuted. Further, the persistent discussion on the recognition of Kosovo as an independent State has been detrimental to the wider political process and has undermined prospects for meaningful regional cooperation. UNMIK’s main objective remains unfulfilled, he added.
The representative of the Russian Federation, similarly, noted recent, increased violence against Kosovo Serbs, urging other Council members not to be complicit in the creation of an ethnically cleansed Kosovo. She also condemned Pristina’s actions against UNMIK — including the beating of an officer and a declaration of persona non grata — and stressed that the United Nations must ensure the inviolability of its presence in Kosovo.
That presence, Ghana/s representative pointed out, has helped to build trust and social cohesion among various communities, ethnic groups and institutions, which remains key in promoting unity and forging peaceful relations among people. He also underlined the need to address tensions arising from the recent elections, related issues of free movement and incidents affecting religious and cultural sites.
The United States’ delegate, pointing out that this was the first time the Council met on this issue since the Russian Federation’s war on Ukraine, stressed the importance of preserving stability in the Western Balkans. Urging both Kosovo and Serbia to engage in all aspects of the dialogue facilitated by the European Union, he also said that UNMIK has fulfilled its purpose and that a peacekeeping mission was no longer necessary.
Albania’s representative echoed those points, noting that “speaking of peacekeeping now in Kosovo is meaningless” and that UNMIK’s responsibilities have been transferred to the Kosovo authorities. He urged Serbia and Kosovo to engage seriously in the European Union-facilitated dialogue and, by closing the dark chapters of the past, design their future. The youth of the Balkans region all have the same goal: a better life, freedom, opportunities and joining the European Union, he stressed, adding that nothing good comes from harming your neighbour.
Also speaking were representatives of India, Ireland, Mexico, China, Gabon, Norway, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, France and the United Kingdom.
The representatives of the Russian Federation, Serbia, Albania and Kosovo took the floor a second time.
The representatives of Serbia and Kosovo also took the floor a third time.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:47 p.m.
CAROLINE ZIADEH, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said that, although the final results of elections held on 3 April are pending, the overall outcome is clear: the current majority party in Serbia retains a secure public mandate. While the international community had urged Pristina and Belgrade to agree on modalities to facilitate eligible voters’ participation in Kosovo, as has been done in previous years, a solution was not identified this time. Although this divided public opinion sharply along ethnic lines, more than 19,000 voters from Kosovo did cast their votes at special polling stations established in Serbia. “The resilience of democratic institutions throughout the Balkans region is a crucial factor in the maintenance of a secure and democratic Europe,” she emphasized.
However, she expressed concern over recent incidents in northern Kosovo, including attacks apparently targeting Kosovo police patrols. Against that backdrop, she called on both Pristina and Belgrade to be judicious in their actions and political rhetoric, as these leaders bear the main responsibility for reducing — rather than fuelling — tensions. Noting that 19 April marked the ninth anniversary of the First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations, she pointed out that — despite meaningful results on various practical matters — a comprehensive normalization of relations between the two sides continues to be elusive. Progress remains tentative even on extremely technical subjects — such as vehicle registration plates — and she urged Pristina and Belgrade to seek a permanent solution to this issue, along with those concerning freedom of movement and energy agreements.
Turning to economic issues, she said that inflation, supply shortages, rising interest rates and increasing debt burdens were already occurring in Kosovo’s and other regional economies before the onset of events in Ukraine. Thus, it is urgent to find practical modes of economic cooperation between Belgrade, Pristina and their neighbours. Reducing restrictions on the movement of people and the flow of goods and capital can only help all in the region weather current and future challenges.
She went on to underscore that her responsibility is to offer objective information to the Secretary-General and the Security Council. The contents of the Secretary-General’s reports are not the subject of negotiation with any party. Further, UNMIK’s role is not to be a determinant factor — nor the voice of any particular view — regarding a just and lasting settlement between parties. Thus, the Mission will continue its work in the areas where it is able to help forward the common objectives held by authorities, communities and institutions in Kosovo. Supporting an active civil society, promoting new tools to help Kosovo reinforce the rule of law, contributing to the empowerment of women and youth and providing expertise to human-rights mechanisms will remain major priorities. The Council’s support remains essential, as does the organ’s attention to relations between Pristina and Belgrade, she stressed.
