Reporting both the end of a prolonged political impasse and the eruption of violent protests in Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council this morning that leaders of the parties there must engage seriously in ongoing dialogue and make the hard choices required for regional stability.
“From its inception, the European Union-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina has been about making hard choices between the past and the future, between stagnation and progress and between consolidating political power and doing what is in the best interest of the people in the region,” Farid Zarif told the Council via video teleconference from Pristina ahead of a debate on the issue.
Introducing the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2015/74), Mr. Zarif, who is also the Head of the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), said that, in December 2015, a new Kosovo Government was formed as the result of an alliance between two major political parties. Led by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, the new Government declared its commitment to economic reforms, strengthened rule of law, European and Euro-Atlantic integration, and continuing dialogue with Belgrade.
Over the past weeks, however, the Government had to respond to mass protests in Pristina on 24 and 27 January that caused scores of injuries and destruction of property, he said. The protests demanded the resignation of a Kosovo Serb minister over remarks attributed to him at previous protests and the reversal of law asserting public ownership of a large mining enterprise. It also seemed to be fuelled by discontent with the economic situation.
Calling peaceful protest a right, but violence deplorable, Mr. Zarif commended the proportional reaction of the Kosovo police and the condemnation of the violence by political and civil leaders in Kosovo. Unfortunately, a small number of political figures, mostly from the opposition, attempted to exploit the situation. He called for “measured” discussions of the issues that sparked the protest, so that the new Government could make progress on its stated objectives.
On dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, set to resume on 9 February in Brussels, he highlighted the need for the Kosovo Government’s early commitment to the establishment of an “association/community of Serb-majority municipalities”, as well as the importance of delving into new areas.
Praising “sensible choices in priorities” of the new coalition Government and the Kosovo Assembly, he urged the swift completion of actions required for justice, reconciliation and economic progress. Applauding also the swift drafting of a law criminalizing participation in armed conflicts outside Kosovo, he urged further consideration of the draft in consultation with concerned representatives of the international community. Noting that dozens of terror suspected had been arrested, he encouraged the continuation of a multidimensional approach to the problem that included engagement of religious and political leaders.
Welcoming steps to address social inequality, high unemployment and the growing illegal emigration to Western Europe, he urged the Pristina authorities to proceed judiciously in those matters and continue availing themselves of the many sources of advice the international community could offer. Finally, he noted progress in protection of cultural heritage, calling for enhanced local dialogue to resolve remaining challenges, and urged that political will be mustered to bring about swift closure of the 1,655 outstanding cases of missing persons.
Representing Serbia, Ivica Dačić, Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that the recent political developments would provide momentum for normalization between Belgrade and Pristina, reiterating that dialogue was the way forward to resolve all outstanding issues — until which time resolution 1244 (1999) that established UNMIK remained in effect.
Describing other priorities in minority rights and reconciliation, he said that process would remain incomplete without adjudication of crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army. He also condemned the desecration of religious sites, reporting that some churches had been sprayed with symbols of extremist Islamists in Syria and Iraq.
Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo said that substantial progress in State-building and reconciliation had occurred, meeting all conditions of resolution 1244 (1999). It was time for a new chapter in relations between Kosovo and the United Nations, and he called for consideration of a transformation of UNMIK, one that could help Kosovo join the specialized agencies and otherwise expand its already notable participation in the international community.
Noting actions of the new Government, including measures to prevent travel of fighters to conflict zones, he said Kosovo was committed to a dynamic agenda to move it towards Euro-Atlantic integration and to the full normalization of relations with Serbia through dialogue that would be finalized with mutual recognition.
Following those presentations, Security Council members took the floor, welcoming political progress in Kosovo and the resumption of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, while expressing concern over incidents of violence and continued evidence of intercommunity tensions.
The representative of the Russian Federation, emphasizing the amount of work still to be done in that regard and the need for dialogue to work out many issues, reiterated the continued applicability of resolution 1244 (1999), while the representatives of the United Kingdom, Lithuania and the United States urged changes in the Council approach, one that recognized progress, including a reduction of regular meeting on the situation.
Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Chad, Spain, Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Chile, Venezuela, France, Jordan, Nigeria and China.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:20 p.m.
IVICA DAČIĆ, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said that recent developments had shown that the political “vacuum” was expected to end. That would contribute to ongoing dialogue that would provide an impetus to the normalization process between Belgrade and Priština, as well as the resolution of the question of Kosovo and Metohija, including the realization of their population’s basic rights. Dialogue was the way forward and Serbia was dedicated to finding practical solutions to resolve the situation. Serbia had fulfilled its obligations from the Brussels Agreement and the remaining key questions for discussion were the return of internally displaced persons, the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church and property issues.
Welcoming the work of the Mission in monitoring the status of non-majority communities in Kosovo and Metohija, he said the return of displaced persons remained a pressing challenge, which had been exacerbated by insecurity and continued attacks on Serbs. The presence of Kosovo Force (KFOR) was necessary and the Force’s troops should not be reduced. Condemning the desecration of religious sites, he provided recent examples, including messages related to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) that had been graffitied on a Serbian Orthodox monastery. Increased security was needed, including combating terrorist threats stemming from the rise of violent extremism worldwide.
Concerned about the destruction of resources in Serbian communities and the ongoing issue of property, he said the solution must honour the Brussels Agreements. Continued monitoring and assessment was needed of the judiciary and other Provisional Institutions of Self-Government organs in Kosovo and Metohija, he continued, adding that the current situation demonstrated that conditions had not been fulfilled under Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) for the full transfer of competencies on the Provisional Institutions. Reconciliation was key, yet interethnic reconciliation would be incomplete without the trial of the former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army who were responsible for the persecution of Serbs, Roma and other non-Albanians. The question of Kosovo and Metohija was a national priority for Serbia and could only be resolved through negotiations to ensure the achievement of a process of reconciliation.
HASHIM THAÇI of Kosovo said that, as his country had joined various international organizations, it had achieved concrete results in regional cooperation and continued to implement agreements reached in the normalization process with Serbia. However, Kosovo was concerned about delays on the Serbian side of implementing the Brussels Agreement. The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) and local police were facing obstacles in establishing rule of law and normality in the four northern provinces, he said, calling on the Security Council to demand that Serbia fulfilled its agreements.
He said that Kosovo’s new Government represented all communities, including Kosovo Serb citizens. His Government was committed to a dynamic executive and legislative agenda to move the country towards North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union membership and remained strongly committed to the full normalization of inter-State relations with Serbia and to continuing the dialogue that would be finalized with mutual recognition. “Only this step will enable the building of sustainable peace between the two countries and the establishment of diplomatic and good neighbourly relations in the European spirit,” he said, highlighting the first-ever meeting of the new Prime Ministers of Kosovo and Serbia to be held 9 February.
A key priority was to further “Europeanize” and modernize Kosovo with the aim of applying for full membership with the Council of Europe, he said. For its part, Kosovo had showed commitment in terms of international obligations, including fighting terrorism and contributing to collective security, he said, adding that the Kosovo Armed Forces would be a professional and multi-ethnic force. Underlining that Kosovo was the most successful State-building endeavour in United Nations history, he said Kosovo had become a factor of peace and “exporter of stability” in the region and beyond. As resolution 1244 (1999) had been met, it was time for a new chapter in relations between Kosovo and the United Nations. “Kosovo is forever grateful for the role and contribution of the United Nations in our country’s State-building process,” he said. “It is time that the Security Council consider the possibility of a transformation of UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo], one that should help Kosovo join the specialized agencies.”
MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad) welcomed the formation of a coalition Government in Kosovo and the adoption of budgetary laws by the Assembly. He said that security matters should be handled in a way that took into account the territorial integrity of Kosovo. On the ongoing dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, he saw positive signs in recent months, but said that gains would remain tenuous unless the socioeconomic situation was dealt with. He also expressed concern over recent protests, illegal migration, unresolved missing persons cases, the lack of participation of women and other matters. Addressing all such issues would help in building a stable, democratic society. He commended UNMIK on its work in human rights, community reconciliation and other areas.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) noted developments that had led to greater normalization of the situation in Kosovo, as well as setbacks such as the violent protests. He said that the investigation of crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army was crucial, adding that the weakness of political institutions in Kosovo would make that difficult. In addition, he highlighted the problems of drug and human trafficking, high unemployment, interethnic tensions, ongoing desecration of Orthodox Monasteries, attacks on Serbians visiting cultural sites, and lack of refugee returns. More had to be done, in addition, to prevent movement of terrorist fighters from Kosovo to Syria and Iraq. He rejected all attempts to devaluate the role of UNMIK, affirming the continued relevance of Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the status of Kosovo it reflected.
