Kosovo’s Overall Security Situation Stable, But Abiding Tensions Require United Nations Mission to Fulfil Mandate, Security Council Told

SC/12365
16 May 2016
7693rd Meeting (AM)

Kosovo’s Overall Security Situation Stable, But Abiding Tensions Require United Nations Mission to Fulfil Mandate, Security Council Told

UNMIK’s Tasks Largely Fulfilled, Says United States, as Russian Federation Opposes ‘Unilateral’ Revision of Founding Resolution

While the overall security situation in Kosovo remained stable, a tense and divisive political landscape demonstrated a continuing need for the United Nations mission there to fulfil its mandate in support of lasting peace, the Security Council heard today.

Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) briefed the Council on its activities between January and April, saying that, while it no longer administered the territory, it was important for providing support and legitimacy in its role as a bridge between the Security Council and the people of Kosovo and the wider region.  Among its other roles, UNMIK drew upon United Nations system-wide expertise and resources to assist in such tasks as handling migrant and refugee flows and working to discourage young people from paths leading to violent extremism and terrorism.

He reported that the recent inauguration of the new President of Kosovo and the general elections in Serbia had provided an excellent opportunity to move beyond a time marked by infighting and other distractions.  Expressing hope that the conciliatory messages and visions presented by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and President Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo would help to settle the political scene, he said common challenges facing all parties, political groups and communities included the need for economic opportunity, better health care and a clean environment.  “Real Kosovo politics are local,” he said.  “What matters is how leaders […] address the everyday needs of the people in their communities.”

Ivica Dačić, Serbia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, emphasized the continuing validity of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the importance of UNMIK in coordinating international presences and stabilizing the situation in the southern Serbian province.  Reaffirming his county’s commitment to dialogue with Kosovo in order to find solutions to all outstanding issues, he said, however, that Pristina had not yet fully implemented agreements already reached.  Meanwhile, radicalism and extremism, including increasing enlistment by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) threatened the population, he warned.

Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo, emphasizing that inflammatory language by Serbian officials regarding links between Kosovo and ISIL must end, pointed out that Kosovo was an active partner of the global coalition against terrorism and saw ISIL as a regional threat.  Kosovo was “on an irreversible path towards being embraced as an equal member of the free nations of the world”, she said, citing its admission into major international football associations, and the European Commission’s recommendation to grant visa-free travel for Kosovars in the Schengen area.

Several speakers welcomed the progress reported in Kosovo, with the representative of the United States saying UNMIK’s mandate had largely been accomplished.  The only reason the Council was meeting so frequently on the issue was political, and it was now time to reduce both the time and money spent on the Mission.  The Council seemed to be stuck in the past, he said, emphasizing that the reporting period should be extended to every six months, rather than every three months.  After years of isolation, Kosovo was coming to be recognized on the international level, he said.

Others stressed that resolution 1244 (1999) sketched the path towards resolving the Kosovo question, with the Russian Federation’s representative emphasizing that no one had the right unilaterally to revise that Council decision.  There were no grounds for reducing or drawing down UNMIK, he said, pointing out that much work remained to be done, according to the Secretary-General’s latest report.  He also cited vandalism against Serb churches, cemeteries and other symbols of cultural and religious heritage, saying police had failed to intervene.

Some speakers welcomed Kosovo’s advances in establishing a specialized court to try allegations arising from the European Union Special Investigative Task Force.  Others stressed the importance of supporting efforts to promote reconciliation, deepen dialogue and understanding among all communities and parties in Kosovo.  Still others urged leaders in both Belgrade and Pristina to bolster efforts to create lasting peace, including by resolving the matter of displaced and missing persons, as well as protecting cultural and religious heritage.

Also speaking today were the representatives of France, Uruguay, Angola, Spain, Ukraine, Japan, Senegal, China, Venezuela, Malaysia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Egypt.

