UNMIK chief briefs UN Security Council on Kosovo 

21 August 2015 - Statement by Farid Zarif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Kosovo, to the United Nations Security Council: 

Madam President, Excellencies, 

The report before you details the activities of UNMIK during the latest quarterly reporting period from 16 April to 15 July. Beyond simply presenting the report, I will also reflect briefly on a wider range of important achievements as well as challenges facing Kosovo at this time. 

I would like to begin by commending the critically important step taken by the Kosovo institutions on the 3rd of this month, when the Assembly of Kosovo passed the requisite constitutional amendment and the laws on the establishment of the Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor's Office. These legislative acts fully accord with Kosovo and the European Union’s exchange of letters on the matter, which were already endorsed by the Assembly back in April 2014. 

As reflected in the Secretary-General’s report, delays in finalising the required framework had become a subject of serious concern, from various quarters. However, the passage of the necessary normative acts and their promulgation yesterday by President Jahjaga, stands as a sign of Kosovo’s increasing determination to meet its fundamental obligations and commitments, which imply full respect for the rule of law and impartial justice; as well as accountability and equality before the law. 

Full establishment of the rule of law is facing other important challenges, which merit mention today. One of them is the legal protection of cultural and religious heritage sites. In June, the Appellate Panel of the Special Chamber of the Kosovo Supreme Court issued decisions which, in effect, set aside a landmark decision by the Trial Panel of the Special Chamber in December of 2012. That decision concerned property within the Special Protective Zone of the Visoki Dečani Orthodox Monastery. The 2012 decision rejected claims of ownership by two socially owned enterprises against the Visoki Dečani Monastery. Resolution of this long-standing dispute had been accepted by the two legal parties to the dispute, and hailed by the international community. In contrast, the Appellate Panel’s decision applied highly questionable legal reasoning in order to return the issue to a local court, which assuredly will re-open the dispute and potentially lead to serious new tensions surrounding this precious cultural and religious heritage site. 

Respect, protection and preservation of the Serbian Orthodox cultural heritage in Kosovo are fundamental duties, and also test the responsibility of Kosovo’s governing institutions. Should these fail, many other important functions and responsibilities may equally fall into question. It is, therefore, a matter of the utmost importance that the legal framework of protection, enshrined in the constitution of Kosovo, is adhered to with conscientious rigor. This includes, but is not limited to, the Assembly of Kosovo’s future consideration of a comprehensive Law on Cultural Heritage. I commend the firm assurances given to me by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa that a revised version of the draft law will not be approved by the Cabinet and submitted to the Assembly unless it fully conforms with the relevant provisions of Kosovo’s Constitution. 

Madam President, 

The enormous strides already taken by Pristina and Belgrade through the EU-facilitated dialogue demand continuing commitment from the parties, and, not less, from the international community. On 25 August, the top leaders from each side will meet once again, seeking accord on issues where differences, while narrowed, still remain. Among these issues, setting forth a detailed framework for the establishment of the future Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities is of paramount importance. Several other matters are now equally ripe for conclusion. Already, the implementation of the agreement on mutual recognition of vehicular insurance, which began just this past week, is providing evidence of the benefits accruing from the normalisation of relations. 

It is important not to underestimate the potential of this historic process, begun under the tenure of EU High Representative Ashton and now in the capable hands of her successor, Federica Mogherini. Reaching equitable compromises, those which overcome legacies from the conflict and produce tangible benefit to both sides, is not limited only to the terms of the First Agreement reached on 19 April 2013. During the coming days, it is my hope that the dialogue will expand to include other difficult issues, which continue to burden relations. Among these, I would highlight renewed effort to determine the fate of missing persons and to provide a scheme for compensating their families; to revitalise transport and commercial links; to address the many complex issues surrounding property; to deal with issues of return and settlement of refugees and internally displaced persons; and to discuss the status of the Orthodox Church.

Madam President, 

As you are already aware, this will be my last briefing to the Council in my capacity as Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Kosovo. Thus, I hope you will permit me a few brief reflections on the trends and processes I have witnessed. 

When I arrived to Kosovo, soon after the events of July 2011, tension was extremely high on the ground. Road barricades had been erected throughout the north, and the international security presences had been forced into a strong preventive posture. Public political discourse among the communities in Kosovo, as well as between Belgrade and Pristina, was adversarial and confrontational. Few, if any, conciliatory messages could be heard from any side. 

Four years on from that time, the situation differs dramatically. Kosovo Serb mayors, elected for the first time under a unified legal framework, now govern in all ten Kosovo Serb-majority municipalities, including the four municipalities in the north. Kosovo Serb Ministers and Parliamentarians now serve actively in key positions of the central institutions, not simply promoting vital interests of their own community, but increasingly of the electorate as a whole. Police structures are fully integrated, and thereby, more responsive. Significant progress has been made toward integration of all components of the justice system. Through a process of committed dialogue and political compromise, the concrete needs and aspirations of people – perhaps for the first time since the conflict itself – register more loudly in the public discourse than do insinuations about the past. 

No progress is irreversible, of course. I do not wish to suggest that the efforts made to date are yet sufficient to guarantee headway. I do, however, firmly believe that there is objective justification for cautious optimism that this process will continue and produce more tangible results in the interest of all. 

Madam President, 

It has been my privilege to serve during these past four years, and I will depart from the Mission with strong confidence in the leadership I have observed from each side, as well as from the people. Their future is being built around a shared stake in creating the conditions for long term stability, peace and prosperity. 

I conclude my remarks today by expressing my deep gratitude to you, Madam President, and to all members of the Security Council for their support to UNMIK and myself. Much has been achieved, and I am confident and certain that the positive progress will only accelerate in the times ahead. The next period will bring further challenges, but also, I am certain, further progress, not least due to your continuing support and engagement. UNMIK and, I am sure, my successor and the entire United Nations presence in Kosovo, will remain committed to contributing to that end. 

Thank you.