13 April 2021

Meaningful Dialogue, Forward-Looking Policies between Belgrade, Pristina Central to Moving Forward, European Integration, Kosovo Mission Head Tells Security Council

Expectations are running high in Kosovo after elections that reflected a strong desire among its people for their leaders to fight crime corruption, improve socioeconomic conditions and tackle the COVID-19 pandemic while also advancing dialogue with Serbia, the top United Nations official in Pristina told a videoconference meeting of the Security Council today.

Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Mission’s work (document S/2021/332), said turnout was high for the legislative elections on 14 February in which the winning party, Vetëvendosje, received a majority of votes.  The results indicated a strong desire for change across Kosovo society towards greater equality of opportunity, accountability and the rule of law.  He revealed that he spoke on 12  April with Kosovo’s new “prime minister”, Albin Kurti, who assured him that he understood the need to advance dialogue with Belgrade.  The Special Representative also spoke earlier today with Aleksandar Vučić, President of Serbia, who reiterated his hope for intensified dialogue.  In addition, the Special Representative noted last week’s election of Vjosa Osmani as “president” of Kosovo — the second woman to hold that position.

“I know, from my discussions with both Pristina and Belgrade, that each side is aware of how central the quality of their relations will be in achieving the aspirations of their constituencies for progress along the European path,” he said, adding that relations can only move forward — and mutual interests met — through meaningful and sincere dialogue and forward-looking policies.  Reiterating his appeal for leaders to be mindful of their public statements, he said that with a strongly mandated “government” in Pristina, tough subjects should be treated with seriousness and diligence.

Turning to other matters, he said that Kosovo is experiencing a dramatic spike in infections, with the running average of new cases at its highest point since the pandemic began in March 2020.  So far, the coronavirus has infected more than 100,000 people and caused more than 2,000 deaths.  A first delivery of 24,000 doses of vaccine through the COVAX facility arrived at the end of March, marking the start of a vaccination campaign, he said, adding that it will be essential to speed up vaccine-related support for Kosovo going forward.  In the context of COVID-19, UNMIK is monitoring the human rights ramifications of the pandemic.  It is also urging the “government” to make progress on clarifying the fate of missing persons by engaging with the Pristina-Belgrade Working Group on Missing Persons.

Looking ahead, he said that Kosovo’s new “government” faces great challenges, but also great opportunities, with Mr. Kurti foreshadowing a people-centred approach to governance that emphasizes the advancement of justice, tackling corruption and improving the social and economic outlook for the entire population.  “Opening the door to the future requires a transformation,” he said, emphasizing that reducing tension requires that ruling and opposition parties must come together on wider interests.  At the same timer, dialogue with Belgrade is a building block of progress that must come from within.  “The voters in Kosovo raised their voices for breaking with the past and I hope that the members of the Council will add their clear support for the realization of a more peaceful and more prosperous future in Kosovo and the region,” he said.

Nikola Selaković, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, noted with regret that recent elections confirmed that political extremism among Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija is rising.  Albanian leaders compete among themselves to find the best way to provoke incidents in Serb communities, in order to score political points with the Albanian electorate.  Citing many instances of offensive and threatening graffiti in Serb communities, he said that, from the earliest stages of the electoral process, Kosovar leaders sought to diminish support among the Serb voter list, resorting to irregularities such as arbitrarily deleting voters and changing polling stations, thereby depriving many Serbs in Kosovo of their fundamental democratic rights.  Despite those tactics, the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija demonstrated high turnout and won all 10 seats reserved for Serbian representatives.

Spotlighting discriminatory anti-Serbian policies that go beyond the recent election, he listed intrusions into Serb-run health-care institutions as they work to fight COVID-19 and attacks against vulnerable Serb returnees to Kosovo and Metohija.  One method to discourage returns is the systematic destruction of the economic foundation for return, including pressure on businesses in Serb-majority communities.  At the same time as they arrest internally displaced persons, Pristina authorities try to exert pressure on the Specialist Chambers in The Hague to prevent the further processing of cases against members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.  Abductions, attacks and murders committed against Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija continue to go unaddressed.

Urging the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) to continue to support the Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor's Office, as well as its additional engagement in the field of the rule of law, he called for special attention to witness protection and to determining the fate of missing persons.  He voiced support and respect for the work of international missions in Kosovo and Metohija, including UNMIK, Kosovo Force (KFOR), EULEX and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, while underlining the need for them to remain engaged “in an undiminished scope” in line with resolution 1244 (1999).  In that vein, he rejected any unilateral attempt by another entity to assume part of KFOR’s mandate or responsibilities.  Pristina’s unilateral decisions on the formation of the “Ministry of Defense” and the launch of a process transforming the so-called “Kosovo Security Forces” into the so-called “Kosovo Army” are thus unacceptable.

