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Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (S/2020/964)

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I. Introduction and Mission priorities

  1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), by which the Council established the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and requested me to report at regular intervals on the implementation of its mandate. The report covers the activities of UNMIK, and developments related thereto, from 16 March to 15 September 2020.

  2. The priorities of the Mission remain to promote security, stability and respect for human rights in Kosovo and in the region. In furtherance of its goals, UNMIK continues its constructive engagement with Pristina and Belgrade, all communities in Kosovo, and regional and international actors. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Kosovo Force continue to perform their roles within the framework of resolution 1244 (1999). The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo continues its presence in Kosovo, in line with the statement by the President of the Security Council of 26 November 2008 (S/PRST/2008/44) and my report of 24 November 2008 (S/2008/692). The United Nations agencies, funds and programmes work closely with the Mission.

II. Key political and security developments

  1. Several overlapping and intersecting challenges confronted the people and institutions of Kosovo. Foremost among those was the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, which, beyond its impact on public health, carried serious economic, social and political repercussions. The spread of the virus accelerated during the latter half of the reporting period, causing loss of lives and livelihoods throughout Kosovo and putting a major strain on the capacity of public institutions to respond to the crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by a political crisis, as the government led by the Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, of the Movement for Self-Determination (Vetёvendosje), was voted out through a non-confidence motion initiated by its coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo, just two months into its term of office. The announcement in June by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office that war crimes and crimes against humanity indictments had been filed in The Hague against the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, and the leader of his former party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, Kadri Veseli, brought further complexities to the political scene in Pristina. These developments and challenges have rendered the political and security circumstances in Kosovo more fragile, at a time when the world is striving to combat and manage the pandemic.

  2. On 18 March, as Kosovo was reporting some of its earliest confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Democratic League of Kosovo withdrew from the coalition with Vetёvendosje, which had garnered the majority of votes in the October 2019 elections, and initiated an ultimately successful motion of non-confidence in the Vetёvendosjeled government of Albin Kurti. Inter-party tensions had been building and public differences aired, including on calls for the unconditional removal of the 100 per cent import tax on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina that had been put in place in 2018 by the former government led by the then Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj. After the dismissal by Mr. Kurti of the Minister of Interior and the Democratic League of Kosovo’s first Vice-President, whom he had accused of openly contradicting the government response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Democratic League of Kosovo left the coalition, calling it an unacceptable violation of its coalition agreement with Vetёvendosje.

  3. On 25 March, 82 of the 120 members of the Assembly voted in favour of the motion of non-confidence against the government of Albin Kurti. In response, Mr. Kurti and his party called for the immediate scheduling of new elections. However, President Thaçi, following consultations with most political parties, concluded that a majority of parties favoured the formation of a new government. On 30 April, following the lack of response of Vetёvendosje to the repeated requests made by President Thaçi to identify an alternate candidate for Prime Minister, he invited the Democratic League of Kosovo, given that the party had won the second-highest number of votes in the previous election, to form a new government. Vetёvendosje challenged that action in the Constitutional Court of Kosovo, which, on 28 May, upheld the decision of President Thaçi. Amid continuing protests from Vetёvendosje and widespread public dissatisfaction with the political upheavals during a public health emergency, on 3 June, the Assembly narrowly approved the new government to be led by the Vice-President of the Democratic League of Kosovo, Avdullah Hoti.

  4. The new government depends on a one-vote majority in the Assembly and is comprised of a mixture of smaller Kosovo Albanian-led parties, including the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and the Socialist Democratic Initiative for Kosovo, along with the Kosovo Serb party Serbian List and parties representing other non-majority communities. The Cabinet of Prime Minister Hoti is slightly larger than that of the previous government, with four Deputy Prime Ministers and 16 ministries (formerly 15), including 3 women ministers, compared with 5 in the preceding government.

  5. Upon taking office, the new government prioritized addressing the pandemic, facilitating economic recovery, combating crime and corruption, advancing the dialogue with Belgrade and progressing on European integration. It also lifted the non-tariff restrictions, including reciprocity measures, on Serbian goods that had been imposed by the previous Vetёvendosje-led government, but indicated that they could be reinstated if necessary progress was not achieved in the dialogue with Belgrade. Continued political infighting, however, delayed the passage of legislation on managing the pandemic and mitigating its economic impact. A new law on “preventing and combating the COVID-19 pandemic” was eventually passed on 14 August, some three months after the Constitutional Court had recommended urgent legislative changes to support the measures introduced by the government to contain the virus. In July, following repeated unsuccessful attempts due to a lack of quorum, the Assembly also ratified five international financial agreements with the World Bank, the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in support of, among other things, modernizing the tax and customs administration of Kosovo and a supplementary budget law. In August, the Assembly ratified two other financial agreements of great importance for economic recovery, namely, an agreement with the World Bank and a loan agreement with the European Union for macro-financial assistance. In response to the pandemic, the government proposed a 1.2 billion euro economic recovery plan, which remains pending with the Assembly.

