Expected Council Action
In May, 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
Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina escalated on 26 March after the Kosovo police arrested Marko Đurić, Serbia’s head of office for Kosovo. Đurić was attending an event in the majority-Serb town of Northern Mitrovica in northern Kosovo when Kosovo special police dispersed the crowd and made the arrest. Kosovo authorities allege they issued an advance warning to Đurić informing him that he was not granted permission to enter Kosovo. After the arrest, Đurić was transferred to Pristina and later the same day deported back to Serbia.
In protest, Srpska List, the major political party representing Kosovar Serbs, announced that it would withdraw its representatives from the government and a ruling coalition led by Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. They also announced that they would unilaterally establish the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities (ASM/CSM) in northern Kosovo if the government did not do so by 20 April. A day before the deadline, the leaders of the Srpska List and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced that they would give Kosovo authorities an additional three months to establish the ASM/CSM.
One day after the incident in Northern Mitrovica, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini travelled to Belgrade to meet Vučić. In a statement issued after the meeting, Mogherini condemned the events in Kosovo and called for restraint while noting that she and Vučić agreed to find new ways to continue resolving peacefully the open questions between Belgrade and Pristina. During her tour of the Balkans, Mogherini met Vučić again in Belgrade on 19 April. Among other issues, Mogherini emphasised the importance of implementing the existing agreement between Belgrade and Pristina including the creation of ASM/CSM.
Over the course of the past several months, there has been no notable progress in the EU-facilitated dialogue on the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Mogherini hosted the first high-level meeting this year between Vučić and Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi in Brussels on 23 March. Vučić and Thaçi last met in August 2017. Among the core issues discussed at the meeting was the lack of implementation on the agreement about the creation of the ASM/CSM in northern Kosovo.
On 21 March, Kosovo’s parliament ratified the agreement on border demarcation with Montenegro following an affirmative vote by 80 representatives, which was the minimum threshold of a two-thirds majority of the votes. Self-Determination, the main political opposition party, has expressed strong objections to the agreement, and its members have sought to prevent a vote on this issue on several occasions by setting off smoke bombs in the parliament. In the past, some party members were arrested for obstructing the work of the parliament. The EU sees the ratification of the agreement as one of the main preconditions for allowing Kosovo citizens to travel visa-free within the EU.
At press time, there was still no information on those responsible for the assassination of Oliver Ivanović, a prominent Serb politician from Northern Mitrovica who was killed in January. Initially, the local prosecutor’s office in Mitrovica led the investigation. However, the Kosovo Special Prosecutor’s Office took over the investigation in March, citing the complexity of the case. In February, Kosovo police arrested two police officers from Northern Mitrovica suspected of having manipulated the evidence in the case, but they were later released.
Earlier this year, chief prosecutor of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC), David Schwendiman, announced he would step down from the post. On 31 March, Kwai Hong Ip became acting specialist prosecutor until a new specialist prosecutor is appointed. The KSC is the special court based in The Hague that will investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army during the conflict in Kosovo in the late 1990s. The KSC operates under Kosovo law and is staffed by international judges.
Issues and Options
Considering recent tensions between Belgrade and Pristina, maintaining stability in Kosovo remains the primary concern for the Council. Related to this is what role UNMIK can play in facilitating the implementation of the existing agreements between Belgrade and Pristina.
Some Council members, especially the P3, continue to question the usefulness of the current reporting cycle and have even called for downsizing the mission, given the relative stability in Kosovo. An option for the Council would be to consider specific proposals to this end including possibly changing the format of the meeting to consultations or to request the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of the mission to explore ways to increase its efficiency.
The Council will continue to follow closely developments related to the KSC. An issue for the Council will be the cooperation of the Kosovo government with the KSC, given that some political actors in Kosovo have publicly criticised its work. Should Kosovo hinder its cooperation with the KSC, the Council could consider issuing a statement calling on the authorities in Kosovo to adhere to its commitments to the court.
Kosovo remains a low-intensity issue for the Council that is followed closely primarily by members with a particular interest in the region. Regional organisations, including the EU, NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, now play increasingly prominent roles in Kosovo.
Deep divisions among permanent members have continued on the Kosovo issue. France, the UK and the US recognise Kosovo’s independence and tend to be supportive of Kosovo’s government while China and Russia do not recognise its independence and strongly support Serbia’s position. The P3 and some other members have become increasingly outspoken in advocating a lengthening of UNMIK’s reporting cycle and thus reducing the frequency of meetings on Kosovo. The US has called for a drawdown and eventual withdrawal of UNMIK, citing the stability in Kosovo. The US has also asserted that the mission remains overstaffed and over-resourced considering its limited responsibilities and that these resources could be put to better use in more pressing situations on the Council’s agenda.
Given the current emphasis on reviewing UN peacekeeping operations with the aim of reducing costs and increasing efficiency, the issue of modifying UNMIK’s mandate is likely to become more prominent. Unlike most other mission mandates the UNMIK mandate is open-ended. Any attempt to change the status quo regarding UNMIK would require a new resolution, which Russia would strongly oppose and likely block.
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.|
|31 January 2018 S/2018/76||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMIK.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|7 February 2018 S/PV.8176||This was a briefing by the Special Representative of the SG and head of UNMIK, Zahir Tanin, on the latest report on UNMIK.|