The final report by Maarti Ahtisaari, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Future Status Process for Kosovo, is expected to be transmitted to the Council during March. No Council action is expected during the month though there will be active bilateral discussions. The Council may meet on the issue in April and a draft resolution on Kosovo is likely to emerge before long.
The Secretary-General’s periodic report on the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) is also expected in March. UNMIK has already downsized significantly. Its future awaits the Council’s decision on Kosovo’s status.
Key Recent Developments
Kosovo has been under UN administration, as defined in resolution 1244, since 1999 when a NATO bombing campaign brought to a halt a prolonged conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbian forces.
After a year of status negotiations, Ahtisaari presented an outline of the much-anticipated proposal for Kosovo’s status to Belgrade and Pristina on 2 February.
Ahtisaari’s outline does not mention the word independence. It is silent and ambiguous as to whether Kosovo would remain part of the state of Serbia in terms of international law. It does however give Kosovo many of the symbols traditionally associated with statehood including a flag, anthem, and army and some elements of international legal personality such as the right to conduct certain aspects of foreign policy. However, none of these are definitive in the sense that in many federal systems territorial sub-units enjoy similar symbols. And there are examples of associated states that enjoy separate treaty-making power and rights to join international organisations
Ahtisaari has hinted that his final report, following the conclusion of the last round of consultations with the parties, will remove some of these uncertainties.
The 58-page proposal contains 14 articles which form its key principles. These are expanded in 12 annexes. One key provision is a future international presence that would include an International Civilian Representative (ICR) who would also be the EU Special Representative, a European Security and Defence Policy Mission and a NATO-led International Military Presence.
In terms of governance, the proposal would replace the current transitional constitutional framework of UN administration, which was imposed by the Council, with a new framework, also to be imposed by the Council, returning the sovereign powers of law-making and administration to the people, but retaining a much looser form of international oversight.
The proposed settlement provides a 120-day transition period during which UNMIK’s mandate would continue. During this time the Kosovo Assembly, in consultation with the ICR, would approve a constitution and legislation necessary to implement the final status. Nine months later, elections would be held.
The proposed settlement envisages:
a multi-ethnic society with democratic government, rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms;
the right to conclude international agreements and seek membership in international organisations;
protection of the rights of members of communities;
decentralisation and transparency in public service;
an integrated, independent, impartial, inclusive justice system;
protection and promotion of religious and cultural heritage;
the rights of refugees and displaced persons to return and reclaim property and possessions; and
a professional, multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo security sector.
Two-thirds of the proposal focuses on strengthening protection for the Serb minority with specific provisions for the protection of Kosovo’s non-Albanian communities, including guaranteed representation in the Kosovo Assembly, government and the judiciary.
In the weeks since the presentation of Ahtisaari’s proposal there has been dissent on both sides. On 9 February, 10,000 Serbs in Mitrovica demonstrated against it. In Belgrade all parties in the Serbian parliament have opposed the proposal. On 10 February ethnic Albanians in Kosovo rioted in protest that the proposal fell short of full independence. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Two people were killed and Kosovo’s interior minister and the UNMIK police commissioner resigned over the deaths.
On 19 February a bomb attack in Pristina damaged three UN vehicles. The Kosovo Liberation Army has claimed responsibility in retaliation for the deaths of the two Albanian protestors. On 26 February a hand-grenade exploded near OSCE premises in western Kosovo. There was a major demonstration in Belgrade on 27 February.
On 21 February, a final round of talks between the two sides commenced in Vienna. Ahtisaari made it clear he was open to constructive amendments and compromise. The Kosovo Albanian side accepted the proposal without major changes. The Serbians opposed most of the plan, believing it violated the territorial integrity of Serbia. It asked for Kosovo to be clearly designated as an autonomous region within Serbia. The talks are expected to end by 10 March.
Elections in Serbia on 21 January did not produce a working majority in parliament. A coalition government, with pro-democracy parties leading the new government, is expected. However, both Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and pro-Western President Boris Tadic denounced the Ahtisaari plan. The Serb Radical Party, which seems likely to be the opposition, demanded that parliament adopt a resolution opposing independence for Kosovo. The Serbian Orthodox Church also opposed Ahtisaari’s plan.
On 12 February EU foreign ministers backed Ahtisaari’s proposal and said the EU was ready to play a significant role in implementing a status settlement. The EU also offered Serbia the incentive of early resumption of talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement-the first step towards EU membership-if it fully cooperated with the UN war crimes tribunal. The EU suspended talks last year because Serbia failed to hand over Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic.