NIKOLA SELAKOVIĆ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said in Kosovo and Metohija, citizens of Serbian nationality and other non-Albanians are uncertain if their fundamental human rights could be violated or denied — a reaction to the instability generated by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in Pristina. The goal of Pristina is to have even more Serbs and other non-Albanians leave and to terminate any form of cultural and national diversity. On 16 January, the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in Pristina, contrary to Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), banned the organizing of a referendum in Kosovo and Metohija on amending the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. That made it impossible to organize the presidential and parliamentary elections of Serbia in Kosovo and Metohija on 3 April — the first time since 1999 that citizens there were prevented from participating in the elections of Serbia. On 20 September, the Provisional Institutions deployed special police units, with armoured vehicles, at two administrative crossings to central Serbia. There, the units confiscated license plates of vehicles from the north of Kosovo and Metohija and central Serbia.
In Kosovo and Metohija, a Serb can be sentenced to many years in prison based on unverified or contradictory witness statements, he continued. Pristina’s nationalism is manifested through ignoring the political representatives of Serbs in institutions and its readiness to permanently remove the leaders of the Serb community through politically mounted investigations and judicial proceedings. This creates an atmosphere of complete insecurity, he stressed, also citing events in the municipality of Strpce on 21 December 2021, when 11 Serbs were arrested, including the former Mayor and Vice-President of the Serbian List, Bratislav Nikolic, who remains in custody.
He went on to say that Pristina has openly stated that establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities will not be allowed, thus undermining dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and directly humiliating the European Union. He cited ethnically motivated incidents, hate speech, violations of the right to a fair trial and freedom of movement, and desecration of churches and cemeteries. The cause-and-effect relationship between the issue of return of displaced persons and incidents on ethnic grounds is obvious. This explains why there are still more than 200,000 internally displaced Serbs and other non-Albanians from Kosovo and Metohija in Serbia.
UNMIK could and should play an important role, and concrete measures are needed to ensure safety of returnees and respect for the property rights of displaced persons, he stressed. However, “we are witnessing the opposite”, he reported. Serbs are encouraged to leave their homes, with displaced persons discouraged from returning to their places of birth — which is not in line with the values and principles publicly proclaimed by Pristina. He called for clear political will and measures to prove that discrimination on national grounds is not a desirable social value, and coexistence is possible and necessary. The fastest and most efficient way to do that is to respect valid international legal documents and concluded agreements, with UNMIK engagement and the presence of the International Security Force in Kosovo as a guarantor of peace and security. “It is equally important that these international missions continue to operate in undiminished capacity, taking into account what has been said in today’s debate,” he said.
DONIKA GËRVALLA-SCHWARZ of Kosovo emphasized that all United Nations agencies are respected and appreciated in Kosovo. However, UNMIK is not an administrative mission because Kosovo has a Government. Further, it is not a peacekeeping mission because Kosovo’s law enforcement guarantees the safety and security of its citizens. UNMIK is no longer playing a major role in the lives of Kosovo and its people, which proves that the sovereign State of Kosovo is fulfilling its obligations towards its citizens and is a responsible counterpart to its partners in Europe and the world. She went on to detail her country’s strong performance in democratic, political and economic terms.
Kosovo’s independence is not the result of a secessionist movement, she went on to say. Rather, her country was born out of the genocide committed by Serbia. Kosovo survived Serbia’s openly declared attempt of extinction and today is an example for all victims of aggression and genocide that justice will always prevail in the end. “We are part of the West, while Serbia remains Russia’s satellite,” she emphasized. No other country, besides the Russian Federation, has waged more wars in Europe after the Second World War than Serbia and, unlike many Serbians in civil society, Serbian leaders have never acknowledged even the worst of their crimes; rather, they continue to praise war criminals and hail their actions as heroism. “That is quite unique in Europe”, she said, and is the main reason why the region remains unstable.
