The current situation for Kosovo and Serbia required “cautious optimism” despite significant strides made in overcoming the legacy of hostility and conflict, the top United Nations official there told the Security Council today, ahead of an upcoming high-level dialogue between both sides.
Briefing the 15-nation body on the Secretary-General’s latest quarterly report, Farid Zarif, his Special Representative and head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), urged Pristina and Belgrade to build on the historic momentum towards a negotiated political settlement.
On 25 August, the top leaders from both sides would meet once again in Brussels under the auspices of the European Union, seeking to iron out differences on remaining issues, he said. Already, the implementation of the agreement on mutual recognition of vehicular insurance, which began this past week, provided a tangible benefit. It was now crucial to set out a detailed framework for the establishment of the future association/community of Serb-majority municipalities.
“It is important not to underestimate the potential of this historic process,” he said, expressing hope that during the coming days, the dialogue would expand to include other difficult issues, such as the fate of missing persons and compensation for their families, revitalization of transport and commercial links, property rights, returns and re-settlement of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the status of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Mr. Zarif, who would hand over his current role to his successor soon, recalled that when he arrived in Kosovo in 2011, tension was at an extreme high on the ground and pubic political discourse among the communities, as well as between Belgrade and Pristina was adversarial.
Four years on, he said, the situation was dramatically changed. Kosovo Serb mayors, elected for the first time under a unified legal framework, now governed in all 10 Kosovo Serb-majority municipalities, and Kosovo Serbs served actively in key positions of the central institutions at the ministerial level and as parliamentarians. Police structures were fully integrated, and significant progress had been made towards integration of all components of the justice system. Perhaps for the first time since the conflict, the needs and aspirations of the people was louder in the public discourse than insinuations about the past.
But, “no progress is irreversible”, he stressed, noting that there was objective justification for cautious optimism that the process would continue and produce more tangible results.
He said that recent developments included the 3 August passage of the requisite constitutional amendment and the laws on the establishment of a special court for war crimes, committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army, as well as the 20 August passage of the necessary normative acts and their promulgation. Those stood as a sign of Kosovo’s increasing determination to fully respect the rule of law and impartial justice. However, the legal protection of cultural and religious heritage sites faced a challenge. The Appellate Panel’s decision in June, which applied highly questionable legal reasoning in order to return a case to a local court, would reopen the dispute and potentially lead to serious new tensions.
Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, maintained that UNMIK continued to have “an exceptionally important role” in areas deemed important for the Serbs and other non-Albanian communities. He was pleased to note that the formation of the community of Serbian municipalities had been singled out as a key issue.
Serbia took a positive stance on Pristina’s participation in regional forums, but Kosovo was not and could not be considered a State subjected to international law, as its membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and other international organizations would violate legal rules.
Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo said the Kosovo Parliament had voted to amend the Constitution to create a special court to adjudicate crimes derived from the report of the Council of Europe. No Kosovar, himself included, “would stand idly by” and allow the special court to equate the genocidal acts of Slobodan Milošević or the State of Serbia with eventual acts of desperate individuals from the community of the oppressed, committed during or after the war. Serbia’s war against Kosovo was conducted with the involvement of the army, police and paramilitary units, and was backed by Serbian intellectuals.
Kosovo, he stressed, would not allow its history to be rewritten to “blur the differences between the hunter and the prey”.
He addressed several questions about Kosovo’s application for membership in UNESCO, including whether Kosovo was eligible to become a UNESCO member before becoming a United Nations Member State. Indeed, he said, Kosovo was eligible, provided that it secured a two-thirds vote of the General Conference. While there remained some problems in Kosovo, the mandate of the next Special Representative of the Secretary-General should entail serious discussions on how to transfer resources spent in “quiet Kosovo” to the people in the Middle East and elsewhere, which today were facing the direst of existential threats.
While most Council members welcomed progress made between the two sides, especially towards establishing a special court for war crimes, some expressed concern that today’s debate was “counterproductive” as the speakers from the two sides had exchanged “nationalist rhetoric”. Malaysia’s delegate, for one, stressed that it was vital to continue building a climate of trust and harmony.
Regarding the quarterly review cycle of consideration of the Kosovo question, representatives of the United States, France and the United Kingdom said that the reality on the ground did not warrant the current frequency of meetings. Their counterpart from the Russian Federation held that the magnitude of problems required the Council to keep the situation under close review.
Also making statements today were the representatives of Spain, Venezuela, Chad, Lithuania, Jordan, China, Chile, New Zealand, Angola and Nigeria.
The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and ended at 1:10 p.m.
