SRSG Zarif’s presentation to the Security Council - 19 November 2013
Mr. President, Excellencies,
Since my last briefing to you in August, the implementation of the 19 April First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Pristina and Belgrade has passed an important milestone, and has entered a critical and broadly more challenging phase. The milestone was reached through the extensive preparations and successful conduct of Kosovo-wide municipal elections on the 3rd of this month.
Despite the short window opened for the preparation of these elections, a significant number of Kosovo municipalities recorded substantially higher turnout than was the case in the last local elections in 2009. For example, turnout in the Serb majority municipalities south of the Ibar River was far higher than during previous local elections over the past decade. In municipalities north of the river, turnout was comparatively lower, yet significant, despite a frequently contentious atmosphere and numerous practical challenges.
On election day, serious problems occurred in northern Mitrovica, which unfortunately drew the greatest part of attention from the international media. Toward the end of the day, masked persons forced their way into three major polling centers, and managed to destroy or otherwise contaminate many boxes of cast ballots. Instances of voter intimidation and the stoning of some EULEX and OSCE vehicles also occurred. These reprehensible criminal acts were universally condemned by local and international actors. A full investigation into the break-ins was launched by the Kosovo Police, with the support of EULEX.
On 6 November, a principal-level meeting of the political dialogue was held in Brussels by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, in order to jointly assess the situation. Taking into account the irreparably damaged integrity of the voting materials in northern Mitrovica, a repeat vote at the three affected polling centres was subsequently ordered by the Central Election Commission. Thanks to extensive additional security measures, the re-vote at all three centers was successfully organized two days ago. The re-vote proceeded peacefully, without significant incidents or problems.
Where required, the second round of the elections of mayors will take place on 1 December. Due to some procedural irregularities, the Electoral Complaints and Appeals Panel has recommended to the Central Electoral Commission a re-vote for two polling centres in the Zvecan municipality in northern Kosovo.
I have commended both parties to the Brussels negotiations, as well as participating political entities and the public at large, for their conduct during a largely peaceful electoral process, which produced unprecedented turnout in many areas. I take the opportunity to commend the very close mutual coordination carried out among the international presences during the elections, and to express special gratitude for the efforts undertaken by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in ensuring timely registration and voting procedures in the northern municipalities, as well as facilitating the out-of-Kosovo voting. The perpetrators of the crimes committed in northern Mitrovica on election day need to be brought to account. Equally, it is important to observe that these deplorable incidents were isolated ones, and did not reflect the positive conduct of the elections overall. The results from the 3 November vote clearly demonstrated the growing maturity of Kosovo’s polity, as well as a strong public desire and motivation for participation in the democratic process.
UNMIK is continuing to focus its greatest efforts and resources in support of the EU-led political process and toward the fulfillment of its mandate. In particular, the mission is making this support available to the newly elected municipal authorities, especially in the North, where significant tensions still persist, and where high demands and expectations from the population will accordingly be directed to newly elected Municipal Presidents and Councils.
The formation of the future Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities, a key component of the 19 April agreement, will require major efforts during the forthcoming period, demanding close attention not only by the parties, but by the international community as well. UNMIK intends to play its role as part of a carefully coordinated collective effort, drawing on the comparative advantages and resources of all those who are ready to contribute.
The municipal elections were an indispensible step forward in securing fully legitimate and fully empowered representation of the local communities in Kosovo, both in the North and the South. At the same time, no-one involved can afford to close their eyes to the deep uncertainties which persist among significant parts of the population. Enthusiasm over the considerable success achieved through these local elections must be tempered: this success marked an essential, but still preliminary, step of translating progress at the high political level into local confidence and ownership on the ground. Achieving this latter result will, necessarily, be a gradual process. To succeed, it will demand continuous effort and attention from all those in a position to assist.
Influential actors from every side should pursue a more sustained engagement with the local stakeholders in northern Kosovo. Effective partnerships and cooperation with newly elected municipal leaders, along with the provision of appropriate resources and support, will be some of the critical elements. Improving the extent and quality of communication and dialogue at local levels throughout Kosovo will be another – one, which we believe, demands closer attention. UNMIK has committed its own resources to supporting such comprehensive dialogue, including through a range of local initiatives. We hope that this same commitment will run across the board of all stakeholders: the process demands combined and mutually-reinforcing effort.
The aspirations of the people to fuller association with the institutions of Europe continue to be a crucial factor underpinning the current process of normalisation agreed between the leaders of Pristina and Belgrade.
At the top level, the European Union is poised, in one month’s time, to take important decisions regarding the further integration of states of the Western Balkans. In late October, talks commenced on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Union and Kosovo, which, when completed, will mark the first contractual relationship established between these two parties. Serbia is expecting detailed consideration of its accession negotiating framework at the forthcoming European Council meeting scheduled for December. We welcome these developments as they are fundamental to the further consolidation of peace and security in the region.
These steps are much more than formalities: both Pristina and Belgrade have committed themselves to the institutional steps required for a closer future association to the European Institutions. The myriad reforms demanded for closer association must be carried out alongside the dialogue process, and in harmony with the provisions specified in that process. In Kosovo, this means, among other things, significant reforms of public practices, not just in the crucial Rule of Law area, but across the full range of Kosovo’s public services and institutions.
The members of this Council continue to play a key role in supporting the long run prospects of the process underway in Kosovo. This encompasses not simply the provision of adequate resources to safeguard the progress achieved, but also continued political engagement with the parties to ensure their commitments hold fast through future challenges and occasional setbacks.
Besides the difficult and often complex issues involved in direct implementation of the 19 April agreement, attention must be focused upon pressing economic issues, as well as some fundamental humanitarian issues. Recently, it has proven significant that Kosovo-Albanian and Serb family associations of missing persons, those who have suffered so deeply, have been able to lead the way in working together to pursue progress. It is incumbent upon political leaders in Pristina and Belgrade to engage one another in this same spirit, as well for international partners to ensure the adequate resources and other support needed for the parties to persevere along the path they have so wisely chosen.
The period ahead will be essential in consolidating the positive outcomes of the Kosovo elections and the important progress achieved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. A sustained engagement by the two parties will also be important in securing the advancement toward the European integration, normalization of relations, as well as inter-community reconciliation and lasting stability in Kosovo.
I wish to express my deep appreciation to the Council members for their continuing engagement with the parties in this regard, despite the number of other pressing matters which demand your attention. Such engagement is indispensable to keep the process moving forward.
For our part, UNMIK is continuing its close engagement both at political and ground levels, toward the same ends.
Your continuing support to the work of UNMIK is deeply appreciated.