Expected Council Action
In October, the Council is expected to hold its second regular briefing this year 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.
Key Recent Developments
On 4 September, President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti of Kosovo signed agreements on the normalisation of economic relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The signing took place at the White House in the presence of US President Donald Trump, following two days of talks facilitated by the US administration involving Serbian and Kosovar delegations. The agreements are primarily focused on improving economic ties between Serbia and Kosovo and reaffirm some previously agreed commitments, such as establishing railway and highway links between Belgrade and Pristina. They also include commitments for a one-year moratorium on Kosovo’s seeking membership in international organisations and on Serbia’s campaign to persuade countries that have recognised Kosovo to withdraw their recognition. Furthermore, the agreements contained provisions on relations with Israel: Kosovo and Israel have recognised each other, and Serbia will move its embassy to Jerusalem. Both Serbia and Kosovo committed to designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
In their subsequent remarks to the media, Vučić and Hoti provided varying interpretations of the agreements. Vučić emphasised that Serbia did not sign a trilateral agreement but only a bilateral agreement with the US, and that it does not include recognition of a third party, alluding to Kosovo. On the other hand, Hoti portrayed the agreement as one of the steps toward final agreement and mutual recognition.
The high-level EU-facilitated talks between Belgrade and Pristina resumed in July after an impasse lasting 20 months. Vučić and Hoti agreed to resume the dialogue at a 10 July summit-level meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
On 7 September, Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, hosted a meeting with Vučić and Hoti in Brussels. Before the meeting, Vučić and Hoti issued a joint statement in which they confirmed that they would continue working on the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and that they attach the highest priority to EU integration. They acknowledged that the agreements signed in Washington on 4 September could contribute to reaching “a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on normalization of relations”.
The same day, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano voiced concern over Serbia’s commitment to move its embassy to Jerusalem, given that it contradicts the EU’s common position on the status of Jerusalem. In response, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said that the decision to move the embassy will be discussed by the government and will depend on a range of factors, including the future development of relations with Israel.
On 24 June, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) charging Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi, among others, with a series of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Thaçi was questioned by the prosecutors after he travelled to The Hague voluntarily on 13 July. He has denied all accusations. On 24 September, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office arrested former KLA officer Salih Mustafa based on an arrest warrant issued by the KSC. At press time, no details had been provided on the specific charges against Mustafa. The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office is an independent office for the investigation and prosecution of the crimes within the jurisdiction of the KSC. Formally established in 2016 by the Kosovo Assembly, KSC is a special court based in The Hague that operates under Kosovo’s law and is staffed by international judges, with the mission of investigating alleged war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army during the conflict in Kosovo in the 1990s. Funding for the KSC is provided by the EU, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and the US.
Key Issues and Options
Maintaining stability in Kosovo remains the Council’s primary concern. The Council will continue to monitor diplomatic efforts to advance the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and any efforts towards reaching a final agreement on Kosovo.
While the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina has resumed, an issue for the Council is the lack of implementation of existing agreements, especially on the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities in Serb-majority northern Kosovo. A related issue is whether UNMIK could play a role in facilitating implementation of the existing agreements.
The Council will follow closely the developments related to the KSC. An issue for the Council will be Kosovo’s cooperation with the KSC, given that some political actors in Kosovo have publicly criticised its work. Should Kosovo limit 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.
Some members of the Council, the P3 in particular, have continued to question the UNMIK reporting cycle and called for downsizing the mission in light of the relative overall stability on the ground. While the Council reached an agreement on a less frequent reporting cycle in February 2018, it could also request the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of UNMIK to consider the effectiveness of the mission.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Kosovo remains a low-intensity issue for the Council and is closely followed mainly by members with a specific interest in the region. This is due in part to the pre-eminence of regional organisations, including the EU, NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in matters related to Kosovo.
Nevertheless, deep divisions among permanent members have continued to characterise the Council’s consideration of Kosovo. France, the UK and the US recognise Kosovo’s independence and tend to be supportive of its government; China and Russia do not recognise its independence and strongly support Serbia’s position. Among the elected members, Ireland and Norway have recognised Kosovo.
The US has been the most vocal proponent of a drawdown and eventual withdrawal of UNMIK, citing the level of stability in Kosovo. The US has also asserted that the mission is overstaffed and over-resourced for its limited responsibilities and that these resources could be put to better use in more pressing situations on the Council’s agenda.
The issue of modifying UNMIK’s mandate and its possible drawdown is likely to become more prominent in the upcoming period, given the growing number of Council members that support this position. Alone among missions regularly discussed by the Council, UNMIK’s mandate, established in 1999, is open-ended. Any attempt to change it would require a new resolution, which Russia would strongly oppose and most likely block.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Resolution|
|10 June 1999S/RES/1244||This resolution authorised NATO to secure and enforce the withdrawal of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces from Kosovo and established UNMIK.|
|31 March 2020S/2020/255||This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on UNMIK.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|28 April 2020S/2020/339||This was a letter from the president of the Security Council to the Secretary-General transmitting a copy of the briefing by Zahir Tanin, Special Representative and head of UNMIK, on the latest Secretary-General’s report and the most recent developments.|
|7 February 2019S/2019/120||This was a note by the Council president (Equatorial Guinea) stating that the Council will hold briefings on Kosovo in June and October 2019 and that as of 2020, briefings will be held twice a year (in April and October).|