Secretary‑General’s Special Representative Hails Kosovo Local Election Turnout While Citing Intimidation, in Briefing to Security Council

Report
from UN Security Council
Published on 14 Nov 2017 View Original

SC/13066

SECURITY COUNCIL
8100TH MEETING (AM)

Russian Federation Says Pristina Could Stoke Ethno‑Religious Conflict, as United States Declares UNMIK Mandate Fulfilled

Kosovo’s peaceful and orderly municipal elections on 19 October had seen a significant increase in participation by ethnic Serbs in areas where they formed the majority, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations mission there told the Security Council today.

Briefing the Council as he presented the Secretary‑General’s latest quarterly report on the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (document S/2017/911), Zahir Tanin said more than 7,000 candidates had competed across Kosovo. However, campaigns had been affected by restricted competition and intimidation in Serb‑majority municipalities.

Recalling that 40 new judges and 13 new state prosecutors from the Serb community had been sworn into office on 24 October, he said they would work as part of a unitary Kosovo justice system. The parties were to be commended for moving that initiative forward because the judicial sector’s implementation measures lagged behind others, such as police integration and technical steps in the telecommunications and utilities spheres.

The European Union‑facilitated Belgrade‑Pristina dialogue in Brussels remained crucial, he continued, adding that informal consultations with the regional bloc’s facilitators had taken place over several months. In accordance with its mandate, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) continued to support implementation of the Central European Free Trade Agreement. However, some actors sought to re‑politicize the issue through public rhetoric, he said. Much work was needed to address pressing issues including the need for economic and employment opportunities, as well as countering public corruption and fighting organized criminality.

Mr. Tanin said the new government was already taking steps to work in a multi‑ethnic partnership, adding that region‑wide initiatives were in place to remove political interference in the delivery of justice and the rule of law. There were also initiatives to engage women in the political process, promote the role of young people in peace and security, and resolve the many cases of persons still missing from the war. He also recognized the immense challenges of ensuring freedom of cultural and religious identity, and struggling against extreme and closed‑minded views, saying they threatened not just the region, but the world.

Ivici Dačić, Serbia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the fact that 200,000 internally displaced persons forced to flee Kosovo and Metohija still lived in Serbia after 18 years was a powerful argument that UNMIK’s scope must not be changed. The report should have given due attention, in a separate section, to violations of human rights and freedoms among returnees to the south of Kosovo and Metohija, he said, adding that UNMIK must create optimal conditions for returnees, including the restitution of property rights. Emphasizing the importance of preserving Serb cultural, historical and religious heritage in Kosovo and Metohija, he said the rule of law must be protected, arguing that, with legal frameworks now in place, he expected that those who had committed crimes against Serbs would be indicted and tried.

Serbia was firmly committed to dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, facilitated by the European Union, he said, adding that his country had demonstrated great resolve to find compromise solutions. Regrettably, the other side had not reciprocated Serbia’s efforts. Underlining that his Government disapproved of Kosovo’s move to establish the Kosovo armed force, as did the international community, he said that initiative risked destabilizing the regional security situation. He pointed out that a large number of countries, including some that had recognized Pristina’s unilateral declaration of independence, had denounced its efforts to apply for membership in international organizations. Serbia thanked those States that did not recognize Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, he added.

Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo noted that every three months, the Council’s valuable time was taken up by theatre staged purely for domestic consumption, suggesting that Kosovo’s status somehow had not been settled. Kosovo was free and independent, she asserted, adding that it was fair to ask for redefinition of UNMIK’s mandate to match reality on the ground. The Council maintained a mission that reinvented its mandate without any real need, she said, emphasizing that what should be discussed was the Mission’s downsizing and withdrawal.

She went on to say that quite soon, Kosovo, in coordination with its partners, would gain its place in all relevant international bodies. The Kosovo army was a modern, defensive force reflecting Kosovo’s desire to join the Euro‑Atlantic family. She reaffirmed that Kosovo remained strongly committed to dialogue with Serbia, and that, in accordance with its constitution, it would implement all agreements reached in Brussels.

In the ensuing discussion, the Russian Federation’s representative said that persistent problems in Kosovo required oversight by the international community. Disagreeing with the optimistic assessments advanced by Ms. Çitaku, he noted that the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo had ceased to function, work on substantive issues was not under way and the prospects for reviving dialogue were not within sight. The establishment of a “government in Kosovo” illustrated the degree to which the situation had deteriorated and the extent to which radicalization had taken hold. That only confirmed that Kosovo was not a fully‑fledged State, he said, cautioning that instead, it served to stoke tensions that might cause ethno-religious conflict in the Balkans.

