Attempts to Repeal Law on Kosovo Chambers a Grave Concern, Special Representative Tells Security Council amid Calls for Continued High-Level Dialogue

SC/13199
7 February 2018
8176th Meeting (AM)

Attempts to Repeal Law on Kosovo Chambers a Grave Concern, Special Representative Tells Security Council amid Calls for Continued High-Level Dialogue

The establishment of the Specialist Chambers in Kosovo had been a major achievement, and recent attempts to abrogate the 2015 law supporting its work were cause for grave concern, the senior United Nations official in the Balkans told the Security Council today, adding that the assassination of a Kosovo-Serb politician in January had shaken the region.

Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), briefed the Council via video conference from Pristina, presenting the Secretary-General’s latest quarterly report on the Mission (document S/2018/76).  The new European enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans, launched on 6 February, had paved the way for expansion, as well as political and socioeconomic reform, he affirmed.

He said, however, attempts by members of the ruling coalition in the Kosovo Assembly to repeal the law on those Chambers had raised concerns about Kosovo’s commitment to an impartial application of the rule of law.  Such actions would damage Kosovo’s aspirations, as nearly all regional and international partners had made clear.

Further, the 16 January assassination of Kosovo-Serb politician Oliver Ivanović had sent shockwaves across the region, and he urged all parties to work together to ensure the perpetrators were brought to justice.  Leaders in Belgrade and Pristina had reacted to that event in a prompt and responsible manner.  But while Belgrade was cooperating with the investigation, concerns remained about the efficiency of information exchange.

Ivica Dačič, Serbia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, called the assassination a “senseless terrorist act” that risked destabilizing the region.  While Pristina had intimated that local mafia were involved and that the crime had not been ethnically motivated, he said such statements obscured Kosovo’s inability to investigate the matter.

On the Specialist Chambers, he said they had been established to try the alleged crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and that political parties sought to revoke the law governing them.  The international community stood behind the Chambers from a belief that such heinous crimes committed against Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo should not go unpunished.

To those comments, Vlora Çitaku of Kosovo said 80 Parliamentarians had voted to establish the Specialized Chambers, and 43 signatures in favour of a debate about it would not change that fact.  The people of Kosovo wanted justice for all victims, regardless of ethnicity.  Kosovo, she said, had an exemplary record of cooperation with both international and local war crimes tribunals.

She said the new European Union strategy for the Western Balkans had made clear that Kosovo and Serbia must normalize their relations and enter into a legally binding agreement.  Normalization could only be achieved by Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo.  The sooner that happened, she said, the better it would be for the region.

When the floor opened for debate, the representative of the Russian Federation said the sponsors of the dubious Kosovo project should realize that there were no clear prospects for settling that situation.  His country had cautioned against the 2008 unilateral proclamation of independence.  Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity were being trampled in a breach of international law.  Kosovo was also a comfortable zone for recruiting radicals, which carried a high cost for the region.  The murder of Oliver Ivanović had signalled the low level of security in Kosovo and the risks to Serb communities.

The representative of the United States, underscoring her country’s focus on peacekeeping reform, said conditions in Kosovo had changed for the better.  It was past time to wind down UNMIK in order to preserve United Nations resources.  The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia should now take the matter into their own hands and come together to normalize relations to the benefit of both parties, she said.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kazakhstan, France, China, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Côte d'Ivoire, Bolivia, Peru and Kuwait.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 12:17 p.m.

Briefing

ZAHIR TANIN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), joining via video-conference from Pristina, said that on 6 February, the new European Union enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans was launched.  That plan paved the way for expansion linked with political and socioeconomic reform, as well as the lasting dispute resolution.  While there had been a mixed reaction in Pristina, most leaders there emphasized the strategy’s importance for realizing Kosovo’s European aspirations.

He said a number of standing agreements had yet to be fully implemented, including the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities.  The recent attempt to abrogate the law on the Specialist Chambers by members of the ruling coalition in the Kosovo Assembly had raised grave concerns from all stakeholders about Kosovo’s commitment to just and impartial application of the rule of law. The establishment of those Chambers had been a major achievement, yet some Parliamentarians had attempted to revoke a law supporting their work.  Nearly all regional and international partners had made clear that such a move, if successful, would damage Kosovo’s aspirations.  The President of Kosovo’s Assembly had assured that leaders in Pristina would stand by their international commitments.

Detailing recent events, he said the 16 January murder of Kosovo-Serb politician Oliver Ivanović had sent shockwaves across the region, and he had urged all to work together to ensure the perpetrators were brought to justice.  Leaders in Belgrade and Pristina had reacted to that event in a prompt and responsible manner.  While Belgrade was cooperating with the investigation, concerns remained about the efficiency of information exchange.

