February 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2017
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EUROPE

Kosovo

Expected Council Action

In February, the Council is expected to hold its quarterly briefing on Kosovo. Zahir Tanin, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), will brief on recent developments and the latest Secretary-General’s report. Serbia will probably participate at a high level, while Kosovo is likely to be represented by its ambassador to the US.

Key Recent Developments

Over the past few months, tensions between the political opposition and the government have subsided in comparison with the first half of 2016 when the crisis was most intense. On several occasions in 2016, the members of the opposition actively obstructed the work of the legislature and organised street protests. At the core of the crisis were certain aspects of the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, particularly the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities (ASM/CSM) in northern Kosovo. The opposition feared that this would create an additional layer of government and could potentially pose a risk of secession.

There has been no major progress on the implementation of the existing agreements between Belgrade and Pristina, especially on the establishment of the ASM/CSM. Though it planned to draft the statute for the ASM/CSM by the end of 2016, the working group set up for this purpose is yet to do so. After it is drafted, the statute will still need to be approved by the Kosovo legislature. This could potentially be a challenging process, given the evident grievances of the opposition on this issue.

However, there was progress on the issue of telecommunications, which has been discussed within the EU-facilitated dialogue. On 13 November 2016, Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement that paved the way for the allocation of a unique international dialling code for Kosovo. Under the agreement, the subsidiary of the Serbian state-owned telecommunications company will be allowed “to operate fully licensed fixed telephone services in Kosovo and to obtain a temporary authorisation for mobile telephony”. The agreement formally came into force on 15 December, when the International Telecommunication Union officially assigned a dialling code for Kosovo. Heretofore, Kosovo used the dialling codes for Monaco, Slovenia and Serbia.

Several events at the beginning of this year contributed to a heightening of the rhetoric between Belgrade and Pristina. Ramush Haradinaj, former prime minister and current leader of the main opposition political party Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, was arrested by French police after entering France on 5 January. French authorities acted on an Interpol notice requested by Serbia regarding Haradinaj’s alleged involvement in war crimes committed against local Serbs during the Kosovo war in the late 1990s. On 12 January, French authorities released Haradinaj on bail and barred him from leaving France, pending a final decision by the judicial authorities. In 2005, Haradinaj surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and was subsequently acquitted of war crimes charges in 2012. In a similar case in 2015, Slovenian authorities detained Haradinaj based on an Interpol notice requested by Serbia. He was released two days later after Slovenian authorities concluded that the ICTY had already addressed all charges in the arrest warrant.

On 14 January, tensions escalated again after a Serbian train travelling from Belgrade to Serb-dominated northern Kosovo was stopped just before reaching the Kosovo border. The train was painted with the colours of the Serbian flag and carried the inscription “Kosovo is Serbia” in 21 languages. Soon after, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci sent police to the border crossing and instructed them to prevent the train’s entry to Kosovo. However, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić ordered the train to stop just before reaching the border with Kosovo, claiming that Kosovo Albanians had attempted to mine the railway. In a press conference the same day, Vučić said that Pristina had tried to provoke a large-scale conflict. Furthermore, he noted that this would be his “last warning and plea” to the Kosovo Albanians not to try to attack Serbs with weapons, because Serbia would not allow this. In a media interview on 16 January, Thaci said that the train was intended to provoke Kosovars as a ploy for Serbia to intervene militarily and annex the Serb-dominated northern part of Kosovo.

In light of the recent incidents, Federica Mogherini, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, called on both sides to meet under EU auspices in Brussels. The presidents and prime ministers of both Kosovo and Serbia attended the 24 January meeting with Mogherini after which they agreed to resume the UE facilitated dialogue on a high level.

In other developments, on 1 December 2016, the Netherlands ratified the agreement with the government of Kosovo on hosting the special court that will investigate crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army during the conflict in Kosovo. The ratification of the agreement, which came into force on 1 January, cleared the last procedural obstacle preventing the court from becoming fully operational. The court will be located in The Hague, operate under Kosovo law and be staffed by international judges. On 14 December, Bulgarian judge Ekaterina Trendafilova was appointed President of the special court. Trendafilova had previously served as a judge of the International Criminal Court from 2006 to 2016. Earlier in 2016, David Schwendiman of the US was appointed chief prosecutor of the special court.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 14 October 2016, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, said in a statement following her visit to Serbia and Kosovo from 3 to 14 October that cultural heritage is a human rights issue and must be depoliticised and de-linked from nationalistic agendas. Bennoune will present a full report to the Human Rights Council in a future session.

Key Issues

Maintaining stability in Kosovo remains the main issue for the Council, especially in light of the renewed tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

Another issue for the Council will be what role UNMIK can play in promoting the implementation of the existing agreements between Belgrade and Pristina.

The Council will also closely follow developments regarding the special court for war crimes, in particular the cooperation of Kosovo authorities with the court.

Options

Should the tensions between Belgrade and Pristina escalate further or start posing a risk to overall stability, the Council could consider issuing a statement calling on both sides to resolve outstanding issues through dialogue.

Another option would be for the Council to explore ways in which UNMIK could facilitate the implementation of the existing agreements between Belgrade and Pristina.

The Council could consider the calls by some members, most notably the P3, to lengthen the reporting cycle and possibly modify UNMIK’s mandate. 

Council Dynamics

Kosovo continues to be an issue of rather low intensity for the Council for several reasons. First, other regional organisations, such as the EU, NATO and the OSCE, have been playing leadership roles in Kosovo. Second, the Council has been increasingly preoccupied with more pressing issues on its agenda. Third, several Council members seem to share the view that Kosovo does not require serious scrutiny because of its general stability and the progress it has made. However, some members with a particular interest in the region still follow the issue closely; these include Russia and the US as well as the EU members of the Council.

The deep divisions among the permanent members have shaped Council dynamics on Kosovo. The P3 members—France, the UK and the US—recognise Kosovo’s independence and are supportive of Kosovo’s government, while China and Russia, which do not, strongly support Serbia’s position on the issue. Despite the ongoing political tensions in Kosovo, the P3 members have supported lengthening the reporting cycle and thus reducing the frequency of meetings on Kosovo, noting that there are more pressing issues that deserve the Council’s closer attention. Russia continues to oppose any change in the reporting cycle or UNMIK’s mandate, citing the unstable political and security situation and problems in implementing the agreements between Belgrade and Pristina. The permanent members’ longstanding entrenched positions are likely to paralyse any efforts by the Council to change the reporting cycle or alter UNMIK’s mandate.

Council dynamics are unlikely to change significantly in 2017 as a result of the rotation of five non-permanent members. Incoming non-permanent members Bolivia, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan do not recognise Kosovo, while Italy and Sweden do. Among outgoing members, Angola, Spain and Venezuela did not recognise Kosovo while Malaysia and New Zealand did.

UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO

Security Council Resolutions
10 June 1999 S/RES/1244 This resolution authorised NATO to secure and enforce the withdrawal of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces from Kosovo and established UNMIK.
Secretary-General’s Reports
26 October 2016 S/2016/901 This was the report of the Secretary-General on UNMIK.
Security Council Meeting Records
25 August 2016 S/PV.7760 This was a briefing on Kosovo.