Serbia’s Minister Dačić and Ms. Çitaku of Kosovo both took the floor for a second intervention.

The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 12:55 p.m.

Briefing

ZAHIR TANIN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, introduced the report on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (document S/2016/407) and briefed on routine activities of the Mission between 16 January and 15 April, alongside broader considerations.  Noting that Kosovo remained at the centre of issues that were vital to overall security in Europe, he said that, with the culmination of one year of efforts focusing on political dynamics, the new President of Kosovo had been inaugurated in April, and general elections had been held in Serbia.  Despite a divisive atmosphere, those events had provided an excellent opportunity to draw a line under a period marked by infighting and other distractions, he said, expressing hope that the conciliatory messages and visions presented by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and President Hashim Thaçi would help to settle the political scene.

On the heels of news from the European Commission proposing Kosovo’s transfer to the visa-free short-stay list for travel in the Schengen area, he said much work needed to be done in that regard.  While the links between the mandate of UNMIK and those of European Union processes were not always clearly delineated, those connections were, in fact, fundamental.  Kosovo’s recent advances towards integration into Europe should reinforce and enhance the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, he said, emphasizing that flexibility and innovation should frame that process, building on the recent elections.  As for other areas of concern, he said the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo had been the subject of much misunderstanding, but, as stressed recently by President Thaçi, reconciliation represented “real steps” on the path to lasting peace.

The realities caused by unemployment, inequality, pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, efforts to overcome legacies of impunity, and weaknesses in rule-of-law institutions presented serious challenges to the mandate of promoting peace and stability.  The international community must be a central component of support in addressing those factors.  Regarding discussions held with all parties, political groups and communities, he said their concerns reflected those commonly voiced in post-conflict settings, including the need for economic opportunity, better health care and a clean environment.  “Real Kosovo politics are local,” he said.  “What matters is how leaders, like those to whom I have spoken in various different municipalities, address the everyday needs of the people in their communities.”  Elaborating on that point, he said that if identity politics had driven the wars that had led to the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, “what we witness now is the unity of polarization of people around issues which are foremost social, economic and environmental”.  He added:  “Militant nationalism has lost the mandate of heaven.”

He went on to emphasize that a new alternative was sorely awaited.  “When I speak with Kosovo’s youth about their concerns, jobs and justice are the two words I hear the most often.”  Within the territory’s political sphere, continuing differences and intense debate remained essential, he said, expressing hope that such discussions would result in leaders working towards meeting the people’s interests and bolstering a strong democratic opposition.  For one year, the political opposition had been involved in a restless determination to change the horizon of power in the Assembly of Kosovo by any means necessary, including violence, he said, noting that reconsidering that path was an opportunity to revitalize an atmosphere still suffering from deep distrust and to return to healthy democratic norms.  UNMIK remained unique, he said pointing out that, while the Mission no longer administered Kosovo, it was important for providing support and legitimacy in its role as a bridge between the Security Council and the people of Kosovo and the wider region.  Among its other roles, UNMIK was drawing upon areas in which United Nations system-wide expertise and resources could assist, including handling migrant and refugee flows and working to discourage youth from paths leading to violent extremism and terrorism.

Statements

IVICA DAČIĆ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, stressed the continuing validity of resolution 1244 (1999) and the importance of UNMIK for coordinating the international presence and stabilizing the situation in the southern Serbian province.  Serbia expected UNMIK to carry out its mandated tasks.  Of particular importance were international mandates relating to law and order, as well as the human rights of Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija, who continued to face numerous obstacles to the realization of their basic rights.

He called for an explanation of the omission from the Secretary-General’s report of the fact that only 1.9 per cent out of 200,000 displaced persons in Serbia had achieved “sustainable returns.”  Quoting a report from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), he said returnees and other non-Albanians had experienced hundreds of incidents that threatened their security, from theft and verbal assault to damage to and illegal occupation of property.  Assaults on the cultural and religious heritage of minority communities continued.  Serbia fully supported displaced persons, but its efforts would be insufficient without proper engagement by Kosovo’s Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, community acceptance of returnees and an active role for the international community, he said.