Recalling war crimes and massacres of her people perpetrated by Serbia, she observed that the Council — 23 years later — is now “listening to the same Serbian officials spewing hatred and perpetuating the same warmongering, inhuman rhetoric”. She underscored that Serbia was the biggest threat to normalization and peace in the region, as it continues to destabilize instead of coming to terms with the past. In September of 2021, the President of Serbia amassed troops and sent warplanes to Kosovo’s border over a dispute about license plates for cars, with the support of the Russian Federation’s Ambassador. Recently, Kosovo’s police have become the target of terrorist attacks coming from Serbian territory, which would be impossible if the President of Serbia would not tolerate them.
“If we do not close the Pandora’s box opened by Putin, Vučić and Dodik, the Balkans might become a dark place again,” she stressed, noting that Serbia is in the midst of an unprecedented military build-up with donations of warplanes from the Russian Federation and Belarus. Kosovo and other countries in the region need to protect themselves from the aggressive, dangerous threat of an autocratic Serbia. Kosovo is eager, willing and ready for dialogue, but first Serbia must accept reality. “Without the fundamental recognition of reality, there can be no discussion, as we do not even have reality in common,” she said. Serbia must decide if it wants to be a part of the West “or a proxy of Russia”, she stated, pointing out that, after Ukraine, being aligned with both is no longer an option.
ASHISH SHARMA (India) reaffirmed his support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia. Highlighting the meetings between Serbia and authorities in Pristina since 2014 under the auspices of the European Union, he said they must be held without any preconditions and in good faith, with the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities remaining fundamental. He called attention to the urgent issue of missing persons, voicing hope that UNMIK will be able to assist authorities to determine the fate of persons who are still missing. Voluntary and safe return of internally displaced persons is also essential for confidence-building measures. The Mission should continue, together with other international presence, to encourage the Pristina authorities to address the problems of all communities. He acknowledged the activities of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, as well as the International Security Force in Kosovo, which continues to fulfil its mandate under Security Council resolution 1244 (1999). UNMIK has been playing an important role in promoting security, stability and respect for human rights, he said, calling on all sides to fully cooperate with the Mission and facilitate its work.
MARTIN GALLAGHER (Ireland), echoing the Secretary-General’s call for a constructive and sincere dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, said that a comprehensive, final and legally binding normalization agreement is essential for the European perspective of both Kosovo and Serbia and for wider stability in the Western Balkans region. Welcoming the steps taken by Kosovo to address sexual and gender-based violence, in particular the adoption of a strategy against domestic violence and violence against women, he also acknowledged the support of UNMIK in that regard. The Government must remove any remaining barriers preventing women’s full and equal participation in political life and provide support and access to the resources they need. Noting the progress made by the Government of Kosovo in advancing the European Union reform agenda, he stressed that more needs to be done, particularly in relation to the rule of law. Underlining his country’s support for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, he particularly acknowledged UNMIK’s work on missing persons and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ work on the return of displaced persons.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico), expressing concern over recent attacks in Kosovo, stressed the need for all parties to abstain from actions, policies and rhetoric that could increase tensions. Constructive dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina — without preconditions — is the only way to find a mutually acceptable solution that will contribute to peace in the region, social cohesion and respect for minorities. The Council must unambiguously call for redoubled efforts on this front. She also underscored the importance of ensuring inclusive, significant participation for women in all aspects of public life. High levels of violence against women in the political sphere and other obstacles to their political participation must also be addressed. She went on to say that although the conflict ended decades ago, its impact is still felt. There are still 1,620 people who remain missing since 1999, and many more are displaced within Kosovo, in the Western Balkans and in Serbia. She urged the authorities in Kosovo to work with civil-society organizations and local communities to create an environment conducive to their voluntary, safe and dignified return.
EMERSON CORAIOLA YINDE KLOSS (Brazil) said that while the Mission has accomplished some objectives, more needs to be done to fight corruption and crime, respect minority rights and, crucially, establish the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities in Kosovo, per the Brussels Agreement. Welcoming the resumption of direct contact between authorities from both parties last October, he nevertheless noted that a political settlement remains elusive due to distrust and lack of cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina. Further, Serb and other minorities within Kosovo feel discriminated against and persecuted. The persistent discussion on the recognition of Kosovo as an independent State has been detrimental to the wider political process and has undermined the prospects for meaningful regional cooperation; the main objective of UNMIK remains unfulfilled. The status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable, and the lack of agreement can only worsen tensions amongst all communities. It also risks irreversible changes on the ground that further reduce the prospects of a settlement. He urged Pristina and Belgrade to display a renewed sense of urgency in resuming the negotiating process.
DAI BING (China) said that, with Europe facing security challenges, the issue of Kosovo is even more important. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Serbia must be fully expected. Noting the importance of maintaining the security and stability of Kosovo, he cited a spate of unilateral actions taken by Pristina since September and urged both sides to reach consensus. With the temporary license plate arrangement having expired, it is crucial to reach a flexible arrangement to extend it. He also called for the protection of the rights of Kosovo Serbs, noting disputes since January over their participation in elections; such unilateral moves only exacerbate existing tensions and should not recur. While acknowledging that the high-level dialogue between the parties has been at an impasse since July, he called for talks to be relaunched under the auspices of the European Union. Given that standstill, the presence of UNMIK is even more crucial, and it must play an important role in national reconciliation and in the return of displaced persons.
ANNA EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) emphasized that her country’s position on Kosovo remains unchanged; Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) remains the basis for a solution thereon. She recalled that this past March marked the twenty-third anniversary of the bombing of Belgrade by NATO and the death and destruction that occurred as a result. She also recalled that, on 24 March 1999, the Russian Federation’s Permanent Representative warned of the adverse consequences of NATO’s actions, both for security in the Balkans and for the modern-day system of international relations. “It is clear that this is when the West donned the garb of the world’s policeman and opened Pandora’s box,” she said. Noting recent, increased violence against Kosovo Serbs, she urged other Council members not to be complicit in the creation of an ethnically cleansed Kosovo. She also condemned Pristina’s actions against UNMIK — including the beating of an officer and a declaration of persona non grata — and stressed that the United Nations must ensure the inviolability of its presence in Kosovo. Further, Kosovo’s desire for expedited integration into NATO and other Western associations is fundamentally at odds with resolution 1244 (1999) and risks fuelling further tensions, she said.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) noted that UNMIK's competencies and responsibilities have been gradually transferred to the Kosovo authorities. With the overall progress and consolidation of Kosovo institutions, “there was no doubt that the role of UNMIK would further diminish and erode. There is nothing wrong here.” Further, the Mission has no crucial part in any of the key issues where Kosovo needs assistance, including dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, public order and security and national minorities rights. “Speaking of peacekeeping now in Kosovo is meaningless,” he said, calling for a review of the role and effectiveness of UNMIK. Kosovo independence has been a reality since 2008, with the Western Balkans having created common institutions where Serb and Kosovo nationals serve together. “In our part of the world, we do not need more weapons; we need brains,” he emphasized, adding that the war in Ukraine invoked dreadful memories of the war during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Massacres against the civilian populations, be they in Bucha, Ukraine, Racak, Kosovo, or in Srebrenica, Bosnia, all have one thing in common: they are despicable crimes. Milosevic died behind bars; Karadzic is convicted of genocide and is paying for his deeds.
Russian aggression affects the entire world, including the Western Balkans, he pointed out. Russian proxies in the region should not be allowed any space to undermine or roll back achievements. Emphasizing that no part of the territory of Kosovo should be left into the hands of lawlessness, he encouraged Kosovo authorities to do whatever needed to make law prevail. There is extensive legislation and good practices in Europe and the Balkans on national minorities. Even though the minority population of Kosovo counts for less than 5 per cent, Kosovo has established itself as a multi-ethnic State. The creation of artificial entities which can only lead to dysfunctional States should not be supported. He urged Serbia and Kosovo to engage seriously in the European Union-facilitated dialogue and, by closing the dark chapters of the past, design their future. He noted his Russian colleagues, accustomed to using false narratives on Ukraine, now extends them to Kosovo as well, as they cannot see the region as it is but how they want it to be.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said the normalization process in Kosovo is falling far short of expectations, with dialogue in good faith, based on existing agreements, not being followed by action. The issue of freedom of movement remains a major challenge for social cohesion in Kosovo, particularly regarding the license plate issue in the northern region. Welcoming UNMIK’s role in promoting coexistence, he observed that the First Agreement of Principles requires further commitment. He also expressed regret that Pristina had not allowed Kosovo Serbs to participate in elections. The security situation remains fragile, with violence affecting minorities, especially Serbs. He further cited slow progress on the issue of displaced persons, with only 108 returning during the period of consideration, and on missing persons, with no recent meetings held on the 1,620 persons deemed missing since 1998 and 1999. The support of UNMIK in all those situations is important.