The representative of the United States congratulated Kosovo on having formed a new government following a democratic process in June, and on its local elections in October. She said UNMIK had fulfilled its mandate and had no doubt helped Kosovo to build multi‑ethnic democratic institutions that would uphold the rule of law. It was now time to transition the Mission and direct United Nations resources to more critical issues, she said. The reporting and briefing period should change from three to six months or even longer, she added, emphasizing that the United States continued to support full international recognition of Kosovo and its membership in all relevant international organizations, including the United Nations and INTERPOL.

Representatives of Japan, France, Sweden, Uruguay, Senegal, United Kingdom, Ethiopia, China, Bolivia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Egypt and Italy also delivered statements.

The meeting began at 11:14 a.m. and ended at 1:19 p.m.

Briefings

ZAHIR TANIN, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said that municipal elections were conducted throughout Kosovo on 19 October. Those were the second Kosovo‑wide local elections since the 19 April 2013 agreement of principles between Belgrade and Pristina. More than 7,000 candidates competed across Kosovo. A significant increase in Serb participation occurred in Serb‑majority municipalities. The European Union deployed around 100 observers across Kosovo on election day, while the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) facilitated voting in the northern municipalities. Both organizations praised the generally peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections. However, European Union observers stressed that, in Kosovo Serb‑majority municipalities, the campaign was affected by restricted competition and intimidation.

On 24 October, 40 new judges and 13 new state prosecutors from the Serb community were sworn into office in Kosovo, a significant step in the implementation of the first European Union‑facilitated agreement, he said. Those judicial officials would work as part of a unitary Kosovo justice system, with support from all the international presences in the province, including UNMIK. The parties were to be commended for moving that forward. The judicial area had lagged behind other implementation achievements, such as police integration and implementation of technical steps in the telecommunications and utilities spheres.

Considerable headway had been made, and the European Union facilitated dialogue in Brussels remained crucial, he said. Alongside that, the Berlin Process, addressing the future enlargement potential of the European Union, had also progressed. In relation to the Belgrade‑Pristina dialogue, which had suffered from a long hiatus, both sides were aware of its importance. Informal consultations with Union facilitators had taken place over several months, most importantly with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

In accordance with its mandate, UNMIK continued to do everything within its power to support the implementation of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, which UNMIK signed on behalf of Kosovo in 2006, he noted. In practice, Pristina representatives working on Central European Free Trade Agreement issues attended all its meetings. Participation by UNMIK was always in accordance with legal statutes. Despite those facts, some actors had sought to re‑politicize, through public rhetoric, those practical arrangements. While dialogue and other diplomatic initiatives could provide a new basis for peacemaking, work was needed to address pressing issues in Pristina. The much‑needed provision of economic and employment opportunities, the need to counter public corruption and ensure public accountability at all levels, and to fight against organized criminality, were all crucial objectives.

The new government was already taking steps to work in a multi-ethnic partnership, he said. There were region‑wide initiatives in place to remove political interference in the delivery of justice and the rule of law. There were also initiatives to engage women in the political process, promote the role of youth in peace and security, and resolve the cases of many persons still missing from the war. He also recognized the immense challenges of ensuring the freedom of cultural and religious identity, and the fight against extreme and close-minded views, which were a threat to not just the region but the world.

IVICA DAČIĆ, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said the fact that, after 18 years, 200,000 internally displaced persons forced to flee Kosovo and Metohija were still living in his country was a powerful argument that UNMIK’s scope must not be changed. Statistics in the Secretary‑General’s report regarding internally displaced persons did not reflect the magnitude of the problem, he said, citing institutional discrimination of Serbs as well as arbitrary arrests on made‑up charges. The report should have given due attention, in a separate section, to violations of human rights and freedoms among returnees to the south of Kosovo and Metohija. UNMIK must strengthen its capacity in that regard and create optimal conditions for returnees, including the restitution of property rights.

No progress had been made following a decision by the Constitutional Court of Kosovo in May regarding the Visoki Dečani monastery and surrounding property, he said, emphasizing the importance of preserving Serbian cultural, historical and religious heritage in the province. The rule of law must be protected, he said, adding that with legal frameworks now in place, Serbia expected those who had committed crimes against Serbs to be indicted and tried.

