Expected Council Action
In February, the Council is expected to hold its quarterly briefing on the situation in Kosovo. The Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Zahir Tanin, will brief on recent developments and the latest report by the Secretary-General. As on several previous occasions, Serbia is likely to participate at a high level, while Kosovo will probably be represented by its ambassador to the US.
Key Recent Developments
The special court based in The Hague that will investigate crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the conflict in Kosovo became fully operational in July 2017 after it adopted its rules of procedure and evidence. Although the court has yet to issue its first indictments, former KLA members have already expressed their discontent with the court. In December, KLA veteran groups pressured representatives in Kosovo’s parliament to review the law that established the court. They allege the court will be discriminatory given that it focuses solely on crimes committed by the KLA.
On 22 December 2017, 43 representatives from the political parties that compose the ruling coalition signed a petition that called for a vote in the parliament on a law that would revoke the special court. On 17 January, the push to initiate a vote on the law failed because a quorum in the parliament’s presidency was lacking. However, on 22 January the parliament’s presidency formally sent the draft law to revoke the special court to the government, which will have to provide its opinion on the matter within 30 days. Given that the court was established by constitutional amendment, the law to revoke the court would require the support of two-thirds of the representatives in the 120-seat parliament. Kosovo’s leadership—including President Hashim Thaçi, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, and the president of the parliament, Kadri Veseli—have publicly expressed criticism of the court. All three held high-ranking positions in the KLA during the Kosovo war in the 1990s.
The tensions in Kosovo heightened on 16 January after the assassination of Oliver Ivanović, a prominent Serb politician from northern Mitrovica, a Serb-dominated part of Kosovo. He was gunned down by unknown assailants near the offices of his political party, Citizens’ Initiative, in North Mitrovica. Haradinaj and Thaçi condemned the murder of Ivanović and called for law enforcement authorities to bring those responsible to justice. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić described the murder as an act of terrorism and announced that Serbia had made a formal request to UNMIK and the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo to allow its authorities to participate in the investigation.
On 20 January, Vučić visited Kosovo and held a series of meetings with the local Serb population including political and religious leaders. He urged Kosovar Serbs to remain living in Kosovo and stated that Serbian government will assist them in this regard. He repeated his calls for accountability for those responsible for Ivanović’s murder, no matter what ethnic group they belong to. Although the Kosovo authorities rejected Serbia’s offer to participate in the investigation, on 22 January the prosecutors from Serbia and Kosovo reached an agreement on sharing information pertaining to Ivanović’s murder.
In December 2017, Haradinaj was formally removed from the list of Interpol’s International Wanted Notices, which enables him to travel freely outside Kosovo. Months before becoming prime minister in September, Haradinaj was detained in France on an Interpol arrest warrant issued by Serbia for alleged war crimes against Kosovo Serbs in the 1990s. Haradinaj was later released when the French court rejected Serbia’s extradition request.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer, visited Kosovo in November 2017. In a 27 November 2017 statement, Melzer commended Kosovo for improving its treatment of prisoners but said it still must do more to fight arbitrary detention and police impunity. Melzer interviewed numerous inmates held in police stations, remand prisons and high-security penitentiaries, as well as residents of psychiatric and social care institutions and migrants accommodated in reception and transit centres. According to the statement, Melzer received numerous allegations of ill-treatment during police interrogation. The special rapporteur will submit a report to the Human Rights Council at its 37th session in March.
Issues and Options
In light of the recent events surrounding the special court and murder of Ivanović, maintaining stability in Kosovo remains the main priority of the Council. Related to this is what role UNMIK can play in facilitating the implementation of the existing agreements between Belgrade and Pristina.
The ongoing efforts in the Kosovo legislature to repeal the law that permits the prosecution of former KLA members for war crimes in the special court in The Hague is an issue that the Council will follow closely. Should the tensions within the legislature affect cooperation by the Kosovo authorities with the court, the Council could consider issuing a statement calling on the authorities in Kosovo to adhere to its commitments to the court.
During the past several briefings, some Council members, especially the P3, have expressed their view that the Council should consider lengthening the reporting cycle and possibly downsizing the UN mission, given the relative stability in Kosovo. An option for the Council would be to consider specific proposals to this end or request the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of the mission in order to explore ways to increase its efficiency.
Over the years, Kosovo has become a low-intensity issue for the Council followed closely by several members that have a particular interest in the region. Another factor that has contributed to lowering the Council’s priority to this issue has been the growing role of regional organisations, including the EU, NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The permanent members remain deeply divided over Kosovo. France, the UK and the US recognise Kosovo’s independence and are inclined to support the Kosovo government, while China and Russia do not recognise its independence and strongly support Serbia’s position. During the past several briefings, P3 members, and the US in particular, have become more outspoken in advocating a lengthening of UNMIK’s reporting cycle and thus reducing the frequency of meetings on Kosovo. Some members, including the UK and the US, have called for significant changes to the mandate of the mission, including its possible drawdown and eventual withdrawal, citing the changing circumstances on the ground and overall stability in Kosovo. During the November briefing, the US representative said that the mission’s resources could be used for more critical issues and called for recognition of Kosovo, expressing support for Kosovo’s full membership in the UN.
Looking ahead, it seems likely that the issue of modifying UNMIK’s mandate in the context of reviewing the UN peacekeeping operations will gain more traction as the P3 continue to pursue these objectives. Because UNMIK’s mandate is open-ended and thus not renewed periodically, any attempt to change the current status of the mission would require a new resolution. Russia continues to oppose any such attempt, and at the moment, would likely block a resolution that would alter the status quo.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Resolution|
|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.|
|31 October 2017 S/2017/911||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNMIK.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|14 November 2017 S/PV.8100||This was a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMIK, Zahir Tanin, on the latest Secretary-General’s report and most recent developments in Kosovo.|