Serbia

United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo - Report of the Secretary-General (S/2022/313) [EN/SQ/SR]

Attachments

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 September 2021 to 15 March 2022.

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.

3. On 16 January, the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo and Head of UNMIK, Caroline Ziadeh, arrived in Pristina and assumed leadership of the Mission.

II. Key political and security developments

4. The key political and security developments during the reporting period centred around the conduct of Kosovo local elections; tensions between Pristina and Belgrade over arrangements related to freedom of movement; the holding on 16 January 2022 of the Serbian constitutional referendum in Kosovo; and the forthcoming Serbian parliamentary and presidential elections in Kosovo. The European Union intensified efforts to advance the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, with bolstered support from the United States of America and European actors.

5. On 17 October, municipal elections were held in all 38 municipalities of Kosovo, followed by run-offs in 21 municipalities on 14 November. A total of 89 political entities participated, of which 32 were political parties. Overall voter turnout was reported at 42.5 per cent, and the process was monitored by 24,693 accredited observers. A total of 166 mayoral and 5,199 municipal assembly positions were contested. The Democratic Party of Kosovo and the Democratic League of Kosovo won eight mayoral races each, followed by the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo winning five and the Movement for Self-Determination (Vetëvendosje) four, while the Social Democratic Initiative, the Turkish Democratic Party of Kosovo, and the Civic Initiative for Obiliq each secured one. The Serbian List won all 10 Kosovo Serb-majority municipalities. With regard to the representation of women, 14 women, reflecting 8.3 per cent of all candidates, competed in the elections, which represented an increase compared with the 2017 elections when 3 per cent of candidates were female. On this occasion, only two women – both representing the Serbian List – won mayoral races. Women candidates represented 37.2 per cent of those contesting municipal assembly seats, a slight increase from 34.8 per cent in the 2017 elections.

6. The European Union Election Observation Mission, which deployed over 100 election observers, assessed the overall conduct of the elections as positive while noting some lack of transparency and accountability concerning campaign finance as well as limited electoral competition due to the low number of candidates in Kosovo Serb-majority municipalities.

7. In its annual report on Kosovo issued on 19 October, the European Commission stressed that the Kosovo electoral legal framework had essentially remained unchanged since 2010, despite the electoral recommendations from previous European Union election observer and expert missions. More broadly, the Commission assessed mixed progress in 2021 on advancing European Union-oriented reforms, while noting slow progress in the European Union-facilitated dialogue. With regard to rule of law reforms, the Commission emphasized the importance of progress in the investigation and prosecution of corruption and organized crime cases, the need for increasing transparency in public institutions, and reducing undue political influence on the judiciary. The Commission expressed concern over the government’s proposed introduction of a “one-off full re-evaluation” of prosecutors and judges.

8. Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina flared up during the days leading up to the local elections, in particular triggered by long-standing unresolved aspects in the implementation of the European Union-facilitated agreement on freedom of movement. On 20 September, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kosovo initiated a new policy for vehicles bearing Serbian licence plates, requiring them to be detached and replaced or covered with temporary Kosovo-issued plates at the official crossing points. Objections were raised in Kosovo Serb-populated areas, especially in the north, while Kosovo police special units were deployed near the crossing points at Gate 1 in Jarinjë/Jarinje and Gate 31 in Bërnjak/Brnjak to enforce the polic y. Residents gathered near the two crossing points and blocked the transit roads in protest. A vehicle registration office in Zubin Potok was burned down, and an explosive device was found in the vehicle registration office in Zveçan/Zvečan. A stand-off between Kosovo police and protestors threatened to develop into physical altercations. While issuing rebukes against the approach of Kosovo, Serbia conducted military overflights and repositioned a small quick-reaction force in areas close to the administrative boundary line. The Minister of Defence of Serbia, accompanied by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Belgrade, visited the Serbian military units deployed in the area. The Special Representative joined the European Union and other international actors in calling for de-escalation and dialogue.

9. The controversy occurred on the heels of a regular consultative visit by the European Union Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues, Miroslav Lajčák, to Pristina and Belgrade from 15 to 21 September. Mr. Lajčák and chief negotiators from Pristina and Belgrade subsequently met in Brussels and the parties agreed to remove the Kosovo police special units simultaneously with the roadblocks on 2 October, overseen by the Kosovo Force. The parties also agreed to implement a temporary regime of using stickers on both Kosovo-issued and Serbian licence plates. A special working group, consisting of both parties and European Union representatives, was established and tasked with agreeing on a more permanent solution by 21 April 2022. At the time of reporting, the group had met on six occasions, with some progress reported.

10. Tensions again flared up in the north in October when the Kosovo police conducted an anti-smuggling operation in several locations throughout Kosovo, including Pristina, Pejë/Peć, South Mitrovica, North Mitrovica and Zveçan/Zvečan. In the latter two municipalities, Kosovo Serb resistance to the presence of special police gave rise to altercations, with injuries to police officers, protesters and bystanders. Kosovo officials, defending the operation, expressed the “uncompromising” stance of Kosovo that “crime and criminal groups will not be tolerated and will be fought”. The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, travelled to Raška, to the north of the administrative boundary line, and urged restraint by Kosovo Serb leaders while also pledging a response to “any attempt to use violence against Kosovo Serbs”.