Citing various attacks perpetrated against Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija in recent months, he said another striking example is the disrespectful attitude prevalent towards Serbian cultural and religious monuments in the province.  Pristina has reacted to attacks against historic Serb monasteries only be denying the problem and claiming that Kosovo is an oasis of religious tolerance and multiculturalism.  It is high time for Albanian leaders in Kosovo and Metohija to show responsibility in fulfilling their commitments, as well as a sincere commitment to reaching a compromise solution and building mutual trust.  Serbia has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to dialogue as the only path to a peaceful political solution.  “Even today […] we are still ready to sit down at the table and talk,” he said.  However, Serbia will not be blackmailed, threatened or respond to ultimatums, and expects Pristina to stop violating or obstructing the terms of previous agreements, he stressed.

Donika Gërvalla, of Kosovo, said that “the Republika of Kosova is entering a new era” after a majority of its population — in a first for any Balkan country — voted to free itself from corruption and crime.  Kosovo remains on the path to integration into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and it hopes to one day join the United Nations as well.  Kosovo may be tiny, but it is not afraid, and it is in favour of reconciliation and eager to begin substantial and serious talks, even with those who were responsible for most of the conflict and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo in recent decades.

Recalling the conflict in Kosovo more than 20 years ago, she said that most of the perpetrators of unspeakable crimes which caused more than 15,000 deaths are still alive and enjoying life in Serbia and elsewhere.  They are often celebrated for their atrocities.  Serb leaders continue to praise war criminals while refusing to cooperate with international institutions, she said, adding that some alleged war criminals are members of Serbia’s Parliament.  “Serbia has to acknowledge and to accept that it has to pay a price for its murderous atrocities,” she said, calling upon that country to confront its past, free itself from its genocidal roots and try to become a truly civilized European country.

Kosovo wants to normalize its relationship with a European-minded Serbia through an open dialogue about their common past and, hopefully, their common future, she said.  Kosovo may be small, but it stands tall and it has many reliable friends.  “The independence of the Republic of Kosova is a done deal.  The earlier Serbia accepts the reality, the quicker it can get [away] from its dark past into a bright future,” she said, adding that Kosovo wants Serbia to calm down, open up and start making friends in the region.

In the ensuing debate, several Council members renewed their call for Belgrade and Pristina to pursue dialogue to overcome their differences and build stability in the Western Balkans, particularly in the midst of the pandemic, emphasizing that therein laid the path for European integration.  They also welcomed the work of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, based in The Hague, which are addressing war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes during the Kosovo conflict.

The representative of Norway, recalling that her country was among the first to recognize Kosovo as an independent State in 2008, commended its institutions, political organizations and voters for the legislative elections held in February.  Noting that the Secretary-General’s report describes slow progress in fighting political instability, including combatting corruption and ensuring the judiciary’s independence, she urged Kosovo’s new leaders to capitalize on the electoral momentum to tackle those challenges, consolidate the rule of law and uphold human rights.  Encouraging the parties to resume the European Union-facilitated dialogue based on the Brussels Agreement, she agreed with other speakers that a full normalization of relations is key to avoid a frozen conflict.  “This is paramount for the future development of Kosovo, and of the region,” she stressed, pledging to continue to work closely with all relevant partners to achieve that goal.  Democratization, strengthening the rule of law, freedom of expression, protection of human rights and the fight against domestic and gender-based violence continue to be fundamental for social transformation, she added.

The representative of France said that his country and the European Union stand alongside Kosovo as it overcomes its many challenges.  However, there is no other path for Kosovo or Serbia than to achieve a comprehensive, definitive and legally binding agreement.  That is a precondition for closer European ties for both of them.  He called on the two sides to engage with determination, and on the basis of previous talks, in negotiations on such questions as economic cooperation, displaced persons and refugees, and missing persons.  Hopefully, the Special Representative of the European Union for Kosovo, whose mediation role is based on a Council resolution, will soon be able to brief the Council on his efforts.  He went on to welcome UNMIK’s efforts and called on all actors to support the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutors Office.  Serbia and Kosovo have a shared European future and their leaders should act as Europeans in the pursuit of compromise, he added.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that more than 12 years after the Brussels Agreement was signed, the Kosovo Albanians continue to ignore their commitments, including the establishment of an association of Serb-majority municipalities.  Recently, Kosovo Albanian leaders have talked about a referendum on whether Kosovo should unite with Albania.  They have also discussed the possibility of demanding reparations from Belgrade.  He urged the European Union to uphold the principle of impartiality and warned against the imposition of external timeframes, blanket solutions or putting pressure solely on Belgrade.  The Russian Federation opposes Kosovo acceding to international organizations, he added.  He said that the lack of progress in dialogue comes as no surprise, given that the internal situation in Kosovo is a never-ending litany of crises, including the recent elections in which many pro-Serbian candidates were unable to run.  Welcoming the work of the Hague special chambers on war crimes, crimes against humanity and trafficking in human organs, he said that all perpetrators must be duly punished, including those connected to the Kosovo Liberation Army.  He reiterated that the province is facing many chronic problems, including corruption and organized crime.  Kosovo is also turning into a hotbed of militant Islam, which is having a harmful effect on neighbouring countries, as seen by the terrorist attack in Vienna in November 2020.  The protection of Serb religious and cultural heritage remains a pressing issue, he said, underscoring the responsibility of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).  He went on to emphasize the Russian Federation’s support for maintaining UNMIK at its current budget and staffing levels, adding that all challenges facing the province should be reflected in the Secretary-General’s next report.  The situation remains unstable and requires the international community’s constant attention, he added.