Detailing “serious and manifold institutional, legal, administrative and political obstacles” faced by non-Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija, he reaffirmed his country’s commitment to dialogue with Kosovo to find solutions to all outstanding issues.  However, Pristina had not yet fully implemented agreements already reached.  Meanwhile, radicalism and extremism, including increasing enlistment in Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) threatened the population, he said.  Serbia expected the international community, primarily the United Nations, to continue assistance in building stability and trust in all areas.  Emphasizing that integration into Europe was the driving force for normalization between Belgrade and Pristina, he said the continued engagement of UNMIK was essential in that context.

VLORA ÇITAKU of Kosovo expressed pride in recent events that demonstrated that the territory was “on an irreversible path towards being embraced as an equal member of the free nations of the world”.  In particular, she pointed to its acceptance into major international football associations, as well as the recommendation of the European Commission to grant visa-free travel for Kosovars in the European Union.  She said she had been appalled, however, at the negative reaction of Serbian officials last week to the acceptance of Kosovo by sporting associations and other indications that Kosovars were no longer second-class citizens at home or in the world.  “Live and let live,” she said, adding that hard work had rightly paved the way towards Kosovo’s integration into Europe.  While emphasizing the importance of resolving the issue of missing people, she said peace and reconciliation could not be achieved without revealing the truth of the past.

Kosovo wanted good neighbourly relations, but that desire must be mutual.  Pristina would implement every single agreement reached in Brussels, but the objective of the talks must be normalizing relations between peoples, she said.  For that to occur, inflammatory language by Serbian officials regarding links between Kosovo and ISIL must end, she stressed.  Kosovo, aspiring to be an integrated European nation, was an active partner of the global coalition against terrorism and saw ISIL as a regional threat, she said.  It was a “secular republic”, proud of its multicultural and multireligious population, she said, urging all to visit and see its people working together to solve local and global problems.  While acknowledging problems that lay ahead, including the need to strengthen the rule of law, fight corruption, as well as organized crime, all such challenges would be addressed, she affirmed that steps had recently been taken, including legal action against high-level officials accused of involvement in organized crime.  She said her generation’s goal was to leave behind not only a free and independent Kosovo, but one that was also more prosperous, at peace with all its neighbours and an active member of the global family.

ALEXIS LAMEK (France), expressed concerned about recent incidents involving the political opposition, emphasizing that the authorities in Kosovo must maintain an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and ensure an end to impunity.  Welcoming the ratification of an agreement with the Netherlands to establish a special court in that regard, he said the Kosovo authorities must cooperate fully in denouncing those responsible for crimes.  There was also need to address the question of missing persons, and it was to be hoped that a new dynamic would be forged following Pristina’s nomination of a head of delegation to a related Serbia-Kosovo working group.  As for Kosovo’s efforts to be recognized as a State, France supported its candidacy for admission to INTERPOL and the Council of Europe, he said.  He expressed hope that UNMIK would progressively transfer its duties to the authorities in Pristina and that the Security Council would review its reporting cycle on that agenda item to match progress on the ground, notably bilateral dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay), reiterating that his country’s Government had not recognized Kosovo, expressed concern over recent tensions and encouraged all parties to make every efforts to find inclusive, peaceful forms of dialogue to resolve differences.  Outstanding rule-of-law issues were also a concern, including the treatment of detainees and corruption in prisons, he said, emphasizing the Mission’s role in addressing those challenges.  Welcoming the ruling on establishing a governmental commission that would recognize victims and survivors of sexual violence and address their needs, he said Uruguay was satisfied with UNMIK’s other efforts, including its support for youth- and gender- perspective activities, as well as its progress in the area of human rights strategies for the future.  With its varied roles, the Mission was indeed playing an important part in helping efforts on the ground, he concluded.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) emphasized that resolution 1244 (1999) remained the foundation for resolving Kosovo issues on the basis of dialogue and measures.  Angola supported Serbia’s territorial integrity and understood its concerns about the issues at hand.  Aware that the overall security situation remained stable, he expressed concern over with the recent tense climate, urging political leaders in Belgrade and Pristina to conclude all agreements and proceed in good faith.  Mutual cooperation was a fundamental element of progress towards European integration and all possibilities should be placed on the table with a view to re-energizing talks and building momentum.  Voicing hope that every effort would be made to foster understanding among communities, he underlined that outstanding issues, including missing persons and the radicalization of youth, must be addressed.

DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said it was important to recognize that UNMIK’s mandate had largely been accomplished.  The only reason the Council was meeting so frequently on the issue was political, and it was now time to reduce both the time and money spent on the Mission.  The Council seemed to be stuck in the past, he said, emphasizing that the reporting period should be extended to every six months, rather than every three months.  For the sake of regional stability, Pristina and Belgrade should fully implement agreements on energy, freedom of movement and other critical issues, he emphasized.

Welcoming recent elections in Kosovo and Serbia as the types of necessary actions that would benefit the people, he said Pristina’s efforts to join the European Union would be similarly beneficial.  After years of isolation, Kosovo was coming to be recognized on the international level, he said, noting that its athletes could now participate in sporting competitions, having been admitted into European soccer associations.  Anti-corruption efforts would lead to further opportunities for all, he said, stressing that it was now critical to integrate the Kosovo police into the international community, including INTERPOL.  He urged Member States to take steps to integrate Kosovo into the international community, saying that would serve collective efforts to advance peace and security well.

ROMÁN OVYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) welcomed reports of progress in Kosovo, but also recognized the continuing tensions, reiterating the Secretary-General’s call upon leaders in both Belgrade and Pristina to avoid inflammatory rhetoric.  Spain supported the work of UNMIK and other international missions, particularly in protecting human rights, the rule of law and minorities, he said, calling upon all parties to maintain a constructive spirit supportive of UNMIK’s work and expressing strong support for the Brussels dialogue, despite a recent lack of progress.  Trust must be further built and more work done on certain issues, he emphasized, appealing for renewal of full cooperation in the Brussels process and implementation of all agreements achieved, particularly those on the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) noted the positive developments, but also expressed concern about continuing tensions and urged Belgrade and Pristina to redouble efforts to implement previous agreements.  Voicing full support for the Brussels dialogue, he expressed hope that steps towards the region’s integration into Europe would further stabilize the situation.  However, more progress was needed in promoting greater tolerance among Kosovo communities, the protection of minority rights and the return of displaced persons, he emphasized.  Council support for UNMIK, as well as other international missions in Kosovo, remained important, and its priorities in the coming period should be promoting peace, stability and respect for human rights, as well as monitoring implementation of agreements, especially in the context of creation of the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities.

YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan), praising the conduct of presidential elections in Kosovo, recognized its successful creation of a governance structure.  Accordingly, UNMIK’s role should be reconsidered, he said, adding that its current focus should be promoting reconciliation among communities, in addition to countering violent extremism and the flow of small arms.  Noting that democracy had not yet fully taken root in Kosovo and that the economy remained weak, he emphasized that, in meeting those challenges, Kosovar ownership was of vital importance, warning that too much international involvement might “hinder Kosovo’s ability to stand on its own feet”.  Japan would continue its strong support for UNMIK in that context, he said.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) welcomed the continuing stability in Kosovo despite problems encountered in the context of the recent elections.  Welcoming also the continuing dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, he hailed the commitment of the new President to normalizing relations in the region and to implementing all previous agreements.  Senegal strongly encouraged further dialogue on the management of crossing points and other outstanding issues, he said, welcoming the progress on creating specialized courts and calling for greater cooperation on resolving the matter of displaced and missing persons, as well as protecting cultural and religious heritage.