IVICA DAČIĆ, First Deputy Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said that his country had made every effort to contribute to the lasting peace and prosperity of the Western Balkans, and substantive progress had been achieved in democratization, regional cooperation and the process of European integration. Calling stability in the region “brittle”, however, he maintained that United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) continued to have “an exceptionally important role” on the basis of resolution 1244 (1999), particularly in areas deemed “important for the survival and normal and dignified life for the Serbs and other non-Albanian communities”. He expressed appreciation for the continued work of the Kosovo Force (KFOR), European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) and the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, as well.
His Government, in that context, affirmed full commitment to the European dialogue for the purpose of normalizing the life of the inhabitants of the region, he said, adding that Serbia consistently fulfilled all its obligations in line with agreements reached thus far under the First Agreement on Principles. He was pleased to note that the formation of the Community of Serbian Municipalities had been singled out as a key issue. Other priorities remained the plight of internally displaced persons, the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church and property matters.
His Government, he said, had taken a constructive stand vis-à-vis Pristina’s participation in regional forums. However, he maintained that membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and other international organizations, pursuant to recent requests, would violate legal rules as Kosovo was not and could not be considered a State subjected to international law. Turning to displaced persons, stating that only 1.9 million of those who left Kosovo and Metohija since 1999 had returned, he called on international organizations to help them overcome persistent obstacles, including “a climate of impunity for crimes committed against the Serbs”. He urged that conditions be created for all non-Albanians to enjoy basic human rights. Presenting extensive information, including photographs, on Orthodox churches and their desecration, he condemned the attacks, adding that those who aspired to UNESCO membership should certainly halt such activity.
He regretted, in addition, at the closure of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Pristina. Pointing to his Government’s efforts to counter terrorism, including the phenomenon of foreign fighters, he expected international missions and the provisional institutions to make a contribution in that area. Objecting to property expropriated from Kosovo Serbs under privatization laws and other acts, he said that the current situation in the province bore out the assessment that conditions had not been fulfilled for rule-of-law competencies to be transferred to the Kosovo institutions. In particular, war crimes cases involving the Kosovo Liberation Army should not be transferred to the local judiciary, he maintained. Legitimate justice, he stressed, was needed for mutual reconciliation, which, in turn, was essential for any lasting solution for the question of Kosovo and Metohija.
HASHIM THAÇI of Kosovo said the Kosovo Parliament had voted to amend the Constitution to create a special court that would adjudicate crimes derived from the report of the Council of Europe. No Kosovar, himself included, “would stand idly by” and allow the special court to equate the genocidal acts of Slobodan Milošević or the State of Serbia with eventual acts of desperate individuals from the community of the oppressed, committed during or after the war. Serbia’s war against Kosovo was conducted with the involvement of the army, police and paramilitary units, and was backed by Serbian intellectuals. Kosovo would not allow its history to be rewritten to “blur the differences between the hunter and the prey”. He invited European Union member countries to sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement in September without delay or new justifications.
Turning to migration, he recalled that there had been a huge flow of Kosovars leaving Kosovo to seek asylum in European Union member countries late last year. Kosovo had taken strong measures to significantly decrease those numbers. For example, the number of Kosovars claiming asylum in Germany had fallen from over 11,000 in March to 1,373 in June. Similarly, the number of asylum-seekers in Hungary had fallen from 14,000 in March to fewer than 300 in June. Kosovo had applied for membership in UNESCO. He addressed several questions about that application, including whether Kosovo was eligible to become a UNESCO member before becoming a United Nations Member State. Indeed, Kosovo was eligible, provided that it secured a two-thirds vote of the General Conference. Kosovo’s membership would not endanger the ongoing dialogue with Serbia on the normalization of their relations.
He added that UNESCO Heritage sites were safe in Kosovo, while voicing grave concern about the methods being employed by Serbia in its attempt to deny Kosovo membership in UNESCO and to keep it isolated from opportunities in education, science and culture. Kosovo would also seek membership in INTERPOL and the Council of Europe. Finally, he said that, next week, a package of important agreements would be agreed in Brussels on issues ranging from obtaining an independent international dial code for Kosovo to creating a competitive energy distribution market to establishing an association of Serbian municipalities. While there remained some problems in Kosovo, the mandate of the next Special Representative of the Secretary-General should be marked with serious discussions on how to transfer resources spent in “quiet Kosovo” to the people in the Middle East and elsewhere, which today were facing the direst of existential threats.