The representative of the United Kingdom praised the people and authorities of Kosovo for the smooth conduct of their recent elections, the formation of a new government and the meaningful involvement of women, which “shows just how far Kosovo has come” in recent decades.  Recognizing challenges facing Serb candidates in the election, which were also reflected in the United Kingdom’s election monitoring mission, he called on the Kosovo authorities to take steps to address them.  The new government’s popular mandate now offers a chance to make further progress on critical issues, such as the European Union transition, he said, urging both sides to remain engaged in the bloc’s facilitated dialogue process.  They should also work together to ensure justice for all the victims of the 1998-1999 conflict, and to identify missing persons, and all leaders should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric that is disrespectful and harmful to the families of victims.  Pointing out that conditions on the ground today are completely different from the time of UNMIK’s establishment, he said it is therefore time for a review of the Mission’s mandate and responsibilities.

The representative of the United States also applauded the conduct of free and transparent elections in Kosovo, which reflect the will of the population and its support for crucial reforms.  He looked forward to working closely with Kosovo on shared priorities, including increasing Government transparency and accountability, fostering economic development and normalizing relations with Serbia.  He voiced the United States full support for the European Union-facilitated dialogue, declaring:  “Progress has been made by the parties, though you might not be able to tell it from the meeting this morning.”  In that regard, he recalled that, in September 2020, leaders from the two sides met in the United States to discuss further efforts towards normalization.  He encouraged the parties to approach dialogue programmatically and comprehensively.  Noting that UNMIK has long since fulfilled its original purpose, he said it should now move towards closure, and urged Council members to “sunset the Mission”.

The representative of India, expressing support for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, said all outstanding issues must be resolved through peaceful negotiations.  Welcoming the multiple rounds of European Union-facilitated talks between Belgrade and Pristina on financial claims and property, he hoped that both sides will continue engaging in good faith and fully implement already signed agreements — including on the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities in Kosovo.  The issue of missing persons is an important humanitarian matter, and their fate should be determined by the authorities with support from UNMIK.  The Mission should also, together with other international presences, encourage Pristina to address the problems of all communities.

The representative of Mexico, expressing support for UNMIK and for the European Union mediation efforts, called on the parties to make dialogue the vehicle for resolving the final status of the region of Kosovo in accordance with resolution 1244 (1999).  Any peace process must include the full and effective participation of women, he said, adding that any politically acceptable solution should make it possible for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure the return of displaced persons alongside reintegration and reconciliation programmes in Kosovo and the wider Balkans.  He also called on the parties to avoid any actions that would increase tensions and to work towards a peaceful solution that will ensure respect for minority groups and maintain peace and stability in the region.

The representative of Kenya commended UNMIK for its critical role and welcomed its continued constructive engagement with Pristina and Belgrade, as well as multiple approaches to engaging communities.  Also praising the work being done to stem the spread of COVID-19, he urged the international community to continue supporting those efforts including by ensuring vaccine availability for all.  He went on to welcome the successful 14 February parliamentary elections in Kosovo, which were conducted despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, and took note of the high rate of participation by women and youth.  Voicing support for the European Union-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, he agreed with the Secretary-General that lasting peace, stability and socioeconomic development in Kosovo and across the region are contingent on its sustained progress, aimed at normalizing relations.

The representative of Niger called on Belgrade and Pristina to do all they can to create conditions favourable to the normalization of relations.  He welcomed measures taken to promote the women, peace and security agenda, including those which target the full and effective participation of women in peace processes.  He similarly praised efforts to ensure the participation of young people.  Going forward, the two sides should demonstrate constructive political engagement and strengthen confidence-building measures to promote peace and lasting stability, he added.

