Mr. President, your Excellencies, distinguished guests,
The report before you describes UNMIK’s activities from 16 January to 15 April 2011. Today I wish to update you on recent developments and, more generally, on the key current issues concerning Kosovo.
In the wake of the latest constitutional crisis, which was resolved with the election by the Kosovo Assembly of Ms. Atifete Jahjaga as President, Kosovo now appears to be heading towards a period of increased political stability. This in turn should be conducive to further progress in the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, which is key to finding solutions to the unresolved issues that hamper Kosovo’s development.
The dialogue has gotten off to a positive start with three face-to-face meetings between the Serbian and the Kosovo representatives to date, during which discussions have focused on issues of importance to the day-to-day lives of Kosovo’s inhabitants, including civil registration, freedom of movement, and telephony. UNMIK—though not physically present in the discussions—has been supporting the dialogue process and cooperating both with the EU facilitation team and with the two sides, and will continue to support the process in any way that is helpful. I am hopeful that both Pristina and Belgrade will demonstrate the resolve needed to find solutions to all relevant issues in a constructive spirit, so as to solve problems for all communities, as well as to create better conditions for progress on reconciliation and for the further advancement of the entire region towards a common European future. I consider particularly positive the fact that today there was a meeting in Pristina between local senior government officials and the Serbian chief negotiator, and I hope that this may pave the way for future progress in the engagement between the two sides. On a less positive note, however, I regret to inform you that a street protest against the visit escalated into violence that resulted in a number of injuries. Such violence undermines the dialogue and needs to be firmly condemned.
In general, allow me to point out that, particularly during this phase, it is essential for the parties to approach the situation on the ground cooperatively and with due respect for the concerns of all the communities. Solutions that foster trust between Kosovo’s communities stand a much greater chance of serving the interests of long-term peace and stability.
One area where relations between the communities are particularly difficult, is the north of Kosovo. Work has largely concluded to renovate the courthouse in northern Mitrovica, which was the scene of an occupation and action to regain the court, just over three years ago, that resulted in the death of an UNMIK police officer and scores of injured. Since those events, only a small group of international judges and prosecutors, first UNMIK staff, and now EULEX staff, have been working in the courthouse intermittently. Nonetheless, the issues which led to the occupation remain unresolved and still contentious. In order to restore a fully-functioning administration of justice in northern Kosovo, which should not be further delayed, there needs to be progress in the engagement between the sides and with the communities that the court will serve.
Another controversial issue related to the north of Kosovo is the census, which was held in the rest of Kosovo last month. The United Nations Office for Project Services, UNOPS, as a status neutral entity, agreed to conduct the census in northern Kosovo and UNMIK supported this process by facilitating meetings between UNOPS and local institutions in the north and by providing support through the UNMIK-run administration for north Mitrovica. It was expected that the census in northern Kosovo would begin in early May but, regrettably, as of today there is no start date. The process has been unduly politicised and UNOPS reports that co-operation from local institutions on a number of operational aspects has not been forthcoming, in particular with regard to the formation of local census commissions and recruitment of field staff. This situation, if not rectified, will be detrimental for everybody. Without proper collection of data on the dimension and composition of the communities, it will be more difficult to plan the much needed interventions to promote the economic and social development of this region.
Looking more generally at the state of the economy in Kosovo, referred to in some detail in the Secretary-General’s report, the situation remains of concern due to high unemployment and heavy public spending, notably on public sector wages and transport infrastructure, which has led to the suspension of substantial external budget support by the IMF, the World Bank and the European Commission. Although there are expectations of significant economic growth, there is still a lack of foreign investment; moreover, inflation is rising and in March, the consumer price index was 10.8 percent higher than it had been one year before. The IMF and some recognising states have offered advice and support to the Kosovo authorities in developing a more realistic economic programme. It is now expected that the Kosovo authorities will focus their energies and attention on carrying out the necessary adjustments.
The lack of economic prospects is also one of the main obstacles to the returns process, which remains disappointingly slow and in some instances unsustainable. Although in 2010 minority returns were greater than at any other time in the last six years, totalling 2,275 individuals, the first quarter of 2011 shows a 53 percent decrease in voluntary returns compared to last year, with Kosovo Serbs constituting fewer than one in four returnees. While the policy of the Kosovo authorities remains open to encouraging returns, we have witnessed persisting problems at the local level, where economic pressures and lack of reconciliation have created tensions between receiving communities and returnees.
The lack of reconciliation is in fact another key impediment to returns. Despite the dialogue and occasional attempts by various bodies, mainly NGOs, reconciliation remains an issue that has been insufficiently tackled. Nevertheless, the continuing efforts being made to clarify the fates and locations of missing persons, and identify their bodily remains—an essential part of the overall process of reconciliation—are resulting in slow but steady progress. As I have noted in past addresses to the Council, UNMIK supports efforts by Pristina, Belgrade, EULEX and the ICRC to identify all of Kosovo’s missing persons, as well as to investigate their disappearance and bring those responsible to justice.
In this regard, allow me now to turn to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Resolution 1782 calling for an “Investigation of allegations of inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo”, which was based on a report by the Parliamentary Assembly’s Rapporteur, Dick Marty. It is essential for these allegations to be subject to a thorough, impartial and independent investigation, conducted promptly—for the sake of the victims and their loved ones, as well as for the sake of those whom it is alleged were responsible for the crimes. As noted in the Secretary-General’s report, EULEX has stated that it has the ability to handle the case, while the Serbian Government has proposed the establishment of an ad hoc mechanism under the authority of the Security Council. In any event, UNMIK remains fully available to cooperate with such an investigation, in the awareness that while these allegations are pending, it will be even harder for reconciliation to take root.
Following further progress in the so-called ‘unfixing’ of KFOR protection of a number of key Serbian Orthodox Church sites, the Kosovo police has taken over protection responsibilities, thus far without incident. However, the Secretary-General’s report mentions the discovery of the theft of 13 square metres of lead sheet roofing from the Bogorodica Ljeviška Church in Prizren. Events such as this could seriously undermine the Serbian Orthodox Church’s confidence in the protection offered by the Kosovo police. For this reason I requested KFOR, which was initially in charge of protection for this church, to provide information on the matter. On 3 May, the KFOR Commander, Major General Erhard Bühler, informed me that a German Military Police investigation had determined, based upon photographic evidence and witness statements, that the lead sheeting was in fact most likely removed between April and July 2008, when the church was guarded by a private security company. Kosovo police assumed responsibility for guarding the church in February 2009.
Finally, UNMIK continues to play a key role in facilitating Kosovo’s participation in regional and international fora where non-recognising states are present. These have most recently included meetings on justice, regional integration and transport. As reported, the 2011 UNMIK/Kosovo chairmanship of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, CEFTA, has gotten underway with a first meeting held in Brussels. Pristina and Belgrade have indicated their willingness to go along with a loosely defined formula for the conduct of the meetings during this chairmanship year, which focuses on making progress on issues of mutual interest, rather than on attempting to derive political advantage from the issue. It is important that this constructive approach should continue with a view to resolving a number of important outstanding issues, such as the use and acceptance of Kosovo customs stamps. In this, as well as in other instances, the Pristina authorities have recently taken a more pragmatic approach to interaction with UNMIK.
On behalf of all UNMIK staff, I wish to thank the Council for its continued support, and assure you of our entire commitment to the implementation of the mandate with which you have entrusted us. Thank you.
Report of the Secretary-General on UNMIK