WU HAITAO (China) emphasized his delegation’s respect for Serbia’s territorial integrity and recognition of its concerns over Kosovo.  There was need for a proper solution acceptable to all parties, and it should be based on the United Nations Charter and relevant Council resolutions.  While the security situation in Kosovo was stable, complex elements remained, he noted.  Commending Serbia’s efforts to find political solutions and implement agreements, he expressed support for related initiatives aimed at advancing existing gains.  China commended UNMIK’s work and hoped it would continue to discharge its mandate, he said, expressing hope that all stakeholders would work together in seeking solutions to outstanding issues.

HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela) said resolution 1244 (1999) was the basis for a peaceful solution.  Noting that UNMIK supported the current stability, he said violent incidents had nevertheless hindered the normalization of relations and the return of ethnic Serbs to certain areas.  There was a need for efforts to address concerns in education and the judiciary, and to address the question of missing persons.  Welcoming advances in recognizing and addressing the needs of victims of sexual violence, he appealed to parties involved in the new special court to continue their efforts to mete out justice and end impunity.  Radicalization was also a concern, he said, citing reports that Kosovo citizens had been joining ISIL, while emphasizing that prevention and counter-terrorism efforts must be implemented more robustly.  Venezuela encouraged all parties to work towards ensuring lasting peace.

SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) welcomed the election and priorities of Kosovo’s new President and called for a sustained focus on reconciliation, unity, socio-political reforms and economic development.  Reiterating calls for an end to violence, intimidation and inflammatory rhetoric, and for resolving grievances through dialogue and democratic channels, she also called upon Kosovo’s leaders to remain steadfast in implementing reforms required for European integration.  Taking note of Kosovo’s strategy to counter violent extremism, she commended its progress in establishing special chambers for past crimes and measures to counter sexual violence and ensure justice for victims.  She also called for greater progress towards implementing agreements reached in the Brussels dialogue, including the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities.  Malaysia reaffirmed its support for UNMIK and for the other international presences in Kosovo, she said.

CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) said it was important that further progress towards reconciliation was not deterred or undermined by the efforts of a disruptive minority.  Welcoming further gains in establishing a special court to try allegations arising from the European Union Special Investigative Task Force, including Kosovo’s ratification of a host agreement with the Netherlands, she urged progress on rule-of-law issues, including the need for an independent and accountable judiciary and for the appointment of judges and prosecutors from the Serbian judiciary into the Kosovo legal system.  Given those issues, the Security Council should adopt a more flexible approach to its agenda item on Kosovo, bearing in mind the number of other pressing issues it was grappling with, she emphasized.

VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) emphasized that resolution 1244 (1999) remained the only platform for resolving the situation in Kosovo, and no one had the right unilaterally to revise that Council decision.  He noted that, while most of today’s discussion dealt with technical matters, the security situation on the ground involved ever more complex consequences, with parties using violence instead of engaging in dialogue.  No progress had been seen since August 2015, and the Association/Communities of Serb-majority Municipalities was yet to be established.  He expressed hope that the new special court would end impunity, but said that concerns remained about corruption in the province.

He went on to say that the situation of Kosovar Serbs was another concern, citing incidents of vandalism against churches, cemeteries and other symbols of cultural and religious heritage in which police had failed to intervene.  Clear attempts by the Kosovo authorities to acquire a mining company and Serb properties were also a concern, he said, demanding a resolution of those problems.  The authorities must also address the slow return of refugees and internally displaced persons and the weak economy, which had led many to travel to Europe in search of better opportunities.

Expressing concern about terrorists using Kosovo for recruitment and training, he said that such a situation would affect the greater region and required pointed attention.  A real determination by all parties was needed to overcome the currently deteriorating situation, he said, stressing that the United Nations must maintain its presence in order to fulfil its mission.  There were no grounds for appeals made during today’s discussions for the reduction or drawdown of UNMIK, he said, pointing out that the Secretary-General’s latest report stated that a large amount of work remained to be done.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said that, in order to maintain the progress seen in the past months, it was necessary to end factionalism and pursue further dialogue.  The present was precisely the time for Kosovo to unite, the agreement on the special court having demonstrated that it could be done.  The United Kingdom supported Kosovo’s wish to join INTERPOL, he said, adding that continuing security incidents demonstrated the need for more dialogue and further reconciliation efforts, but not widespread instability.  Greater progress was needed in the Brussels dialogue an in implementation of agreements already reached.  Welcoming the reduction of UNMIK’s budget, he reiterated a request for less frequent reporting and Council meetings on Kosovo, which would leave more time for in-depth analysis.  The inclusion of Kosovo in international sports and other forums showed that the current frequency and tenor of discussions in the Council belonged to a bygone era, he said.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, saying his delegation saw the recent Kosovo elections as a new opportunity to alleviate tensions.  Egypt rejected violence as a means to resolve issues, and all efforts should be made to reach a settlement on all outstanding matters in the Brussels dialogue, through the exercise of mutual respect between Belgrade and Pristina.  He underlined the need to implement all four pillars of the 2015 agreement, without exceptions, to pave the way for stability and prosperity in the region, saying normalization of relations in the region must continue.  Welcoming the establishment of the special court, he called for the support needed for the success of its work.  Support for progress on the issues of displaced and missing persons, cultural heritage and anti-radicalization efforts was also important, he said, underscoring the need for cooperation among all international presences in Kosovo, with a view to full implementation of resolution 1244 (1999).

Mr. DAČIĆ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said he had determined to remain within the subject matter of the report while Ms. Çitaku of Kosovo had insisted on making political speeches.  Pointing out that the Republic of Kosovo that she had mentioned did not exist, he emphasized that proper procedures must be followed.  Serbia also objected to the use of the word “genocide” in the Council, without legal basis.  If history was to be discussed, it should be noted that Kosovo had had an ethnic Serb majority in previous centuries, he noted, adding that, if modern facts were to be considered, it must be emphasized that 200,000 people had been displaced in Kosovo and there was now a special court to try crimes committed by the Kosovo liberation forces in the 1990s and 2000.  There had also been attacks on cultural landmarks in Kosovo.

“You should live your life,” he said regarding Kosovo’s admission to international sporting associations, while stressing that history should not be twisted and untrue accusations made.  Disrespect for Serbia was being exhibited through the urging of recognition of Kosovo as independent, and other Member States should consider the consequences of such a precedent, he cautioned.  Pointing out that he had been born in Kosovo while Ms. Çitaku was Albanian, he said Kosovo should belong to all “relevant persons”.  Serbia did not favour unilateral moves, and all topics must be resolved through dialogue, he said, adding that it had agreed to avoid inflammatory rhetoric for that very purpose.  He warned that, unless others refrained, next time he would discuss the region’s entire history.

Ms. ÇITAKU of Kosovo said that Serbia had caused the greatest catastrophe since the Second World War in Kosovo, as well as elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, emphasizing that the future could only be discussed if honesty was applied to the past, and that it was pitiful to claim that she was not a Kosovar.  Kosovo’s consistent point was that resolution 1244 (1999) did not suit the modern reality.  Citing court decisions in favour of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, which had affirmed that States existed for the benefit of their peoples, she said every single citizen of Kosovo was welcome to return, and the government had gone to great lengths to accommodate them at all levels.  It must be recognized, however, that Kosovo was where the returnees would be going back to and that Pristina was the place where their problems must be resolved.  Reiterating her invitation to see the progress made in all areas, she stressed that Kosovo wanted peace and good-neighbourly relations, which, however, could not result from denial of the truth.

For information media. Not an official record.