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 of the Secretary-General.
Key Recent Developments
On 3 and 4 April, the Kosovo parliament convened two sessions for its presidential elections. The high office had been vacant since 5 November 2020, when former President Hashim Thaçi resigned following his indictment by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Vjosa Osmani, former Speaker of parliament, assumed the duties of acting president of Kosovo from 5 November to 22 March, when parliamentary elections were held. On 4 April, Osmani was elected president in the third round of voting after receiving 71 votes—ten votes more than the simple majority needed. The ethnic Serb minority party and two other opposition parties boycotted the election. While Osmani supports efforts to normalise relations with Serbia, she first demands that Belgrade apologise and prosecute those responsible for war crimes committed during the Kosovo conflict.
Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia resumed after a nine-month hiatus. On 15 June, EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell met with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić for the first of two meetings. The second meeting, which took place on 19 July, discussed several proposals, including a six-article joint peace declaration. According to Kurti, the Serbian delegation rejected the proposal because it would not accept a reference in the preamble to dealing with the past. Following the meeting, Lajčák admitted that, while the parties agreed that their chief negotiators would meet every month to discuss issues of concern, very little progress had been achieved.
Since the Council’s last briefing on the situation in Kosovo on 13 April, relations between Serbia and Kosovo have remained generally stable. In September, however, tensions on the Kosovo-Serbia border escalated as Pristina officials began enforcing a policy prohibiting the entry of vehicles with Serbian license plates. Since 2011, Kosovo and Serbia have had an arrangement under which Kosovo admits vehicles displaying KS (Kosovo) license plates, which are acceptable to Serbia, or RKS (Republic of Kosovo) plates, which are not. The new policy requires all vehicles crossing the border to display the RKS license plate. On 20 September, Kosovo riot police were deployed to the border in northern Kosovo as hundreds of Kosovo Serbs gathered to protest the new policy. Kurti claimed that the policy was “not aimed to infringe the right of Serb citizens for free movement or provoke any destabilisation” but rather a reciprocal measure against Belgrade for not permitting vehicles with RKS plates to cross into Serbia. In response, Vučić called on the EU to verify whether the 2013 Brussels Agreement on the normalisation of relations between the two sides remained in effect.
Key Issues and Options
The Council’s main priority is to maintain stability in Kosovo. It will continue to monitor diplomatic efforts to advance the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, as well as obstacles and potential roadblocks to that end.
The delay in implementing existing agreements within the framework of the EU-facilitated dialogue, including the establishment of an association of Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo, remains an important issue for the Council.
Another key issue is the cooperation of Kosovo authorities with the KSC and SPO. Kurti has openly criticised the work of the KSC as lacking transparency and suggested that domestic courts develop the capacity to manage criminal indictments and prosecutions. While the KSC and SPO, located in The Hague, are constituted by Kosovo legislation, they are staffed with international judges, prosecutors, and officers.
Some Council members (notably France, the UK and the US) continue to question the UNMIK reporting cycle and have called for the mission’s downsizing on several occasions, citing the relative overall stability on the ground. The Council agreed in February 2018 to a less frequent reporting cycle, but it could now request the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of UNMIK to assess the mission’s performance.
Another option that the Council could consider is to pursue a statement:
- expressing its full support for UNMIK;
- noting with regret the lack of progress achieved on the EU-facilitated dialogue and urging both parties to do their utmost to create the conditions for the normalisation of their relations;
- calling for the implementation of existing agreements and encouraging UNMIK to assist with efforts in that regard; and
- reaffirming the importance of respecting KSC’s mandated authority and jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under Kosovo law.
Kosovo remains a low-intensity issue for the Council and is closely followed mainly by members with a specific interest in the region. Nevertheless, deep divisions among permanent members have continued to characterise the Council’s approach to the issue. 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. Four elected members (Estonia, Ireland, Niger, and Norway) recognise Kosovo’s independence, while six do not (India, Kenya, Mexico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Viet Nam).
Divisions among the Council’s permanent members became acutely apparent during its 13 April briefing on the situation in Kosovo held via videoconference. Arguing that “the majority of [Council members] do not recognize Kosovo as an independent State”, Russia tried to prevent Kosovo’s minister of foreign affairs, Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz, from displaying the Kosovo flag during her speech. Because of Russia’s request that the flag not be shown, the virtual meeting was delayed for 45 minutes as the Council discussed the issue privately. Ultimately, Gërvalla-Schwarz spoke in a private capacity, and the briefing took place in an informal and provisional format so as to avoid setting a precedent.
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. Similarly, the UK has called for a review of UNMIK’s mandate, arguing that conditions on the ground have completely changed since UNMIK was established 22 years ago.
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. UNMIK’s mandate, established in 1999, is unique among the missions routinely addressed by the Council in that it is open-ended. Any attempt to change the mandate and drawdown of the mission would require a new resolution, which Russia would most likely strongly oppose.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Resolutions|
|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.|
|5 April 2021S/2021/332||This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on Kosovo.|
|Security Council Letters|
|15 April 2021S/2021/370||This letter transmitted the transcript of the videoconference briefing on Kosovo.|