On 2 February the Contact Group on Kosovo (the US, the UK, France, Italy, Russia and Germany), which Ahtisaari has closely consulted at every step, issued a short statement urging the parties to engage constructively. A more definitive position remained elusive due to differences between the five Western members and Russia.
The first key issue for the Council will be timing. Council members will be concerned that rushing into a decision could destabilise the region. But equally there will be deep concern that too much delay could also trigger serious violence. Tensions have increased since the presentation of the proposal and the Council will be very conscious of the spill-over risk into neighbouring countries.
A second and related issue is the risk that the Albanian Kosovars will unilaterally declare independence if the Council stalls on the issue too long. Without the framework of protections of minorities and international oversight envisaged by Ahtisaari, this could create a complicated and potentially volatile situation. UNMIK would still be the interim administrator of Kosovo, and conflict might arise should the government want to take over UNMIK’s functions. A situation could emerge in which hostilities were directed at UNMIK by both Serbian and Albanian factions.
Another issue that carries huge concerns for a number of Council members (and many outside the Council) is the impact that a Council decision imposed without Belgrade’s consent would have on situations elsewhere in the world where other breakaway regions seeking independence would use Kosovo as a precedent.
At this stage, another major issue is the fundamental ambiguity underlying Ahtisaari’s plan. As indicated above, this may be clarified in his final report, but at present while the principles of governance are clearly stated, what they mean for Kosovo’s status remains unclear.
For some Council members, the proposed solution raises important legal issues. There are very few precedents.
Council and Wider Dynamics
While the Council has supported Ahtisaari, it is clearly divided on what to do next. Most of the Western members, together with the Latin Americans, seem open to the Council imposing a solution without Serbia’s consent if necessary. For many of them there is no willingness to consider any plan B. Moreover, they are convinced that it is essential to achieve a solution in the near future to maintain stability.
The EU position is more complicated. Slovakia, which has a key role as an elected Council member, may be handicapped in supporting an EU consensus because Ahtisaari’s plan has sparked strong adverse reactions from almost all members of Slovakia’s governing coalition. It is possible that Slovakia will find it difficult to support independence for Kosovo against the will of Serbia.
Russia and China oppose an imposed solution and would prefer that more time be given for the talks. Russia argues that granting Kosovo independence could spark a chain reaction creating a precedent for separatist regions such as Georgia’s Abhkazia and South Ossetia and Moldova’s Transdnestr. But the reasons for Russia’s position also seem likely to go much deeper and reflect traditional ties with Serbia and orthodox communities. It is unclear at this stage whether this opposition would be strong enough to attract a veto, or under what conditions an abstention might be possible.
In the past the elected Council members, essentially excluded from input on the Kosovo issue because of the Contact Group processes, were not unduly concerned because it was seen as a largely European issue. But as a final decision point approaches, a number of the elected members, including Indonesia and South Africa, are taking very close interest because of the implications for territorial integrity. Strong ties in the Non-Aligned Movement will be relevant.
Finally, it remains to be seen whether the Secretary-General will take a position on the issue. He has a number of potential ways of doing so; including in his letter of transmittal of the Ahtisaari report to the Council.
Some believe that the short transition time envisaged by the Ahtisaari plan will create problems and that UNMIK may find it difficult to complete all the necessary tasks in 120 days.
Kosovo’s economic situation is dire. If its status continues to be unresolved, this will delay membership in international financial organisations cutting it off from much needed international aid.
|Security Council Resolution|
|Selected Presidential Statements|
|Selected Secretary-General’s Reports/Letters|
|Special Representative of the Secretary-General|
|Joachim Rücker (Germany)|
|US$2.218 billion for fiscal year 2006/2007 (not including OSCE, EU and NATO expenditures)|
|KFOR (NATO FORCE)|
|General Roland Kather (Germany)|
|Size and Composition of Mission|
|UNMIK Civilian Police|
Joint Contact Group statement published upon presentation by the Special Envoy of his draft comprehensive proposal, 2 February 2007
Statement of the Contact Group after meeting held at ministerial level in New York, 20 September 2007
Kosovo’s Status: Difficult Months Ahead, International Crisis Group, Europe Briefing No. 45, 20 December 2006
Executive Summary of the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement