Condemning Recent Violence, Speakers Call for Increased Dialogue between Parties
Polarization of the political landscape in Kosovo in recent months had reached a level where progress was being impeded, but there was also an opportunity to shift the focus onto more fundamental post-conflict issues, the Security Council heard today during its first briefing of the year on the situation there.
Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), speaking by video link, cited the repeated use of violence by the opposition as the most obvious example of disruption. Nevertheless, with so much already invested in building stability, continued attention to core issues, as well as more focused deployment of resources, could help make the difference.
Building respect for the rule of law and ensuring adequate enforcement were crucial goals that were not always kept high on the agenda, he said. Sometimes, security and political concerns had taken the spotlight off Kosovo’s serious economic development challenges. Intensive effort was needed to create more economic growth and opportunity that would, in turn, ease political tension.
Meanwhile, laws and programmes designed to uphold the rights of minority groups and the protection of cultural heritage remained matters of concern, along with the realization of property rights, he said. Vast refugee and migrant flows through the Balkans were unlikely to abate, while there was a growing need to address such issues as radicalization and extremism, terrorist training and finance and the associated trafficking of human beings and weapons.
Taking the floor after the Special Representative’s presentation, Ivica Dačić, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, emphasized to the Council the outstanding issue of displaced persons, asking if the international community had given up on them. A lack of political will on the part of the Government in Kosovo and Metojiha would be a destabilizing factor for a long time, he said, adding that religious extremism, terrorist elements and radicalized extremists, including returnees from conflict areas, were cause for concern. Reaching a political solution was a national priority for Serbia, but first there had to be reconciliation, and to that end, Belgrade would remain actively engaged in the dialogue with Pristina facilitated by the European Union.
Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo said people there were still waiting for justice to be served. While Kosovo had met its obligations towards the establishment of the Special Court that would try the alleged crimes committed in 1999, many serious human rights violations in Serbia had not been investigated or punished, and indictments for war crimes had not been taken seriously. With regard to the Serbian community in Kosovo, she said they were fully represented and every step was being taken to support them. She also called the Dialogue taking place in Brussels a good first step in ensuring history did not repeat itself.
While delegations took turns expressing their concern at recent violent incidents, notably at the Kosovo Assembly where tear gas had been released, some welcomed the overall progress that had been made in the province. The representatives of France and the United Kingdom wondered aloud whether it should continue to be discussed so often in the Council, while the United States suggested it was time for UNMIK to be downsized. Spain’s delegate, on the other hand, recalling that his country did not recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence, said it appeared the situation had remained unstable, with no progress seen at the latest round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels. The representative of Japan, meanwhile, reminiscing of his own experience in Pristina in 1999, spoke of the will of the people of Kosovo to embrace democracy.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Russian Federation, Angola, Uruguay, China, Egypt, New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia, Ukraine and Venezuela.
The meeting began at 3:32 p.m. and ended at 6:10 p.m.
ZAHIR TANIN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said that in recent months, the polarization of the Kosovo political landscape had reached levels where progress was being impeded, despite considerable efforts by the Government to pursue an ambitious reform agenda. The most obvious example was the repeated use of violence by the opposition to prevent the Kosovo Assembly, as well as other Government institutions from conducting their work. In that context, now was an opportune time for all involved to stand back and evaluate, and shift attention away from political battles and towards more fundamental issues. The intrinsic links between post-conflict development, enforcement of rule of law and human rights should be at the centre of a proactive and results-oriented agenda for Kosovo. With so much invested in building stability in Kosovo and the region, continued attention to core issues, and more focused deployment of resources could help make the difference between setting a course for progress or decline.
He said that several fundamental steps towards strengthening the European perspective of Kosovo had been taken in 2015, although those measures had been met with detailed and at times critical assessments from European bodies about the conditions and efficiency of public institutions, especially the Kosovo judiciary. Building respect for the rule of law and ensuring adequate enforcement were crucial goals that were not always kept high on the agenda where they belonged. At times, the security and political agendas diverted too much attention away from Kosovo’s serious economic development challenges. Intensive effort was needed to create more economic growth and opportunity, which would, in turn, ease political tension. Despite extensive natural and human resources, few opportunities were being opened for major investment.
Kosovo’s legal framework guaranteed the protection of human and fundamental rights, he said, but implementation was uneven and directly influenced by political and inter-community tensions. Laws and programmes designed to uphold the rights of minority groups and the protection of cultural heritage remained matters of concern, along with the realization of property rights, and the limited access of women to property ownership. Kosovo and the region faced the likelihood of substantial external shocks during the coming period, which would test the resilience of institutions. The vast refugee and migrant flows through the Balkans were unlikely to abate, constituting a humanitarian tragedy and political crisis. Assuring adequate institutional capacity in response to the problems of radicalization and extremism, terrorist training and finance and the associated trafficking of human beings and weapons was likewise becoming more pressing. Safeguarding the considerable investment already placed in Kosovo required a proactive orientation to current and emerging challenges.
