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Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (S/2021/861)

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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 the Secretary-General 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 2021.

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 the report of the Secretary-General 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

3. Following legislative elections held in Kosovo on 14 February, in which the Movement for Self-Determination (Vetёvendosje) secured a parliamentary majority, the main political developments included the formation of the new government and resumption of the European Union-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The legislature elected the leader of Vetёvendosje, Albin Kurti, as Prime Minister of Kosovo on 22 March and Vjosa Osmani (leader of the “Guxo ” initiative) as President of Kosovo on 4 April. Ms. Osmani is the second woman in Kosovo to hold the office of President. With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic still heavily affecting Kosovo, the new government has prioritized recovery from the related health, social and economic consequences. While the new government acknowledged calls from international actors on prioritizing the European Unionfacilitated dialogue, the two high-level meetings held under the auspices of the European Union have revealed greater divergences between the parties.

4. The Vetёvendosje-led government, formed with the support of all caucuses from non-majority communities in the Assembly of Kosovo, with the exception of the Serbian List party, is composed of a Prime Minister, three Deputy Prime Ministers, two of whom are women, and a cabinet of 15 ministries, 5 of which are led by women. Notwithstanding an initial controversy stirred by the Serbian List insisting on more than one ministerial portfolio and referring the matter to the Constitutional Court on 29 March, the composition of the government reflects increased representation of non-majority communities. For the first time, the Kosovo Bosniak community is represented at the deputy prime minister level and three ministries are headed by representatives from the Serbian List and the Kosovo Egyptian and the Kosovo Turkish communities. As at the end of the reporting period, the Constitutional Court had not issued a decision on the referral by the Serbian List, and Belgrade had objected to the party’s reduced representation in the government as compared with previous legislative periods.

5. The Democratic Party of Kosovo, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and the Serbian List caucuses boycotted the 4 April election of President Osmani, who received a total of 71 votes in favour, with 11 abstentions. The required quorum of 80 deputies in attendance (out of a total of 120) was achieved only after 3 individual deputies from opposition parties broke ranks to participate in the session alongside Vetëvendosje, the Guxo initiative, the Democratic League of Kosovo and the multi-ethnic caucus of other non-majority communities.

6. On 17 May, Prime Minister Kurti presented his governing programme to the Assembly, with the management of the COVID-19 pandemic as the government’s main priority, followed by the tackling of socioeconomic issues, in particular unemployment, and by justice reform. Alongside plans to achieve 60 per cent immunization of the population by the end of 2021, the programme provides for the establishment of a fund to facilitate foreign investment and a new process for the vetting of judges and prosecutors. Within its first 100 days, the new government took steps to address alleged misconduct in public office, leading to the dismissal by the Kosovo Assembly of the boards of directors of several publicly owned enterprises, including Radio Television of Kosovo, and other public institutions. The dismissals triggered criticism by opposition parties, who perceived them as being politically motivated. Regarding relations with Belgrade, the new government pledged to “make every effort to achieve mutual recognition” and ensure the principle of “reciprocity” and expressed its intention to initiate a case against Serbia at the International Court of Justice for alleged crimes committed in Kosovo, including a claim of genocide.

7. The reporting period also featured an intensification by Pristina of its efforts to expand its engagement in the international arena and in multilateral forums. On 21 May, the Kosovo government endorsed an agreement on the freedom of movement of citizens and third parties that provides for visa-free travel between and among Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. The agreement, which requires the approval of the Assembly of Kosovo, was one of the outcomes of the regional meeting of ministers of the interior and security, held in Skopje, on 16 October 2020, in the framework of the Berlin process. The Kosovo government, however, continued to oppose the “mini-Schengen” initiative launched in October 2019 by the leaders of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, which was renamed, at their meeting in Skopje on 29 July, the “Open Balkan” initiative, with the aim of creating a free economic area and single labour market by 2023. Pristina considers that the initiative does not provide equal status for Kosovo and undermines the common regional market agreement, which was signed by all leaders in the region, including Kosovo, at the summit held in Sofia in 2020 as part of the Berlin process and which was aimed at achieving the free movement of people, goods, services and capital in the region, based on European Union standards.

8. Upon assuming office, the government also began to make preparations for the resumption of the European Union-facilitated dialogue with Belgrade. In May, in an attempt to reach consensus on the government’s position in the dialogue, Prime Minister Kurti held consultative meetings with the leaders of the opposition, specifically the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and the Democratic League of Kosovo. Both parties expressed support for the negotiations, provided that the territory, constitutional order and unitary character of Kosovo were preserved. The Democratic Party of Kosovo did not participate in the consultative meetings but declared its support for the continuation of the dialogue. For its part, the Serbian List expressed concern that the new authorities in Pristina were not prepared to accept previous agreements reached under the European Union-facilitated dialogue.

9. On 15 June, following consultations with political parties, President Osmani announced that the next municipal elections would be held on 17 October 2021. The announcement was preceded by the dismissal of the Chair of the Electoral Commission for “irregularities” noted during the early parliamentary elections held on 14 February, a move that sparked criticism from opposition parties and civil society organizations in Pristina.

10. An increase in tensions and a number of reported incidents were noted during the reporting period, in particular affecting the Kosovo Serb community and Serbian Orthodox religious and cultural sites. Following numerous allegations of harassment, intimidation and theft, a Kosovo Serb woman who returned to Gjakovë/Đakovica on 9 June was placed under the protection of the Kosovo police. On 9 August, a Kosovo Serb man was reportedly attacked by three unknown individuals in Novo Brdo/ Novobërdë municipality. Other reported cases involved physical attacks against a Kosovo Serb boy in Gojbulë/Gojublja village, Vushtrri/Vučitrn municipality, by a group of Kosovo Albanian youths on 1 July and against another Kosovo Serb in Graçanicë/Gračanica by Kosovo Albanian men on 13 April. A total of 15 incidents affecting Kosovo Serb religious and cultural sites, including theft, damage to property and hateful graffiti, were also recorded during the reporting period. On 21 July, the Basic Court of Pristina found a citizen of Montenegro guilty of “inciting discord and intolerance” for allegedly chanting Serbian nationalist slogans during a Serbian Orthodox religious gathering in Kosovo on 28 June marking Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day). The individual was banned from entering Kosovo for five years and sentenced to six months of imprisonment or the payment of a fine. His arrest sparked pr otests in Podgorica, and was condemned by the Serbian Government’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija.

11. On 17 July, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Public Administration announced that 11 Kosovo residents (6 men, 1 woman and 4 children) had been repatriated from the Syrian Arab Republic to Kosovo. The Special Department of the Basic Court of Pristina placed the six men in detention and the woman returnee under house arrest on suspicion of “organizing and participating in a terrorist group”. The Ministry also announced that all returnees had received appropriate medical attention.

12. From 29 August to 3 September, the Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas visited UNMIK. He met with government officials, municipal leaders, international actors and civil society representatives in Pristina, Mitrovica and Belgrade and expressed the solidarity and support of the United Nations with regard to efforts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthen human rights and the rule of law and promote intercommunity trust-building and reconciliation.