MEENA ASIYA SYED (Norway) said that Kosovo’s local elections were an important political and security development within the reporting period. However, the Kosovo government did not demonstrate its commitment to the principle of protecting the political and civil rights of all its citizens with its decision to not to allow participation in the Serbian elections, which had been the case previously. Pointing to renewed tensions between Belgrade and Pristina, due to long-standing, unresolved aspects on the freedom of movement, she noted that a permanent solution to the licence plate issue is urgent. The parties should engage constructively based on the Brussels Agreement, she said, adding that a comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is crucial. Welcoming the adoption of Kosovo’s Strategy for Protection against Domestic Violence and Violence against Women, she emphasised the importance of having the standards of the Istanbul Convention reflected in its implementation. Gender mainstreaming, as well as the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in any dialogue or decisions about post-conflict peacebuilding and the future of Kosovo, remains crucial, she said, urging all actors to fully engage in the European Union-facilitated dialogue.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) emphasized that tangible progress made towards reconciliation must not regress because of the recent turmoil in Europe. Kosovo and Serbia must engage in the European Union-facilitated dialogue to reach common agreement, and current tensions must not undermine efforts towards peace and stability. Welcoming ongoing work to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence across all segments of society in Kosovo, he spotlighted the importance of countering hate speech, especially on social media. It is also necessary to support women’s full, meaningful participation in any mediation efforts to resolve differences within Kosovo’s communities and between the parties. Further, women’s effective participation in the political process is essential to ensure that any agreements between the parties reflect the concerns of both communities. He added that the United Nations should continue to play an important role in Kosovo, especially through the implementation of projects and activities that support government institutions.
RICHARD M. MILLS (United States) noted this is the first UNMIK briefing since the Russian Federation’s brutal war on Ukraine, making the preservation of stability in the Western Balkans of crucial importance. Citing the Russian Federation delegate’s earlier misinformation and disinformation, he recalled images of scenes from Bucha. No delegation who caused those events has the standing to accuse any other State of violating human rights or reckless behaviour. Underscoring his delegation’s support for multi-ethnic societies, he strongly urged both Kosovo and Serbia to engage in all aspects of the European Union-facilitated dialogue. Calling on both Pristina and Belgrade to cooperate with the Working Group on Missing Persons, he noted that UNMIK has clearly fulfilled its purpose and a peacekeeping mission is no longer necessary. The Council must therefore reduce these meetings to an annual basis, end that mandate, and transition the United Nations presence to a more effective role.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya), welcoming continued consultative efforts between Belgrade and Pristina, called on the parties to uphold their commitments made within the framework of the European Union-facilitated dialogue. Recent reports of attacks against police agents are concerning, he said, stressing that the rule of law is a prerequisite for genuine reconciliation and enduring peace. He welcomed UNMIK’s efforts to support Kosovo in its COVID‑19 response, facilitating post-pandemic recovery as part of trust-building efforts between communities, people and institutions. There is also a need, however, to counter the use of divisive rhetoric and hate speech, especially through social media. Underscoring the importance of increased participation by women, youth and civil society in decision-making processes and cross-community dialogue, he encouraged both sides to ensure such participation is meaningful to account for the needs and expectations of these groups.