Recalling that Kosovo in 2017 had held Parliamentary and municipal elections and formed a new Government, he said people had high expectations for their elected officials.  As such, the international community continued to assist Kosovo institutions in promoting justice, the rule of law, and human rights.  The Government had approved four draft laws aimed at increasing the efficiency and transparency of the judicial system.

For its part, UNMIK and its partners had worked to strengthen the role of women and youth, he said, as well as consolidate their essential contribution to peace, security, and the building of trust across communities.  Women still faced an uphill challenge in electoral politics:  Of 204 mayoral candidates across all of Kosovo’s municipalities, only eight were women.  A concerted effort was required to achieve more balanced representation.  Similarly, young people, despite their understandable frustrations with the status quo, provided hope for a better future.  UNMIK continued to engage them through initiatives like the United Nations Youth Assembly in Kosovo.  Indeed, building trust was essential for the Mission.  Sustainable peace could not be achieved without the engagement of all institutions and international assistance in building bridges.

IVICA DAČIČ, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said the murder of Oliver Ivanović on 16 January had dramatically threatened security in Kosovo and Metohija, calling it a senseless terrorist act that risked destabilizing the region.  Serbia’s political leaders and State authorities had called for calm, while the President had called for stability, peace, calm and dignity, emphasizing that all problems must be solved through peaceful dialogue.  Three weeks after the murder, there was still no information, except for the intimation by Pristina representatives that elements of the local mafia had been involved and that the crime had not been ethnically motivated.  “These statements serve to obfuscate Pristina’s inability or lack of readiness to conduct (an) investigation of this gruesome crime,” he said.

Moreover, he said the power structures and political parties — and their leaders in Kosovo and Metohija — had tried to revoke the law on the Specialist Chambers, which were set to try alleged crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army.  Statements by various diplomats had made clear that the international community did not share the views of those behind that initiative and that they instead believed the heinous crimes committed against Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija must not go unpunished.  The establishment of criminal responsibility in an impartial and credible manner would have immeasurable impacts on the fight against impunity, demonstrating that justice was achievable for all victims.  Serbia would continue to prosecute those for whom there was convincing evidence that they had committed war crimes against civilians.

He said that beyond the 16,500 internally displaced persons in the province, more than 200,000 still resided outside Kosovo and Metohija in central Serbia more than 18 years after the arrival of international elements.  The lowest number of returns since 2000 had been recorded in 2017, with only 498 people returning to the province.  “On the one hand, this number is shocking; on the other, it is understandable and begs the question of who is ready to return to where they will suffer discrimination every day,” he said.  Serbia sought to make a serious and responsible contribution to regional stability, political cooperation, understanding and economic progress.  It sought to offer a solution that provided an opportunity for a historic agreement with the Albanian community in Kosovo and Metohija; one that would not cause new divisions, misunderstandings, instability and conflict.  Pristina’s one-sided acts and attempts to solve questions unilaterally were entirely unacceptable.

VLORA ÇITAKU of Kosovo said that 10 years of statehood had shown that survival and independence were not self-sufficient.  Freedom and food on the table were not the only needs people had; they required education and healthcare, respect and dignity.  Kosovo had learned that statehood was not only about building government and institutions.  Civil society, the free press, and the non-governmental sector were equally important.  According to international organizations, Kosovo today enjoyed greater freedom of speech than any other country in the region.  That remarkable achievement was entirely a credit to the journalists who never bowed to power, surrendered to threats, or compromised the truth.  While Kosovo’s institutions might have their flaws, its society had matured, as seen in the reaction by Kosovo and its media to the assassination of Oliver Ivanović.  Unlike what might have occurred in the past, the assassination had not incited ethnic hatred in Kosovo.  In fact, citizens and the media, both Albanian and Serbian, had agreed that organized crime in northern Kosovo was to blame.  While Mr. Ivanović was a controversial figure, no stone would be left unturned until the perpetrators were brought to justice.

Addressing the debate around the Specialist Chambers, she said Kosovo had an exemplary record in cooperating with international and local war crimes tribunals.  People in Kosovo wanted justice for all victims, regardless of ethnicity, a sentiment displayed most powerfully in various forms in recent weeks. Recalling that 80 Parliamentarians had voted to establish the Specialist Chambers, she said 43 signatures in favour of a debate about that court would not undo that fact.  More broadly, she said survivors of sexual violence during the war had a legally regulated status and could benefit from pensions, thanks to women like Kadire Tahiraj.  For years, women had been neglected by institutions and stigmatized by society.  Ms. Tahiraj fought tirelessly for survivors, and today, 18 years after the war, the Government had allocated the funds needed to implement reparations programmes for them.