11. Discord arose once again concerning voting arrangements in Kosovo following the announcement by Serbia that a referendum would be conducted on 16 January on changes to the Serbian Constitution pertaining to the judiciary. Amid calls by the Quint (France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States) and the European Union for the Kosovo authorities to facilitate the voting, the President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, the Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, and the Speaker of the Assembly of Kosovo, Glauk Konjufca, issued a joint statement in which they underlined that “Kosovo Serb citizens with dual citizenship will have the right to vote in accordance with international standards and practices, such as by mail and through the [Belgrade] liaison office”. An extraordinary session of the Assembly on 15 January, at the request of Mr. Kurti, affirmed this position by a majority vote. Serbian List representatives did not attend the session.
Belgrade officials reacted strongly, accusing Pristina of acting in contempt of the European Union-facilitated dialogue.

12. On the eve of the Serbian referendum, Kosovo police detained staff from the Serbian election commission who attempted to bring voting materials across the administrative boundary line. The Office for Kosovo and Metohija of the Government of Serbia claimed that the materials were expected to support an OSCE collection -ofballots operation, in accordance with previous practice. Previously, the OSCE mission in Kosovo had informed Belgrade that such an operation would not be feasible without the consent of all parties, including Pristina. The Commission then announced that Kosovo Serbs would be able to vote only in specified locations north of the administrative boundary line. On referendum day, 16 January, with support from Belgrade authorities, transportation was provided to voters in Kosovo Serb -majority municipalities. In North Mitrovica, a protest was held against the position of Pristina, while smaller protests took place elsewhere in Kosovo.

13. During the reporting period, 13 incidents affecting the Kosovo Serb community and Serbian Orthodox religious and cultural sites were reported, including damage to tombstones at Serbian Orthodox graveyards in the municipalities of Prizren, Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje, Graçanicë/Gračanica and Istog/Istok as well as an illegal construction in the special protective zone of the Saint Uroš monastery in the Ferizaj/Uroševac municipality. Additional incidents included cash thefts at religious sites of various denominations throughout Kosovo, including from mosques and Muslim graveyards and Serbian Orthodox churches, as well as damage at a Catholic church in the town of Pejë/Peć.

14. During the winter period, Kosovo faced an energy supply crisis with regular power shortages due to reduced capacities to meet the usual high seasonal energy demands. On 29 December, the Assembly of Kosovo adopted a number of government-proposed emergency measures, including curbs on electricity consumption, for a period of 60 days. The government also reached a short-term emergency supply arrangement with Albania to ease the shortages. In early February, the Energy Regulatory Office increased the price of electricity for private households above a certain consumption threshold, which led to widespread criticism and some public demonstrations. Opposition parties expressed their intention to challenge the emergency measures through court action.

15. The Kosovo authorities held joint meetings with the Governments of Albania and North Macedonia, on 16 September on 26 November, respectively. The meetings produced several agreements to promote freedom of movement, energy cooperation, railway connectivity, trade and education ties.

16. On 21 and 22 December 2021, the leaders of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia met in Tirana to advance the Open Balkan initiative, which Pristina opposes as not in line with the regional initiative of the Berlin process, the common regional market. The meeting in December produced five new agreements intended to facilitate the free movement of people and goods, economic cooperation and labour market access. A number of States members of the European Union and the United States have welcomed the initiative, while emphasizing the need to promote inclusive regional cooperation.

17. The majority of the Afghan evacuees hosted by the Kosovo authorities were relocated to countries in Europe and North America, pursuant to agreements reached between European countries, the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Reportedly, approximately 50 of the initial 1,000 evacuees remain in Kosovo.

18. On 22 October, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora of Kosovo, upon instruction from the President of Kosovo, declared two staff members of the Russian liaison office in Pristina “persona non grata”, claiming that their activities risked “endangering national security and the constitutional order of the Republic of Kosovo”. The Russian Federation protested the decision, stressing that the Kosovo authorities had no legal basis to undertake such steps. In a letter communicated on 3 November to the Prime Minister of Kosovo, the Mission called for the observance of the privileges and immunities of liaison offices and their personnel, consistent with relevant UNMIK regulations adopted on the basis of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and international law. These messages were also conveyed by the Mission in a follow-up meeting with the Prime Minister on 2 December.

19. On 31 December, citing a request by the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora of Kosovo stated, through a social media platform, that a staff member of UNMIK was to be declared “persona non grata”. On 1 January, the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General underlined that the doctrine of “persona non grata” was not applicable to United Nations personnel, and that any concerns regarding a member of the UNMIK staff should be addressed to the Mission, in line with the status, privileges and immunities of UNMIK and its personnel. UNMIK received its first official communication from the Kosovo authorities on the matter on 2 January. The Mission leadership conveyed to the Kosovo authorities the expectation that the matter be resolved in line with the status, privileges and immunities of UNMIK and its personnel. At the close of the reporting period, despite raising the issue on several occasions, UNMIK had not yet been informed of any action taken in response to the request.