WADID BENAABOU (France) said a global, definitive and binding agreement is necessary to normalize relations, with the European Union playing its full part in the dialogue. In particular, he voiced hope that the working group on license plates will be able to find a negotiated and lasting compromise solution without delay. He also reaffirmed support for efforts to fight corruption and fight impunity for perpetrators of serious crimes. Also welcomed was the adoption in January of the Strategy to Combat Domestic Violence and Violence against Women and its corresponding Action Plan, as well as the plan to host the high-level summit on women, peace and security in Kosovo in 2022, as the integration of women in dialogue and reconciliation processes, and, more broadly, their political participation, is necessary for a lasting and constructive settlement of the dispute between Belgrade and Pristina. He highlighted the importance of promoting security, stability, the strengthening of the rule of law and respect for human rights in Kosovo and in the region at a time when the geopolitical context is hardening. The stabilization of the Western Balkans and normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is crucial to their common European future.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) encouraged the resumption of constructive negotiations between the representatives of Serbia and Kosovo within the framework of the European-Union-facilitated dialogue and urged the parties to work towards concrete progress on mutual understandings and previously reached agreements. Close cooperation between both sides is necessary to address the common challenges of the COVID‑19 pandemic and crises relating to energy and economy. Such a collaborative effort can only rest on a foundation of stability and respect for civil and political rights in the autonomous province. Developing tensions arising from recent elections and related issues of free movement must be addressed, he noted, calling for tolerance in dealing with incidents affecting religious and cultural sites. He went on to welcome UNMIK’s work in building trust and social cohesion among various communities, ethnic groups and institutions, which remains key in promoting unity and forging peaceful relations among people.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) Council President for April, speaking in his national capacity, said UNMIK has played a vital role in the incredible progress Kosovo has made since resolution 1244 (1999) was adopted. Nonetheless, a review of its role and responsibilities is needed as Kosovo’s democracy and institutions continue to show their maturity. He condemned last weekend’s violent attacks against the Kosovo police, who represent and protect all of Kosovo’s citizens, and welcomed the renewed commitment to prioritizing the rule of law and fighting corruption, including through legal reforms and anti-corruption initiatives. He also commended the government’s continuing commitment to addressing legacies of the 1998-1999 conflict, including through commissions for missing persons and victims of sexual violence. However, there are perceptions in some quarters that the Kosovo Serb community’s concerns and views sometimes go unheard — with the recent decision on voting in Kosovo in Serbia’s elections as an example. He voiced concern over the increase of dangerous rhetoric in Kosovo and the region possibly leading to security incidents, such as the deployment of fighter jets to the Kosovo border in October. While the Russian Federation’s statement saying that the United Kingdom supplied missiles is baseless, he expressed support for Kosovo in defending itself.
Ms. EVSTIGNEEVA of the Russian Federation, taking the floor a second time to address the statement made by the United States delegate, recalled the 78 days of bombings in Belgrade, the Iraqis killed and the situation in Libya. She pointed out that those countries are thousands of kilometres from — and pose no threat to — Washington. Referencing that delegate’s words that her country could not teach anything under present circumstances, she said that the United States has been teaching the residents of Belgrade, Baghdad, Kandahar and many other cities that collateral damage is justified from Washington’s standpoint. The essence of the United States’ policy is rooted in a single premise: “that the West is always right”, she said. International law can be distorted if it advances the interests of Washington and the military-industrial complex. Stressing that NATO’s goal is to dictate its will through force, she called on Council members to not engage in double-standards.
Mr. SELAKOVIĆ of Serbia, taking the floor for a second time, said that Ms. Gërvalla-Schwarz of Kosovo — instead of speaking of real problems on the ground, including the 200,000 internally displaced persons and desecrated churches — was expressing political wishes and goals. This was an abuse of the Council, and Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić — who is President of her country as well. Kosovo is the result of terrorist activity, narcotic trafficking and organ trafficking, while the real Butchers of the Balkans are the former so-called President of so-called Kosovo and former Speaker of the Pristina Parliament, both of whom are in the Hague for Kosovo Liberation Army crimes. Serbia is a sovereign independent State. Accusations that it is someone’s proxy are disrespectful of the Council and the United Nations. Serbia is a pillar of peace in the region and President Vučić is building cooperation in the Balkans, while Albin Kurti is destroying it through covert operations.