The representative of Estonia praised UNMIK’s support for the participation of women in decision-making processes, as well as for its youth initiatives, its fight against gender-based violence and its work in addressing challenges caused by COVID-19.  Now that all institutions in Kosovo have been formed, the European Union-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue should continue without delay.  He encouraged Serbia and Kosovo to engage more with civil society, especially women and young people, and urged them both to advance on their European paths.  That will require progress on reforms, guided by the Stabilization and Association Agreement and the European Reform Agenda, and regional cooperation.  Underlining the need to strengthen the rule of law, in particular the fight against corruption and organized crime, he said Kosovo has shown continued commitment to the Specialist Chambers.  Full cooperation with those institutions remains essential, he stressed, pointing out that the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) maintained its operational capability and continued its monitoring and advising as well as operational activities even during the pandemic.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines agreed with other speakers that UNMIK and the United Nations Kosovo team continue to play a vital role, including by addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic.  Reiterating the importance of encouraging women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in all aspects of the political process, she welcomed the high level of participation of women and youth in the recent elections and higher proportion of female deputies, which exceeds the established 30 per cent quota.  Emphasizing that normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina is critical for stability in the region, she encouraged the parties to resume talks under the European Union-facilitated dialogue and implement existing agreements, while also calling for efforts to combat corruption and organized crime.

The representative of Tunisia said that his delegation is happy to see the constitutional crisis in Kosovo resolved through the elections that took place in February.  Hopefully, that will make it possible for Belgrade and Pristina to normalize relations through dialogue mediated by the European Union.  He expressed support for the work of the Special Representative of the European Union for Kosovo and welcomed meetings held in March on a new cycle of talks.  Those forthcoming discussions should make progress possible in such areas as the return of internally displaced persons and information on missing persons.  Peace in the region still depends on the willingness on parties to reach a final agreement, he said, calling on them to overcome their differences and find consensual solutions.

The representative of Ireland welcomed UNMIK’s valuable role in supporting Kosovo in addressing COVID-19-related challenges, including procuring medical supplies, equipment and expertise, and its support for the most vulnerable communities.  Spotlighting the Mission’s crucial work in promoting gender equality through the women, peace and security agenda, she also welcomed improvements in the political representation of women in Kosovo, which must now be translated into their full, equal and meaningful participation in peacebuilding — including the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.  The Council must continue to lend its strong support to those talks, as a final, legally binding normalization agreement is essential for both Serbia and Kosovo and for wider stability across the Western Balkans.  “Now that a new government and president are in place in Kosovo, there is an opportunity for renewed momentum in dialogue,” she said, calling for concerted and sincere efforts to progress the European Union-facilitated dialogue.  Noting that COVID-19 created unprecedented challenges for Kosovo’s rule of law institutions, she strongly encouraged the government to take into account all the reform issues brought to light by the pandemic — especially those related to vulnerable groups and their access to justice.

The representative of China said that Belgrade and Pristina must work within the framework of resolution 1244 (1999) and that Serbia’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be fully respected.  China looks forward to the resumption of dialogue as soon as possible, he said, adding that the two sides should turn the pandemic into an opportunity.  The international community should ensure that vaccines are distributed fairly, while an extensive vaccination campaign should aim to build mutual trust among all ethnic groups.  Underscoring his country’s support for UNMIK, he called on the relevant parties to ensure the protection of its personnel and to create favourable conditions for the Mission to perform its work.

The representative of Viet Nam, Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, saying that to ensure security and stability in Kosovo, both parties must engage in dialogue and uphold their commitments to implement their agreements.  They should push forward towards further dialogue and resolve their differences, join efforts to mitigate impacts of the pandemic and ensure the livelihood and development of all communities in Kosovo.  He encouraged UNMIK to continue to fulfil its objectives and mandates and called on the international community to continue its efforts to help Belgrade and Pristina overcome their differences and achieve peaceful, long-lasting solutions.

The representative of Serbia, taking the floor a second time, responded to Ms. Gërvalla’s assertion that 20,000 Albanian women had been raped during the conflict.  Pristina repeatedly cites that figure, yet it fails to mention victims of Serbian nationality.  Speculating about numbers does not contribute to justice being served and it slows down the reconciliation process.  Innocent victims of the conflict included Serbs, Albanians and members of other nationalities and it is important to recognize all crimes and sympathize with all victims.

Ms. Gërvalla said that everyone knows who the aggressor was in the 1990s.  She wished that Serbia and its representative would face the truth, as that is the only way that the country can move forward.

[At the start of today’s meeting, the representative of the Russian Federation questioned the presence of the flag of Kosovo behind Ms. Gërvalla, saying that it would not be permitted under the Council’s rule of procedures.  The representative of the United Kingdom said that a similar backdrop was in place when the Council last met via videoconference on Kosovo.  Following offline consultations among Council members, the representative of Viet Nam, Council President for April, announced that the Council’s virtual meetings are informal and that the backdrop could remain.]

For information media. Not an official record.