Serbia was firmly committed to dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, facilitated by the European Union, he said. Despite many challenges, Serbia had demonstrated great resolve to find compromise solutions that were not always easy to come by. There was no alternative to such an approach, but regrettably, Serbian efforts to find acceptable solutions had not been reciprocated by the other side, he said, calling on the authorities in Pristina to show goodwill and facilitate the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities.

He went on to call on Council members and Pristina representatives to focus on substantive issues in the quest for a lasting and sustainable solution for Kosovo and Metohija. He emphasized Serbia’s disapproval, and that of the international community, over the establishment of a Kosovo armed force, which risked destabilizing the regional security situation. He added that a large number of countries, including some which had recognized Pristina’s unilateral declaration of independence, had denounced Pristina’s efforts to apply for membership in international organizations. Pristina should be discouraged from pursuing such efforts and to focus instead on goodwill dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues. Concluding, he thanked those States which did not recognize the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo.

VLORA ÇITAKU, of Kosovo, said that she thought that the Security Council Chamber was not being shown the respect it deserved. Every three months, its valuable time was taken up by a theatre staged purely for domestic consumption. It intended somehow to artificially inflict the idea that Kosovo’s status was not settled, that it was something close to a war zone, where minorities were expelled and prosecuted. That idea was offensive towards Kosovo’s people as well as to the United Nations and its agencies that had put so much effort in place to revive it in the immediate aftermath of the war of 1999.

Kosovo was free and independent, she said. Regardless of the difficulties, the aspiration to make Kosovo an equal member of the family of free nations of the world would never be given up. It was fair to ask for the mandate of UNMIK to be redefined to match the reality on the ground. It was not a peacekeeping mission, as Kosovo was at peace. It was not an administrative mission, as Kosovo had its own institutions. The Council kept a Mission that reinvented its mandate without any real need. What should be discussed was a downsizing and withdrawing of UNMIK.

The new government with Ramush Haradinaj as prime minister was voted in on 9 September, she said. It was important to note that, according to international observers, both electoral processes met the highest of international standards, except for a few Serbian majority areas, where the local population was subjected to pressure and intimidation to vote a certain way. Often, Belgrade officials conducted those intimidations. The only Government that exercised pressure and intimidation towards the local Serbian population was the one sitting in Belgrade.

Between 2008‑2017, the Kosovo government had spent more than €51 million for the repatriation and reintegration of the minority communities in Kosovo, she continued. To date, the accurate number of Serbs living in Kosovo was unknown. When Kosovo organized the census in 2011, the Government of Serbia unleashed an aggressive campaign to discourage the participation of the Serbian community, she said. The smear campaign went as far as labelling registration in the census as an act of betrayal. It was not about numbers. Even if one Kosovo Serb could not return, that was one too many.

If a victory was declared by Kosovo’s neighbour because it was not able to join INTERPOL in 2017, that was irresponsible, she said. The challenges faced by Kosovo and the rest of the world were borderless, and could only be won if information was shared. Quite soon, Kosovo, in coordination with its partners, would get its place in all relevant international bodies. Meanwhile, in Kosovo on 13 November, five members of the non‑majority communities, namely Serbs, were graded in higher official ranks of the Kosovo Security Force. That Force was in the service of all the citizens of Kosovo in every corner of it, she said. Its army was just the same, and was a modern, defensive military that reflected Kosovo’s desire to join the Euro‑Atlantic family. Kosovo remained committed to dialogue with Serbia, and she reaffirmed that, in line with its constitution, all agreements reached in Brussels would be implemented.