Citing a Kosovo Liberation Army terrorist attack in 1999, with a lone woman survivor, he noted there have been no legal proceedings 23 years later. The term “genocide” should not be abused, as that serves the purpose of cheap political claims and precludes progress. He noted that the ethnic composition of Kosovo and Metohija is over 90 per cent Albanian, with Serbs expelled from centuries-old homes. Ms. Gërvalla-Schwarz said Kosovo is a role model for democracy, but that country is not even able to respect their own Constitution. Kosovo is not an internationally recognized country nor a United Nations Member State, and will not be, he stressed, as the real goal is to form a greater Albania and not a State of Kosovo.
Ms. GËRVALLA-SCHWARZ of Kosovo reiterated that her country is eager and ready for dialogue but noted that today’s meeting reveals the difficulty of this process. The Balkans have been inundated with cyberwarfare and fake news, and she questioned whether those disseminating the fake news believe what they are spreading or have simply made the political decision to manipulate international public opinion. Regardless, hearing such false information and lies today makes it difficult to continue seriously. There is no alternative truth to what happened in the 1990s, she stressed, and expressed regret that the Serbia of today is not able to distance itself from the crimes committed by Slobodan Milošević. NATO came to end the genocide, and it is understandable why the Russian Federation is aggressive towards Kosovo; it opposes the success story that Kosovo represents. A successful multilateral intervention brought about a democratic, prosperous country. “That is the story of Kosovo,” she said.
Serbia’s representative is trying not only to falsify facts; he also is doing something akin to what Milošević did in the 1980s — create the perception that Serb minorities are in danger and in need of Serbia’s intervention, she continued. This dangerous tradition is also seen in Ukraine today. However, Serb citizens in Kosovo are protected by a modern constitutional framework; the Serbian narrative that Serbs need protection is about gaining political influence while refusing to recognize reality and treating Kosovo as a non-existent country. “But we are there, and we will stay there, and every day we will gain more international support,” she stated.
Mr. HOXHA of Albania, responding to Mr. Selaković, said his country is not aiming to form a “greater this or that”, but to build an “open Balkans” and not a “broken Balkans”, adding they have had a broken Balkans. The aim is to have a united Balkans. The lessons from tragedies of the 1990s reveal the peril of being dragged backwards by misjudgements, and extremist people and ideas must not dictate the future. The youth of the Balkan region all have the same goal: a better life, freedom, opportunities and joining the European Union. Nothing good comes from harming your neighbour, he stated. There are only benefits. Albania’s only agenda is to join the European Union, he said.
Mr. SELAKOVIĆ of Serbia, taking the floor a third time, recalled the statement by Kosovo’s representative that “Serbs are protected in Kosovo”. He questioned, however, why more than 200,000 internally displaced people cannot return to their homes and why there are more than 43,000 pending court cases relating to property seized by force if that is the case. Addressing Albania’s delegate, he said that Serbia also wishes to see an “open Balkans” and that he was not speaking of Albania’s goals. Rather, he was speaking of Mr. Kurti’s desire for a “Greater Albania”, which has been stated on numerous occasions. He also added that even Ukraine has not recognized “so-called Kosovo, for the obvious reasons”.
Ms. GËRVALLA-SCHWARZ of Kosovo, responding, said the protection of minorities in Kosovo is stronger than in most countries in Europe and beyond, with the army and police ethnically mixed. The Kosovo Constitution guarantees 20 electoral seats for minorities, with 10 exclusively reserved for the Serb minority — indeed, a supporter of President Vučić has a seat, despite President Vučić having propagated the past of Slobodan Milošević as a heroic act. She called on Serb propagandists to stop the lies, stating that Kosovo is one of the most tolerant countries, and she urged other countries to follow Kosovo’s example. Recalling what Mri. Kurti has said in the past will not help the present or future, she said, adding that talking about the past is not a fair game with Serbia. Kosovo was committed to contributing constructively to dialogue with their northern neighbour through the European Union-facilitated dialogue and to the stability and peace in the world, she said.