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), supporting the continued role of UNMIK in reducing tensions, promoting cooperation and other areas in Kosovo, underlined the importance of the upcoming continuation of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, with political commitment essential for progress, and in particular, implementing all previous agreements. He encouraged the Kosovo Assembly, in addition, to prioritize issues in justice, property and completion of constitutional work. On the violent protests, he said that it showed that full reconciliation between communities had not been achieved, as did the lack of progress in refugee return and other challenges. Rule of law and economic government were also areas that required priority reform. A high level of political commitment was needed for further regional progress, as well.
JULIO HELDER DE MOURA LUCAS (Angola) said his country supported resolution 1244 (1999) along with the Mission and the role it played. With progress already seen in political developments, more advances were expected as talks continued on issues including crossing points and freedom of movement. Commending UNMIK efforts and Kosovo’s legislation to end violence against women in raising awareness over the issue, he said the authorities had also made gains in a number of areas. However, its efforts to implement a legal framework required more attention and the 17,000 internally displaced persons was also a concern. Encouraged that the overall security situation had remained stable, he highlighted that UNMIK remained key in its role that had focused on efforts aimed at reducing tensions and promoting cooperation.
HUSSEIN HANIFF (Malaysia), welcoming the new political situation, called on all parties to work together towards a prosperous future. He supported the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and despite the stalled dialogue, said that advances had been made. Hoping both sides remained committed to the process, he said he would also like to see the creation of a special court to try possible crimes against humanity in order to provide closure for victims. Welcoming the continuing mandates of EULEX, he saw those and related efforts as forging a path towards European Union membership. He hoped the new Kosovo Government would work towards improving the living standards of its citizens. Cultural and religious heritage should also be protected, with interfaith efforts bringing citizens closer. The value and practice of moderation was crucial in bridging differences and political marginalization must be avoided.
MICHAEL TATHAM (United Kingdom) said, with key institutions in place, the new administration in Kosovo had a number of tasks to address, including economic development. He commended the work of UNMIK on women, peace and security, noting it was heartening to hear those issues being addressed in Kosovo. However, violence in Pristina was a concern and there was remained a need to tackle ethnic-based attacks. As Kosovo readied to mark its seventh year after declaring independence, it had made enough progress to show that its independence was irrevocable. It was “past time” to adjust the frequency of Council meetings, as the issue did not merit quarterly meetings. The format tended to be repetitive and had led to a focus on differences between the sides, he said, adding that “we’d like to see less talk in New York and more action” in the dialogue in Europe.
CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand), welcoming the formation of a coalition Government in Kosovo and the resumption of dialogue with Belgrade, said that long-term stability in Kosovo would result from inclusive democracy that respected the rights and interests of all its citizens, from genuine reconciliation and from a constructive and cooperative relationship with Serbia. She commended the ongoing role of regional partners and the United Nations in Kosovo, underlining Security Council responsibilities there, as well. She hoped that recent security incidents would not change the inclusive nature of the coalition Government. Reconciliation required the facilitation of voluntary returns, resolution of missing person’s cases and progress in other areas. She seconded the recommendation for a special court to try cases arising from the European Union investigative task force, as well as other measures to strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), welcoming progress in Kosovo, expressed hope that inclusiveness would reign as the new Government faced the recognized challenges and that violent protests would not hamper that process. More work was needed in a range of areas, including protections for human rights and prevention of travel to foreign conflicts. He looked forward to further normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina through the ongoing dialogue between them.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMIRÉZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) reiterated that the principles of non-interference and territorial integrity applied to the situation in Kosovo and underlined that resolution 1244 (1999) must be respected in that context. He expressed cautious optimism over security issues, despite the incidents that had occurred, and underlined the important role of UNMIK, even if some tasks were now carried out by EULEX. On allegations of corruption in the latter, he trusted investigations would clear those matters up and called for a tribunal to adjudicate crimes committed during the violent conflict. Respect for human rights of minorities was important and continuing incidents against Kosovar Serbs were of concern, as was the lag in refugee returns and threats to cultural heritage sites. He looked forward to the lasting resolution of all long-term issues, consistent with international law.