Statements

YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) highlighted the importance of adapting to the realities on the ground in Kosovo, pointing out that local elections there had been peaceful and the risk of violence in the region was now far lower than others on the Security Council’s agenda. While UNMIK had been an undeniable success for the Council, a review of the Mission was required to determine which of its functions and mandates might be redundant and consider a reduction of personnel. In addition, briefings would be required less frequently. Critical issues remained, including the reconciliation between Albanian and Serb communities. His country hoped that, with the assistance of the European Union, the two sides would normalize relations soon under democratic governance.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), emphasizing that her country was a staunch supporter of Kosovo, hailed the appointment of the new government and commended reforms envisaged by its prime minister. France was convinced that Kosovo’s future lied primarily in the outcome of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina under European Union auspices. Both sides must show goodwill and engage with each other at the highest level, she said, describing as positive recent meetings between Pristina leadership and the President of Serbia alongside the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. She added that efforts to anchor the rule of law in Kosovo, as well as the fight against radicalization, must remain a priority.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said there were persistent problems in the province that required oversight by the international community. He disagreed with the optimistic assessments put forward by Ms. Çitaku, which were nice, touching and rosy assessments. He noted her concern about the time constraints of the Security Council, but said she should not be concerned by those as there were still issues to be discussed. The dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina had ceased to function, he said. Work on substantive issues was not underway and prospects for a revival of dialogue were not within sight. The establishment of a “government” in Kosovo illustrated the degree to which the situation had deteriorated, as well as the degree to which the province had been radicalized. That only confirmed that Kosovo was not a fully-fledged State, but served to stoke tensions that might cause ethno‑religious conflicts in the Balkans. There was a dearth of progress between Belgrade and Pristina, he said.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that while the first round of municipal and mayoral elections in October were genuinely competitive and peaceful in most parts of Kosovo, cases of threatening behaviour and intimidation in some Serb‑majority municipalities were regrettable. “The future of both Serbia and Kosovo lies within the European Union,” he stated, stressing that normalized relations between the Belgrade and Pristina was essential. In that regard, he called on political leaders in the region to refrain from provocative actions and statements. Also, the status issue must hamper neither Kosovo’s European perspective nor its membership in international organizations. The resumption of dialogue facilitated by the Union would provide an important contribution to normalization, he noted, adding that Pristina and Belgrade must now intensify efforts to implement their respective parts of agreements reached. Parallel structures in Serb‑majority areas must be dismantled and the Association of Serb Municipalities must be established in a way that strengthened links between Kosovo‑Serb citizens and the Pristina government, increasing public trust in dialogue.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) emphasized the need for political dialogue and a constructive approach that would identify solutions favouring regional progress and stability. Resolving outstanding disagreements between Belgrade and Pristina through European Union facilitation was crucial, he said, calling for the resumption of full dialogue between both as well as full compliance with agreements already entered into. To do otherwise would stoke a lack of trust and confidence between neighbours, he said, adding that post-conflict reconciliation efforts to address the plight of the internally displaced were essential. He also emphasized that families of those who had disappeared had a right to truth and justice.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said recent elections in Kosovo and the establishment of a new government, thus ending months of political impasse, marked considerable progress. He encouraged Kosovo political activists to maintain a peaceful dialogue and for Serb authorities to step up their commitment. Dialogue between the two parties under European Union auspices should be pursued by the two sides in a constructive spirit. He added that the question of disappeared persons must remain a priority, and welcomed UNMIK initiatives to promote reconciliation, transitional justice, human rights and the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said that she congratulated Kosovo’s formulation of a new government following a democratic process in June, as well as its local elections in October. She urged those leaders to use their mandates wisely. She appreciated the European Union’s contributions as the facilitator of the Brussels dialogue. UNMIK had fulfilled its mandate in Kosovo and there was no doubt it had helped it build multi‑ethnic democratic institutions that upheld the rule of law. It was now time to transition the Mission and direct United Nations resources to more critical issues. The reporting and briefing period should change from three months to six months or even longer. She continued to support full international recognition of Kosovo and its membership in all relevant organizations, including the United Nations and INTERPOL.

DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom) said that it had been three months since the Security Council had last met on the issue, and it had been a quiet period that did not warrant the 15‑member organ’s attention. Since the Council had last met, there had been the formation of a new government in Kosovo. The United Kingdom remained committed to working with Kosovo to fight organized crime and strengthen the rule of law. Legacy issues including sexual violence and missing persons should also be addressed, and the United Kingdom would support that effort. Over the past quarter there had been free and fair municipal elections across the majority of Kosovo, but there was concern over the intimidation that occurred in Serb majority areas. That had no place in Kosovo or any country striving to join the European Union. Brussels was the forum for the future for Kosovo, not the Security Council. He welcomed the Mission’s years of service in Kosovo, but said that the United Nations should recognize that its operating environment had changed. There should be a full transition, and other organizations should assume UNMIK roles.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said his country was encouraged by a renewed commitment on both sides to undertake a new phase of dialogue to normalize their relations. Despite progress in implementing judicial agreement, critical gaps remained, he said, noting the lack of progress in such areas as the establishment of a Community of Serb Municipalities. Ethiopia hoped that the new leadership in Belgrade and Pristina would continue to engage in dialogue and maintain momentum in a positive spirt. That would require both sides to refrain from actions and statements that would cause ethnic discord and undermine trust and confidence. Expressing support for the work of UNMIK in line with resolution 1244 (1999), he said Ethiopia hoped that the Mission would continue to promote political dialogue while strengthening reconciliation and security. He went on to recognize the significant role of the European Union and the valuable contribution of the Kosovo Force (KFOR).