IVICA DAČIĆ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said UNMIK was trusted by the Serbian people. But, with regard to displaced persons, the Mission should play an important role in removing obstacles. Promises alone were not enough. Year after year, the Council had been told by his country that more than 220,000 Serbs had been expelled from their ancestral homes, and that only 1.9 per cent had returned. Had the international community given up on them, and would it legitimize the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo and Metojiha? The number of suspects who had been tried and sentenced for the murder of Serbs since 1999 was still zero. The lack of political will on the part of the government of Kosovo and Metojiha to fulfil conditions set by the international community would be a destabilizing factor for a long time.
Religious extremism in the province was the highest in the region, he said. Terrorist elements and radicalized extremists, including returnees from conflict areas, was a cause for concern. The report to the Council had referred to the arrest of persons with suspected links to terrorist organizations, Islamic State graffiti had been scribbled on Serbian homes and churches, and in January, armed Islamists had been arrested outside the Dečani Monastery. Speedy establishment of the Community of Serb Majority Municipalities was crucial for implementation of the Brussels Agreement, but inclusion of the so-called Supreme Court of Kosovo in the de facto revision of that Agreement was a problem that sent a negative message to the Serbian community. Achieving a political solution regarding Kosovo and Metojiha was a national priority for Serbia, but first reconciliation was necessary. The European Union was expected to continue to facilitate a dialogue with Pristina in which the Government of Serbia would remain actively engaged.
VLORA ÇITAKU of Kosovo said that, in her country, people still waited for justice to be served. Kosovo had concluded all its obligations towards the establishment of the Special Court that would try the alleged crimes committed in 1999. In Serbia, however, many serious human rights violations had not been investigated and went unpunished. Indictments for war crimes had not been taken seriously. Thousands of victims had been denied their right to justice, including women and girls who suffered the war crime of sexual violence. While Serbia was governed by a climate of impunity, time was passing, witnesses were dying and memories were fading. The perpetrators of rape must urgently be tried to ensure victims receive justice before it was too late. The elderly was another vulnerable group that still suffered the consequences of war.
Although Serbia tried to portray a dark picture regarding the living conditions of the Serbian community in Kosovo, minorities in her country were fully represented and every step was being taken to support them, she said. Her government had continued to provide financial support to initiatives for return and reintegration. While progress had been made, and the normalization of relations in the region had gained new momentum, reconciliation would only be possible when there was recognition by Serbia of the crimes committed. Dialogue was important, but good faith and the implementation of agreements in earnest and without ambiguity was “everything”. The dialogue taking place in Brussels was a good first step in ensuring history did not repeat itself and making sure that future generations were not left to grapple with tensions, ambiguity and mistrust.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said, given the current crisis, he hoped that the international presence in Kosovo would keep the situation under control. Despite a number of agreements, there had been little progress in the area of mediation, which intended to contribute to improving inter-ethnic relations. Questioning the impartiality of the European Union, he noted that the high-level meetings had not brought any positive developments. Nevertheless, he welcomed the announcement that the Netherlands had agreed to host the court in The Hague to investigate cases of war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army.
JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) commended the essential work of UNMIK, and welcomed the high-level dialogue at the European Union to strengthen cooperation among the concerned parties. Despite positive developments, the polarization of the Kosovo political landscape had worsened in recent months. Further, he stressed the need to ensure that people who had been expelled from their ancestral homes were provided an opportunity to return.
Mr. BERMUDEZ (Uruguay) said resolution 1244 (1999) continued to be the legal basis for resolving the situation in Kosovo including the protection of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia. The principle was a central element of peaceful coexistence throughout the international community. Although the security situation in Kosovo was described as stable, his delegation was disturbed by the continued use of violence by the opposition. His State welcomed the framework of dialogue facilitated by the European Union, including the creation of a community of municipalities of Serbian majority in Kosovo. Uruguay supported efforts by UNMIK to enforce the recommendations of the Advisory Group on Human Rights, particularly with regard to forced disappearances, kidnappings and abductions.
ZHAO YONG (China) said resolution 1244 (1999) was the legal basis for the settlement of the situation in Kosovo. Continued dialogue and negotiations in the framework of relevant Security Council resolutions would be critical for finding a settlement to the issue. China supported the two parties in continuing constructive dialogue, the implementation of agreements reached and identifying a lasting solution to bring peace to the Balkans and Europe as a whole. Kosovo faced complexities and uncertainties in its socioeconomic situation.
OSAMA ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt) called upon all parties to engage in constructive dialogue to bring about a lasting peace to the region, noting that it must be based on mutual respect and the United Nations Charter. Describing the agreement reached in August 2015 as an outcome of considerable effort, he underscored the need for its full implementation. Further, he welcomed that the Netherlands had agreed to host the special court to investigate cases of war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army during the conflict in the province.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom), sharing concerns over the use of violence, noted that everyone had the right to protest and dialogue was the only way forward. Progress made should be capitalized upon and both sides needed to deliver on promises and continue to demonstrate courage and leadership. In that regard, he welcomed that the Chambers of Commerce of Serbia and Kosovo had reached agreements aimed at boosting commerce and promoting alternative commercial dispute resolution mechanisms. Though challenges persisted, he supported lengthening the reporting cycle on Kosovo in order to make the meetings more useful.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France) welcomed the continuing political dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo under the auspices of the European Union. Progress had been seen, although a normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina depended on their respective steps forward on the road to European integration. The political situation in Kosovo was a matter of concern. Disruptions to the work of the Kosovo assembly were totally unacceptable, as were acts of violence and intimidation directed at elected officials. The consolidation of the rule of law was, more than ever, a priority, including the struggle against impunity and the question of missing persons. Given ongoing progress on the ground, the Council should reconsider the frequency with which it discussed Kosovo.
CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) said that the European Union-facilitated Dialogue continued to play an important role in normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Under the auspices of the Dialogue, both sides had made a number of commitments to each other. While many practical steps had been taken to fulfil those agreements, important work remained, including the ongoing process of establishing an association or community of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo. While the overall security situation in Kosovo continued to be generally stable, her delegation was concerned at recent incidents of politically motivated violence. There was no place for that in a democracy and all political actors should repudiate the use of violence and intimidation to achieve political gains.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal), noting with satisfaction the ongoing dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, called on the two sides to pursue discussions at a very high level under the auspices of the European Union. Confirmation of Kosovo’s eligibility for the Millennium Challenge Corporation was good news that would result in development financing of up to $100 million over five years. Senegal supported, without reservation, joint efforts by the United Nations and the Union to build confidence with regard to protecting cultural heritage and resolving the question of missing persons.
CHRISTOPHER KLEIN (United States), drawing attention to the progress made, commended the efforts of UNMIK and noted that it was the right time to downsize the Mission. He also welcomed the high-level meeting organized by the European Union to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and the decision of forming a special court to investigate cases of war crimes. The current political landscape was a real cause for concern, and setting off tear gas and smoke bombs in the Assembly was irresponsible. Dialogue was integral to overcome existing challenges.
SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia), expressing concerns over the precarious political situation in Kosovo, noted that the current political crisis delayed making progress. While supporting the European Union-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, she called upon both parties to resolve their differences through legitimate channels. In that regard, the signing of the 25 August 2015 agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on key issues was a significant step to bringing peace to the region. She also welcomed the establishment of a special court, as well as agreements to boost commerce by both parties.
YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan) recalled serving in Pristina after UNMIK was established. It was unclear whether democracy would be restored or whether reconciliation would be possible. When the first local elections were held in 2000, the aspiration of Kosovo’s people for democracy was striking. Sixteen years on, it was good to see democracy had taken root, but disruptions by the opposition and the use of tear gas in the Assembly were matters of grave concern. Those responsible were urged to refrain from violence that ran counter to the people’s determination for democracy. Reconciliation between the two major ethnic groups was critical for Kosovo and the western Balkans. Dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade was welcome and the authorities were encouraged to redouble their efforts with a view to normalizing relations. The people of Kosovo, with a strong determination for democracy and belief in a better future, could be trusted.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said his delegation welcomed the continuation of the negotiation process between Belgrade and Pristina and the achieved agreements under the auspices of the European Union in 2015. However, Ukraine was concerned about the latest acts of violence by Kosovo opposition parties. Those actions had negative impacts not only on the security situation in Kosovo, but on the whole process of implementation of the Belgrade-Pristina agreements. Such actions were unacceptable. Ukraine welcomed the agreement on the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo and said the deal was an important mechanism for further stabilization. Delaying its implementation would be a step in the wrong direction and would erode the mutual trust that was necessary in any dialogue process.
FRANCISCO JAVIER GASSO MATOSES (Spain) said it appeared that the situation in Kosovo had continued to be unstable. More and more, peaceful development based on rule of law was being replaced by violence, and political tension was becoming a recurrent factor in Pristina. The presence of UNMIK and other international missions remained important and the Security Council must remain attentive, working on the topic regularly. It was regretful that, at the last high-level dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, facilitated by the European Union, there had been no significant progress. It was not realistic for new demands to be made without a willingness to implement what had already been agreed upon. Spain did not recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and in the Secretary-General’s report, the reference in paragraph 3 to Kosovo signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union did not set a precedent for its inclusion in expansion of the Union.
HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela), reiterating his delegation’s support for the principles of international law, sovereignty and territorial integrity, commended the work carried out by UNMIK towards ensuring peace in the area. On the political instability in Kosovo, he expressed concern that the representatives of the opposition parties had continued to disrupt the functioning of the Assembly. However, he acknowledged the positive steps taken by both parties, noting that the economic cooperation between Kosovo’s and Serbia’s Chamber of Commerce helped in the normalization of relations.Mr. DAČIĆ, taking the floor for a second time, said his country had nothing to do with the Kosovan parliament’s inability to hold a session. It was unfortunate that Kosovo’s representative used the Security Council to seek recognition rather than a political solution.
Ms. ÇITAKU said Kosovo was not afraid to deal with its past. There had been a terrible war, during which awful things had happened, but no one should ever put a question mark between State-sponsored crime and individual actions. Kosovo would implement every agreement it reached in Brussels, every single one of them, but not at the cost of the functionality of its country. Reconciliation could not be built on denial, but only by standing tall and looking at the past without fear, although for some that might be quite shameful.