THOMAS MEEK (United Kingdom) reiterated his position that the reality in Kosovo did not warrant the current frequency of meetings, which should not be used as a platform for nationalist rhetoric. He welcomed progress in establishing a special court to investigate the allegations of the European task force and urged Kosovo’s leaders to complete its establishment as soon as possible. In that light, he recognized that the Kosovo judiciary must be improved. Recent events showed, in addition, that diligence in monitoring foreign terrorist fighters was required. On the European-supported dialogue, he called for an accelerated pace of negotiations. He finally welcomed action against sexual violence in Kosovo, expressing hope that further measures in that regard were forthcoming.
FRANCISCO JAVIER GASSO MATOSES (Spain), also welcoming progress in establishing a special court, called for further action to ensure rule of law, as well as to prevent the repetition of recent violent incidents, including dissociation of all parties from them. Calling for implementation of agreements that arose from the Brussels dialogue, he urged the operationalization of the Community of Serbian Municipalities. Stability in the region was fragile, he said, affirming the continuing importance of UNMIK in that light. He urged the continued cooperation of all stakeholders.
WILMER ALFONZO MÉNDEZ GRATEROL (Venezuela) reiterated his country’s position that resolution 1244 (1999) was still in force in Kosovo, as well as the country’s support for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and respect for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The parties must address the key issue of interministerial dialogue and the establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities. Parties must also continue to step up efforts to stop intercommunity violence. Citizens at the ground level should be included in efforts for further reconciliation. For that purpose, the special court must be fully established and all violations of human rights must be addressed. The work of UNMIK, EULEX and other international mechanisms should aim to create a climate for a lasting solution to the question of Kosovo, which would only be reached through dialogue. He condemned recruitment of young people as terrorists in the Balkans, and welcomed actions to prevent it.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) welcomed progress in establishing the special court in Kosovo, as well as in European integration in the region and implementation of agreements reached in the Brussels dialogue. He commented, however, that today’s exchanges could have been much more productive if they had not revisited nationalist rhetoric. It was vital to continue building a climate of trust and harmony, with bridges between all communities. He reaffirmed support for the key role of UNMIK, as well as that of EULEX in that effort.
BANTÉ MANGARAL (Chad), acknowledging progress in Kosovo, called for further gains on a range of outstanding issues through the Brussels dialogue. Welcoming cooperation between local leaders in northern Kosovo, he stressed the need for greater work towards reconciliation and welcomed the coming into fruition of the special court. He called for further progress, as well in encouraging returns of displaced persons and determining the fate of missing persons, as well as for additional measures to prevent violent incidents, such as those that had occurred recently. He supported UNMIK’s continued work towards reconciliation and stabilization, along with the efforts of EULEX and other organizations.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania), reiterating support for the European Union’s continued efforts in facilitating the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, welcomed the steps taken towards the integration of judiciary and civil protection personnel and the progress achieved on the texts concerning the establishment of the association/community of Serb-majority municipalities. The parties must demonstrate political will and engage constructively in reaching a final political agreement on remaining issues in order to achieve normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Such normalization would benefit the people of Kosovo and Serbia. The path to European integration required constant and dedicated implementation of reforms. The proposed European Union Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo would strengthen relations between the Union and Kosovo and continue to provide a solid framework for the necessary social and economic reforms.
MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) attached great importance to the headways made on more than one front by both sides, and welcomed the adoption of measures towards establishing a special court for war crimes committed in Kosovo. Further legal steps must be taken to protect cultural heritage sites, and all ethnicities in Kosovo must be able to live in safety and security. Issues still remained to be solved concerning property rights, border demarcation and the return of internally displaced persons. He welcomed positive achievements made so far, but called on both sides to redouble efforts to strengthen their relations and pursue common interest. Bilateral agreements reached thus far must be implemented without delay. Europe had a necessary tool and capacity to assist that process.
