Expected Council Action
In May, the Council is scheduled to hold a quarterly debate on the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Farid Zarif, the Special Representative and head of UNMIK, is expected to brief the Council on developments and the latest Secretary-General’s report, which was due on 27 April.
No Council action is expected.
Key Recent Developments
Following months of negotiations, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement on 24 February in Brussels enabling Kosovo to be represented in regional meetings. The compromise means Serbia can attend gatherings alongside Kosovo, while still not recognising its independence, and allows Kosovo to sit behind its own nameplate, which will be followed by an asterisk. (This will indicate a footnote that will refer to both resolution 1244 , which does not mention the independence of Kosovo, and the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion in 2010, which stated that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law.)
The two sides also reached an agreement on 24 February concerning the implementation of the Integrated Border Management deal concluded in December 2011 to manage their border.
Both agreements were widely welcomed. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement, described them as “a major step forward” and a demonstration of a “commitment on both sides to their common European future.” The deals meant that Serbia considered that it had met the remaining criteria to achieve EU candidacy status. A few days later, on 28 February, EU Foreign Ministers recommended that Serbia be given candidate status and leaders confirmed this at a summit in Brussels on 1 March. (Kosovo’s own EU candidacy aspirations are complicated by the fact that five EU members—Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain—do not recognise Kosovo’s independence.)
In mid-February, leaders from four predominantly Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo proceeded with a referendum on whether to acknowledge the government institutions in Pristina. The referendum went ahead despite Belgrade’s statements that it would not recognise the outcome and Serbian President Boris Tadić’s warnings that it would not be in the interests of Serbia or Serbs in Kosovo.
On 9 April, Zarif strongly condemned a bomb attack that took place on 8 April in Mitrovica, the main city in predominantly Serb northern Kosovo. The explosion, which Pristina condemned as a “criminal and terrorist act”, killed a Kosovar Albanian man and injured his children.
Ahead of parliamentary and local elections in Serbia on 6 May, Germany announced on 21 April that it would send 550 additional troops to Kosovo to boost the NATO-led force (KFOR). An extra 150 Austrian troops are also to be deployed before 1 May, joining the 5,500 soldiers already based there. In a statement, Germany said that NATO and the EU considered that current KFOR numbers “might not be sufficient to appropriately react to possible Kosovo-wide security incidents in connection with the elections.” The announcement comes amidst rising tensions in Kosovo regarding the conduct of elections on 6 May. (On 4 April, Tadić announced that he would resign, paving the way for an early presidential election to take place on 6 May in Serbia as well.)
In a letter dated 21 March addressed to Zarif, Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanović, formally requested that UNMIK organise local elections in Kosovo. In his reply, Zarif said that “due to circumstances on the ground” UNMIK would not play a role in organising such elections. Furthermore, Zarif underlined that if Serbia were to proceed with organising municipal elections in Kosovo, it would constitute a violation of resolution 1244. Serbia’s government later announced that it would not support local elections in Kosovo. However, Bogdanović on 23 April reiterated that Serbia would do what it could to ensure that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held in what it calls “Kosovo-Metohija”.
On 12 April, an official from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that ongoing dialogue between the international community and Belgrade would hopefully yield an agreement on the elections. The OSCE said it could assist Serbs living in Kosovo to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections. Pristina is not against Serbia’s citizens in Kosovo voting in such elections if managed by the OSCE and not by Belgrade. However, Serb leaders in northern Kosovo said that, despite Belgrade’s calls, they had a constitutional obligation to hold local elections. At press time, it was unclear to what extent Belgrade might seek to play a role in elections in Kosovo on 6 May, but there were concerns of renewed violence if a deal acceptable to all sides with the OSCE was not reached.
A key issue for the Council is ensuring that tensions do not escalate in Kosovo. In particular, a primary concern is that developments in Kosovo related to Serbia’s elections do not result in ethnic clashes or precipitate a cycle of violence.
Another related issue for the Council is the role of the various international organisations working alongside UNMIK in Kosovo, including KFOR and the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).
An ongoing issue is alleged illicit trafficking of human organs in Kosovo.
One option for the Council if the security situation deteriorates would be to issue a press statement or adopt a presidential statement urging calm and restraint in Kosovo.
Another option, which the Council has taken in the past, would be to receive the briefing and the likely contributions from the Foreign Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo but take no action.
One option that should not be overlooked is action on the draft resolution circulated by Russia in December 2011 concerning illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo. (The draft resolution calls for the Council to take a role in overseeing the investigations and to appoint a Special Representative to monitor the matter.)
There are clear divisions on the Council that emanate from the different positions among the P5 on Kosovo’s status. China and particularly Russia, which do not recognise Kosovo’s independence, emphasise the centrality of resolution 1244 as the legal basis for an acceptable solution. France, the UK, and the US—along with Germany and Portugal— accentuate the importance of EULEX’s and KFOR’s roles on the ground, in accordance with their rightful mandates. Russia, on the other hand, says it has doubts about their neutrality.
On the issue of organ trafficking, there is a split along similar lines as to how the serious allegations should be investigated. Several Council members support the work begun by the Special Investigative Task Force, established by EULEX. On the other hand, Russia has advocated that control of the investigation be transferred to the Council, saying that there are perceptions of bias. (The P3 say that the impartiality of former US Ambassador Clint Williamson—head of the Task Force— is “unquestionable.”) The argument that Council oversight of the issue would ensure an objective and transparent outcome seems to have gained traction with some non-EU elected members. But it appears that Russia might struggle at present to summon the nine votes necessary to force a veto on the matter.
In general, the P3 seem in favour of dealing with Kosovo-related issues outside of the Council, given the ongoing difficulties of reaching unanimity among permanent members on the issue.
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