Recalling that the Council was meeting one day after the European Union had published its strategy for the Western Balkans, she said that while some in Kosovo believed the language used to describe its path forward should have been more specific, there was no doubt where the future lay.  The strategy had made clear that Kosovo and Serbia must normalize relations and enter a legally binding agreement.  Normalization could only be achieved by recognizing Kosovo, she said, and the sooner Serbia did so, the better it would be for the entire region.

Statements

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) urged close cooperation among all parties in conducting a fair and objective investigation into the murder of Oliver Ivanović, a barbaric act that sought to disrupt the peace dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.  All parties should also avoid further provocative rhetoric.  He commended the High Representative of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, for continuing the political dialogue through a series of technical meetings in Brussels and urged all parties to continue interacting to build trust.  The role of UNMIK in that process was essential, including its efforts to launch various dialogues.  The issue of returning refugees required attention, he said, adding that peace and stability would only be achieved if parties continued to fulfil their obligations in a spirit of mutual respect and compromise.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said that her country stood beside Kosovo as it worked to build its institutions and pursue economic and social development.  Kosovo was a peacekeeping success story, yet a great deal had yet to be achieved.  France was committed to building rule of law, combating organized crime and addressing corruption in Kosovo.  She welcomed the recent smooth conduct of municipal elections, a milestone in Kosovo’s political affairs, despite instances of voter intimidation, which were to be deplored.  France had voiced its concerns about developments around the Specialist Chambers and hoped to see such plans abandoned.  The Security Council must focus on UNMIK initiatives and operations to better-coordinate with the other actors in Kosovo, ensuring they were fully-tailored to the situation on the ground.

MA ZHAOXU (China) said the situation of Kosovo involved complex factors.  All parties should respect the United Nations Charter and relevant Security Council resolutions and seek through dialogue a solution that was agreeable to all.  China respected Serbia’s sovereign territoriality and its concern over Kosovo, he said, welcoming continuation of the high-level dialogue between the two sides and expressing hope it would lead to a solution and increase mutual trust.  Tolerance, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence served the interests of all ethnic groups in Kosovo.  The Council’s sustained attention on the question of Kosovo was crucial in that regard, and he expressed hope that UNMIK and the European Union would continue to play a constructive role in the situation.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) reaffirmed support for the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues between Belgrade and Pristina, and welcomed efforts of the European Union in facilitating the dialogue between them.  The holding of municipal elections in a peaceful manner was encouraging.  However, the report outlined a fragile security situation in northern Kosovo, with the murder of Oliver Ivanović indicative of those potentially dangerous tensions.  He welcomed the cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina on that matter, stressing that those responsible should be brought to justice to restore calm.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) firmly condemned the murder of Oliver Ivanović and called for an investigation into that crime to ensure it did not derail the peace process in Kosovo.  Equatorial Guinea had always advocated direct, fair, frank and inclusive negotiations to resolve disputes, a position that was unwavering in relation to Kosovo.  The situation was complex due to the delicate issues of national reconciliation and the need to protect the rights of all populations and communities.  The parties must refrain from any act that could undermine confidence in the peace process, while the Council must continue to encourage the parties to prioritize direct, constructive dialogue on the agreements reached.  It was critical to respect diversity and the participation of all communities, including women and youth, in the peace process.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that having recognized Kosovo’s independence in 2008, Poland believed that Kosovo’s political institutions could realize the country’s political future, including its integration into the European Union.  She called attention to the situation involving the Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office established to investigate war crimes between 1998 and 2000, underscoring the importance of those institutions for Kosovo’s regional integration.  She saw opportunities for improvement with regard to good governance and enhancing the role of women in public life.  Condemning the murder of Oliver Ivanović, she expressed faith in the ability of the relevant institutions to investigate the crime in a professional manner and bring the perpetrators to justice.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) recalled that his delegation had cautioned against Kosovo’s unilateral proclamation of independence.  The sponsors and executors of the dubious Kosovo project should consider that there were still no clear prospects for settling that situation.  Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity continued to be trampled, a breach of international law.  Kosovo’s applications to join various international organizations had recently been rejected.  Expressing concern that the province was a comfortable zone for recruiting radicals, he said such conditions carried high risks and costs for the Balkans and the European continent, especially as terrorist elements returned from Syria and Iraq.  Further, the socioeconomic situation was disastrous.  The issue could only be resolved through a political solution crafted through dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, now at a standstill due to the refusal by Kosovo Albanians to honour their commitments.  European mediators were strangely tolerant of that stagnation, while Belgrade sought a long-term settlement.  The murder of Oliver Ivanović signalled the disastrously low level of security in Kosovo, the risks to Serb communities and the dearth of mechanisms to respond to such challenges.  Pristina’s refusal to provide any evidence to Belgrade could be interpreted as an attempt to conceal details of the crime.  He went on to express concern about the decreasing rate of returns and attacks against properties of Kosovar Serbs and of the Serb Orthodox Church.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said Kosovo’s future would be shaped by courageous and committed leadership from Pristina and Belgrade, with full support of the European Union.  Sweden welcomed the steps being taken towards a new phase in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and encouraged both sides to fully engage and deliver on their respective parts of all agreements reached.  On 6 February, the European Commission adopted its strategy “A credible enlargement perspective for, and enhanced European Union engagement with, the Western Balkans”, reaffirming Kosovo’s place in Europe.  The strategy recognized that challenges ahead related to the rule of law, neighborly relations and the reform agenda, which must be addressed within the European Union integration process.  Ensuring the full and meaningful participation of women would be essential for a peaceful, prosperous Kosovo that formed part of a strong and united Europe based on common values.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) cited progress made in Kosovo over the past 10 years, notably the conduct of three parliamentary elections, among others, and solid economic growth.  It was not the same country as when UNMIK was first established.  Building a democracy took time, and local elections had been a success, although he expressed concern over allegations of intimation in Kosovo-Serb areas.  He urged Kosovo authorities to take all steps to resolve the murder of Oliver Ivanović, which had increased tensions.  However, those events should not diminish the progress made by Pristina, which could now transition UNMIK institutions to Kosovo institutions.  It was time for a leaner Mission that took into account all the progress made, and for fewer Council meetings on the issue, he said.

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said while there was always progress to be made, conditions in Kosovo had changed for the better since the Mission was established, and the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo must now build on such success.  Noting that peacekeeping reform was a focus for the United States, she underscored that no real progress could be achieved without the buy-in of the different parties.  The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia must take the matter in their own hands and come together to normalize relations.  Normalization was a win-win proposition, as both nations would benefit.  She reiterated support for the Brussels dialogue, and meanwhile condemned the assassination of Oliver Ivanović, stressing that the world was watching whether the investigation would result in accountability for the perpetrators.  It was long past time to wind down UNMIK in order to preserve scare United Nations resources.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said the situation in Kosovo allowed for a reduced number of Council discussions on that matter.  He urged UNMIK to focus on its core tasks.  On a societal level, accountability was an important step on the road to reconciliation in Kosovo.  For progress to be preserved, its judicial capacities must be accompanied by political will to protect and promote the rule of law.  He thus expressed concern about recent steps to undermine the authority and legal basis of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, encouraging political leaders to act in line with their obligations.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed progress achieved in Kosovo, recalling that since 1999, thanks to international support, including that of UNMIK, great gains had been made in the areas of security, economic and political levels.  He noted the smooth holding of elections in 2017, which represented the democratic maturity of the country and its institutions.  He welcomed implementation of the agreement on the freedom of movement and expressed hope that the Assembly of Kosovo would adopt the draft law on the freedom of religion for the Serb community.  Despite optimism regarding the political situation, he was troubled by the murder of Oliver Ivanović.  He called on Kosovo to honour the important roles played by the Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) expressed concern about the attempt to revoke the Specialist Chambers, as the rule of law was essential for fighting impunity.  Perpetrators of crime must be held accountable and the victims deserved justice.  He condemned the murder of Oliver Ivanović as a premeditated crime against the peace process.  It was important for parties to comply with the European Union-sponsored negotiations and he called on them to work for peaceful solutions through dialogue.  Bolivia valued efforts of the European Union and the High Representative to make progress in implementing current agreements, he said, encouraging UNMIK to help build confidence, and to promote both political dialogue and respect for human rights.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said progress in Kosovo represented the commitment made by those involved in the peace process, welcoming the dialogue for normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina.  He also condemned the assassination of Oliver Ivanović, noting that those responsible should be identified and brought to justice.  Inter-community reconciliation based on respect for different identities was an essential element for cultural wealth, he said.  UNMIK efforts must continue to respond to challenges in the implementation of the Brussels agreement.  If progress continued towards sustainable peace, the Council must, at the right time, ensure an orderly transition from UNMIK to other institutions.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), President of the Council for February, spoke in his national capacity to say that developments in Kosovo affected regional stability and security.  He applauded measures taken by Kosovo to achieve faster progress in implementing the European Union reform agenda, noting that it had committed to carrying out all aspects of that agenda.  He welcomed the free and fair elections held on 22 October 2017, and commended the self-restraint of political leaders following the assassination of Oliver Ivanović.

For information media. Not an official record.