WANG MIN (China) stressed his country’s respect for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and said it was necessary to work within the framework of the United Nations Charter and Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) to resolve all questions about Kosovo. He commended Kosovo for steps taken, and welcomed the high-level talks between the two sides facilitated by the European Union. Agreements already reached must be implemented. He supported UNMIK’s continued efforts to carry out the Council’s mandate, along with efforts by EULEX and KFOR.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said that, although the situation in Kosovo was described as stable, destabilizing factors existed. It was vital to avoid threats that would jeopardize lives. He welcomed the role of the European Union in facilitating the dialogue. From its own experience, truth and justice were important for the families of the victims. A chairman of the working should be appointed to address the fate of missing persons. Regarding the human rights violation by UNMIK, a mechanism to compensate moral damage was needed. Women must have access to property and education, and youth must be integrated in socioeconomic development.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France) said that Kosovo had gotten off to a rocky start in 2015, but positive achievements had been made, including the constitutional amendment that allowed for the establishment of a special court for war crimes. That courageous decision must be followed up. Addressing impunity was crucial to European rapprochement. Establishment of a community of Serb-majority municipalities should not be delayed further, as it was a core aspect of agreement in 2013. Both parties must work, not only towards the normalization of relations, but also towards long-term good neighbourliness. A bright future depended on consolidation of the rule of law, he said, commending the role of EULEX. France recommended review of the quarterly cycle of examining the Kosovo question.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States), welcoming progress in Belgrade-Pristina dialogue despite what he called the “counterproductive” tone of today’s statements by the representatives, said that it was clear that the number of meetings on the situation should be reduced. He called for advancement of individual justice for the “serious allegations” to be adjudicated by the special court. The recent vote was a clear demonstration of Kosovo’s commitment to the rule of law, but the passage of the law was only the first step, for which the assistance of EULEX and KFOR was essential. He strongly encouraged both parties to reach agreements to improve the lives of all in the region and permit further Euro/Atlantic integration. He also supported efforts by both Kosovo and Serbia to counter the threat of terrorism and foreign fighters, endorsing Kosovo’s membership in INTERPOL in that light. Its membership in UNESCO would also be positive.
VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) stressed that he shared the sentiments expressed today by the Serbian Foreign Minister. The situation in Kosovo was not stable and should remain under constant review, as long-standing wounds were easily reopened. Inter-ethnic and interreligious challenges were complicated by the rise in unemployment and other serious problems. Militant groups were reassembling; recent incidents showed that criminal groups were moving across borders. The perpetrators of serious crimes must be brought to justice without double standards. In that light, he said that the vote on a special court was only achieved through great international pressure and there was no certainty of further progress. The issue must be kept under review by UNMIK and all evidence must be rendered. The plight of Kosovo Serbs was of great concern. He stressed also that Kosovo was rife with corruption, that the situation of Serbian Orthodox monasteries must receive special attention, and that the formation of a Kosovo military was illegal, with much more to be done to stop the flow of foreign fighters to conflict zones. He reaffirmed that his country’s position remained unchanged: resolution 1244 (1999) remained in full force, and he supported the current reporting cycle. The magnitude of problems required the Council to keep the situation closely under review.
CHARLOTTE DARLOW (New Zealand), welcoming progress in the establishment of a specialized court in Kosovo, urged further progress in addressing serious allegations. Also welcoming the continued Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, she encouraged constructive engagement of both parties, with particular attention paid to resolving outstanding issues in Northern Kosovo. She also encouraged progress on the issues of protection of cultural and religious sites, internally displaced and missing persons. Regarding the frequency with which the Council considered the agenda item, she said she was not convinced that its current practice with respect to UNMIK was “calibrated optimally”. There should be flexibility in how the Council monitored the situation in Kosovo so that it could appropriately reflect the situation on the ground, she stated.
FIDEL CASIMIRO (Angola) affirmed that resolution 1244 (1999) remained the framework for reaching a lasting resolution of the Kosovo issue through dialogue, with due respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia. In that light, he affirmed the importance of UNMIK’s continued role in cooperation with EULEX and other organizations. He hoped that further progress would be made in the Brussels dialogue on the association of Serb municipalities and other issues. Welcoming progress in creation of a special court and other human rights initiatives, he expressed concern over radicalization of youth and called on Kosovo authorities to adopt measures to counter such negative trends.
U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria), Council President, speaking in her national capacity, welcomed the continued dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, but pointed to a risk of setbacks if the parties did not implement their agreements. She called on them to remain steadfast in the process. Highlighting the link between justice and reconciliation, she said she expected that allegations of all serious crimes would be adjudicated. The continued work of UNMIK, she stressed, remained key as the bridge between all communities.
Taking the floor again, Mr. DAČIĆ of Serbia rejected remarks by his Kosovar counterpart that he had inserted nationalistic rhetoric in his statement. It was Mr. Thaçi who had used nationalist rhetoric and applied double standards. The support expressed by the United States for Kosovo’s membership in UNESCO contradicted that country’s opposition to Palestine’s membership to that agency on the basis that Palestine was not a recognized State.
Mr. THAÇI of Kosovo, replying to remarks made by the Foreign Minister of Serbia, reiterated that Kosovo was making much progress as a multi-ethnic country. He regretted that the Council was being used as a platform for political campaigns. The war had ended and Kosovo had been recognized as a country by more than 100 States. Regarding history and the crimes committed in Kosovo, he said that the facts were clear.