PHILIPPE BERTOUX (France), welcoming progress in Kosovo and continuation of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, encouraged the parties to accelerate their progress in resolving outstanding issues. The establishment of an association of Serbian municipalities and a special court to try crimes committed during the conflict were also critical, as was general progress in the rule of law. He called on Kosovo authorities to address the problems that had encouraged mass emigration from Kosovo, urging in that context progress in economic issues and reconciliation. He commended finally the “joint march of Kosovo and Serbia towards the European Union”, adding that it was crucial that progress by both sides be made at the same rate.
MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) commended the Kosovo Government’s progress and encouraged further efforts to improve security and economic development. Good neighbourly relations and respect for sovereignty were key, he said, calling for a strengthening of cooperation between Kosovo and Serbia. Welcoming Kosovo’s law on fighting terrorism, he said those and positive actions on many fronts demonstrated Kosovo’s will to live up to the responsibilities of a modern State. One of the most important features of a modern State was to treat all citizens equally, he said, encouraging the redoubling of efforts to ensure the rights of minorities, who must be protected from all attacks on them or their property. He called for strengthened relations between Kosovo and the international community and reaffirmed the importance of EULEX in helping Kosovo to modernize.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) welcomed Kosovo’s continuing efforts which resulted from a free and fair election. In its first month, the new Government had already been tested by violent protest and the separation of a minister. Condemning all acts of vandalism, he said all citizens should exercise their democratic rights responsibly. Economic development and improved cooperation at shared borders were steps to focus upon. Condemning the actions of those aimed at stopping the ongoing dialogue, he said that all sides must guarantee the freedom of movement. With that in mind, KFOR and EULEX held indispensable roles in maintaining a safe and secure environment. He hoped the upcoming discussions in Brussels would lead to progress that benefitted both Kosovo and Serbia. He also commended Kosovo for supporting the global fight against terrorism. While the United States believed the issue of Kosovo remained important, he recommended that the regular briefing period be extended to every six months.
USMAN SARKI (Nigeria) said, with a Government and parliament in place, Kosovo had a framework that had overcome the months-long political stalemate. Commending Kosovo for its new anti-terrorism measures, he said that preventing extremism was not a task for authorities alone and praised religious leaders for reaching out to young people. The current situation of armed terrorist groups demanded increased controls of weapons movement. Efforts had tackled some illegally traded arms, but more needed to be done. The parliament should take urgent steps to establish a court to try post-war atrocity crimes. The role of the Mission remained vital.
NIDA JAKUBONĖ (Lithuania) said the new Government in Kosovo was formed through dialogue and democratic processes and must build on its reform agenda, strengthen the rule of law, including judicial independence, and fight against organized crime and corruption. Calling for the immediate creation of a specialist court to try cases stemming from the findings of the European Union Special Investigative Task Force, she welcomed the commitment of Serbia and Kosovo to seek a common European future. Recalling that one year ago, Audrius Šenavičius, a Lithuanian officer serving in EULEX, was killed while on duty in northern Kosovo, she asked competent authorities to provide information on the progress of the investigation. She reiterated that debating Kosovo twice yearly instead of quarterly would be a reasonable step forward to acknowledge progress.
LIU JIEYI (China), Council President, speaking in his national capacity, said that resolution 1244 (1999) had represented an important legal basis and it was important to carry out dialogue and negotiations by following United Nations resolutions. Welcoming and supporting the continuation of pragmatic and constructive dialogue between both sides, he encouraged them to continue discussions in order to resolve issues and to, more broadly, ensure security of the region as a whole. He also supported UNMIK in implementing its mandate.