  6. On 24 June, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office announced the 24 April filing at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers of a 10-count indictment against President Thaçi, Mr. Veseli and other individuals. They were charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution and torture. The indictment is pending a review and confirmation by a pre-trial judge of the Specialist Chambers, which is before the end of October, in accordance with the applicable rules of procedure and evidence. The Office stated that the charges were being disclosed in advance owing to “repeated efforts by both Hashim Thaçi and Kadri Veseli to obstruct and undermine the work of the KSC [Kosovo Specialist Chambers]”. Prime Minister Hoti, reacting to the announcement, called for respect for the procedures of the Specialist Chambers. Mr. Veseli said in a statement that the “true motives” of the Prosecutor were “entirely political”. President Thaçi described the allegations as “false”, while promising to resign if the indictment was officially confirmed by the Specialist Chambers.

  7. In a televised address on 18 July, President Thaçi characterized the process as “another one among 21 years of accusations, allegations and fabrications about the Kosovo Liberation Army and the struggle of the people of Kosovo for freedom and sovereignty”. Meanwhile, the Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution on political and civic unity in the protection of the values of the people of Kosovo calling, among others, “to protect the liberation war of the KLA” (Kosovo Liberation Army), addressing the issue of missing persons and ensuring justice for “all victims of Serbia’s crimes” and the impartiality of the Specialist Chambers. Some 20 million euros were approved within the 2020 Kosovo budget to support the potential indictees and their families. In addition, a debate was renewed on a previously submitted draft law on “the protection of Kosovo Liberation Army war values, which failed to be adopted on its first reading, on 13 August, owing to a lack of quorum. International actors and local human rights organizations have strongly criticized elements of this draft text, noting that they may violate freedom of expression and other fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution and international norms. On 14 August, the Kosovo Liberation Army Veterans Association petitioned the Assembly to amend the Law on the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Office to extend their jurisdiction to crimes committed by Serbian forces. On 24 August, President Thaçi submitted a request to the Assembly to amend the Constitution to provide clarification on the end of the mandate of the Specialist Chambers and the Office.

  8. Those developments took place against the backdrop of continuing public debate and speculation on the viability of the Democratic League of Kosovo-led coalition government. On 6 August, Vetёvendosje announced that it was in the process of collecting signatures in the Assembly to initiate a motion of non-confidence against the Hoti government. In addition, political actors have launched public discussions on the election of a new President in the event that President Thaçi resigns before the end of his mandate, in April 2021.

  9. The resumption of work by the municipality of Deçan/Dečani on a transit road to Montenegro through the special protective zone of the Visoki Dečani monastery, in contravention of applicable laws, sparked renewed political and security tensions during the reporting period. Following the resumption of the road upgrades within the special protective zone in mid-July, the Eparchy of Raška-Prizren appealed to the Kosovo government and the international community to prevent further encroachment into the special protective zone. Belgrade also decried the new construction works, with the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, requesting that the issue of the special protective zones be included in the agenda of the next session of the European Union-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina talks. On 16 August, following a visit to the municipality by Prime Minister Hoti, construction was halted. On 27 August, upon a fact-finding visit to the area, the Pristina-based representatives of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, who were accompanied by officials from the European Union, OSCE and the Kosovo Force, called upon the Kosovo government to uphold the Law on Special Protective Zones and to ensure the implementation of the 19 May 2016 decision of the Constitutional Court upholding land ownership rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church. To date, however, the municipality has not committed itself to a permanent cessation of the unlawful road works.

  10. From mid-March until the end of May, when pandemic restriction measures were in force, the Kosovo Serb communities in Vushtrri/Vučitrn, Novak/Novakë, Prizren, Istog/Istok, Gjilan/Gnjilane and Obiliq/Obilić recorded an increase of criminal incidents directed against their property and livelihoods. On 1 May, my Special Representative, alongside other high-level international representatives in Kosovo, expressed concern over the increase in such incidents and urged Pristina authorities to prioritize law enforcement for those communities, to swiftly identify the perpetrators and publicly discourage such acts.