October 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2023
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Expected Council Action

In October, the Security Council is expected to hold its second briefing of the year on the situation in Kosovo. Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Caroline Ziadeh will brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest report. Serbia is expected to participate under rule 37 and Kosovo under rule 39 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Key Recent Developments

On 27 February, Prime Minister Albin Kurti of Kosovo and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić agreed to an EU proposal to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The 11-point agreement commits Kosovo and Serbia to developing normal, good-neighbourly relations with each other on the basis of equal rights. It also stipulates that neither can represent the other in the international sphere and that Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in international organisations. In exchange, Kosovo commits to forming “specific arrangements and guarantees…to ensure an appropriate level of self-management” for the Serbian community in Kosovo. On 18 March, Belgrade and Pristina agreed on an annex outlining steps for the agreement’s implementation. Notably, it emphasised independent implementation of the agreement’s 11 points. On 18 April, Belgrade and Pristina established a Joint Monitoring Committee to oversee the agreement’s implementation.

Despite progress in the EU-mediated dialogue aimed at normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia, the political status of Kosovo Serbs in the north has remained a source of tension. Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo’s population but are a small minority in the north, where over 50,000 ethnic Serbs reside. On 21 April, the main political party in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, the Serbian List, urged the ethnic Serb community to boycott the elections scheduled for 23 April in four northern municipalities, labelling them as “undemocratic”, after multiple ethnic Serb candidates withdrew from the election. Consequently, only four percent of eligible voters participated. This low turnout led to the election of ethnic Albanian political parties, with the ruling Vetëvendosje party and the Democratic Party of Kosovo emerging victorious. Following the election results, Milan Radoičić, the vice president of the Serbian List, declared that ethnic Serbs “would never accept” governance by officials elected with such minimal turnout in the northern municipalities.

Tensions escalated on 26 May when Kosovo Serbs in three northern municipalities tried to block the newly elected ethnic Albanian officials from entering municipal buildings. The situation turned volatile in the town of Zvečan, where police intervention led to confrontations with the protesters, resulting in dozens of injuries. In response to the clashes, Vučić put the Serbian army on high alert and ordered Serbian troops to the Kosovo border.

The situation deteriorated further on 29 May when the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) stepped in to disperse the Kosovo Serb protesters, leading to many injuries, including to approximately 93 NATO troops. On the same day, NATO issued a statement condemning the “unprovoked attacks against KFOR troops” in northern Kosovo as “totally unacceptable”. On 30 May, NATO announced the deployment of an additional 700 troops to Kosovo to stabilise the situation.

Tensions persisted in northern Kosovo throughout June, prompting international calls for de-escalation between Belgrade and Pristina. On 3 June, the EU called on Pristina to suspend police operations near the municipal buildings in northern Kosovo and to organise early elections “as soon as possible” in the four municipalities.

In a 13 June letter to High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, Kurti detailed a five-point plan to defuse tensions in the north. Kurti expressed readiness to reduce the police presence and conduct new elections in the north. On 29 June, he agreed to scale back police deployment and to schedule early elections in the northern municipalities. On 11 July, Pristina reduced the police presence around the municipal buildings by 25 percent.

September saw another setback in the EU-mediated dialogue, however. Talks held in Brussels on 14 September yielded no progress. Borrell attributed the deadlock to Kurti’s insistence that Serbia formally recognise Kosovo as a prerequisite for advancing the February agreement. Following the meeting, Borrell said that while Vučić accepted the EU’s proposal on implementing the political aspects of normalisation simultaneously, “Kurti was not ready to move forward and start a credible process towards establishing the Association/Community”, adding that Kurti “insisted instead on formalising de facto recognition [of Kosovo] as the first step”.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 54th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will receive the report (A/HRC/54/24/Add.2) of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Fabián Salvioli. The report draws on Salvioli’s 22 November – 2 December 2022 visit to Serbia and Kosovo, during which he evaluated the progress made in redressing “serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law” committed during the armed conflicts in the 1990s. In his report, Salvioli acknowledged the international community’s support for efforts to locate missing persons in Serbia and Kosovo in the conflict’s aftermath. However, the report emphasised the lack of cooperation in recent years, difficulties in advancing accountability and reparations, and the insufficiency of measures “to promote memory of past violence, to curb divisive sentiments and to promote reconciliation”. Salvioli underscored the “politicisation of the search for missing persons and the manipulation of its humanitarian mandate for political gain” and expressed alarm about ongoing “ethnocentric, nationalist and/or biased or incomplete narratives about the conflict in politics, the media, culture and education” in Serbia and Kosovo. In his recommendations, the Special Rapporteur called on the authorities in Serbia and Kosovo to focus on transitional justice, noting that its success will be essential in order to achieve reconciliation and sustainable peace.

Key Issues and Options

The Council’s main priority is to maintain stability in Kosovo and promote the de-escalation of tensions in the north. It will continue to monitor diplomatic efforts to advance the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and any efforts towards reaching a final, legally binding agreement on Kosovo. To this end, Council members could consider pursuing a press statement welcoming the 27 February agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia and calling on both sides to implement the agreement and its annex in good faith.

Another key issue is how to promote constructive dialogue on this politically charged issue in the Council. Despite the progress made earlier this year in normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina, tensions were evident during the Council’s 27 April meeting on the situation in Kosovo. Both sides used the Council’s open session to advance contrasting narratives about the drivers of regional instability. Towards the end of the meeting, Albania took the floor to urge participants to move beyond entrenched debates “about the historical perspectives, about which we disagree,” and to concentrate instead on the positive strides made in recent months. As the Council president in October, Brazil may consider changing the format of the meeting from an open briefing to closed consultations. This could allow for a more candid discussion of challenges to the implementation of the February agreement.

Council Dynamics

Council members are united in supporting the EU-facilitated dialogue to establish conditions for the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Deep divisions among permanent members, however, have continued to characterise the Council’s approach to the issue. Among the five permanent Council members, 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 and its claim to territorial integrity. Seven elected members (Albania, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates) recognise Kosovo’s independence while three (Brazil, Ecuador, and Mozambique) do not.

The issue of modifying UNMIK’s mandate with a view to its possible drawdown is another point of contention among Council members. The US has been the most vocal proponent of ending UNMIK’s mandate and reducing the frequency of briefings, citing the level of stability in Kosovo. 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 23 years ago. At the 27 April briefing, Albania proposed reducing the frequency of Council meetings to one per year. Russia, however, has opposed the idea of altering UNMIK’s mandate and cutting its budget, advocating instead for maintaining the open and regular nature of Council meetings on the situation in Kosovo.

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Security Council Meeting Records
27 April 2023S/PV.9312 This was a meeting on the situation in Kosovo.

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