ZHANG DIANBIN (China), noting that the security situation in the Kosovo region was relatively stable, welcomed high-level dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. China hoped that the relevant parties would put the well-being of people first and refrain from actions and rhetoric that might escalate the situation. Emphasizing that resolution 1244 (1999) provided a legal foundation for resolving the Kosovo situation, he said China respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, understood its legitimate concerns vis‑à‑vis Kosovo and commended its efforts to strive for a political settlement. He conveyed his country’s support for UNMIK and hoped that the Mission, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) and KFOR would work together to improve the situation on the ground, leading to an early settlement.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said that he reiterated his support for resolution 1244 (1999) that affirmed full respect for the Republic of Serbia. All parties to that should abide by it, he said. He urged them to work within that framework and show willingness to join dialogue. Provisions should be drawn up regarding Serbian municipalities to ensure that their human rights in Kosovo were upheld. He hailed the efforts of the European Union, and said that the dialogue it facilitated was a favourable setting to foster mutual trust between the parties. He also hailed the President of Serbia for creating an internal dialogue. UNMIK should continue to build trust between the parties, to promote political dialogue and respect for human rights. Those responsible for war crimes should be held accountable for their acts, as the victims deserved justice.

EDUARD FESKO (Ukraine) said that discussions should be resumed on what the role of UNMIK should be, as well as what actions were needed by the Security Council to advance political dialogue and achieve reconciliation and trust among communities. He supported the idea of extending the reporting period to six months or longer, and the options for downsizing the Mission’s structure, size and tasks should be considered. The present challenges could be met within the European Union integration process with the active involvement of EULEX, KFOR and OSCE. It was the right time to conduct a review of UNMIK and provide the Council with practical options on how to improve its efficiency. He welcomed the latest statements by Mr. Vučić on the commencement of a new phase in the internal dialogue, the outcome of which would define the relations between Serbia and Kosovo. He hoped that step would be translated into actions that would lead to the complete normalization of relations.

KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) said he supported efforts of UNMIK and welcomed its facilitating role in the promotion of dialogue between the parties. He commended the leadership of the European Union, which hosted the two parties in Brussels and in the margins of the General Assembly in September. Both sides had agreed to implement the judiciary agreement. He had also seen constructive efforts to put into force exiting measures between Belgrade and Pristina. He welcomed the recent decision to institutionalize the dialogue process with the inclusion of Governments, civil society, media and other organizations. To succeed, it should convince the local population of Kosovo to accept the outcomes. Residents, he said, needed to know that dialogue was the only way to bring human rights and solve problems of organized crime and to bring education, health care and other entitlements. The situation in Kosovo still needed the attention of the Security Council, as there was still a lack of intercommunity trust and a large number of persons still missing.

IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt) said high‑level dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, with European facilitation, was the most suitable way to resolve all pending issues in a peaceful manner. Egypt called for immediate and full implementation of the judicial agreement that emerged from the 31 August consultations in Brussels as well as other agreements concluded between 2013 and 2015. Noting that his country had consistently called for eschewing incendiary and hateful rhetoric, he said both parties must show the utmost restraint and avoid unilateral initiatives that could heighten tensions. The broad participation of Kosovo Serbs in the recent elections was a source of optimism, he said, emphasizing the importance of Belgrade and Pristina surmounting their divisions to find consensus-based, fair and lasting solutions.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), Council President for November, speaking in his national capacity, said that normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina remained crucial. Italy called upon both parties to take advantage of a window of opportunity to steadily move towards that objective. He welcomed the formation of a new government in Pristina, emphasizing that it must intensify efforts on much‑needed reforms. Rule of law and the fight against corruption should remain high on its agenda. He praised the work of UNMIK and EULEX and confirmed Italy’s participation in KFOR, adding that his country looked forward to the Secretary‑General’s recommendations on the Mission’s future configuration in the context of broader peacekeeping reform.

For information media. Not an official record.