Distinguished members of the Security Council,
I have the honor to be with you today, as the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMIK, to thank you for your continued support and to brief you on the operations of the Mission over the past six months, given developments in the region since the end of the official reporting period. As I told you today, developments in Ukraine have inevitably influenced and will continue to influence all European security issues, including in the Mission’s area of operations.
I am also informing you today of the follow-up to the Serbian elections, which took place on 3 April. Although final results are awaited, the overall result is clear. The current majority party in Serbia retains a secure public mandate. It should be noted that the ruling coalition in Pristina also currently enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament. Such circumstances can sometimes lend themselves to courageous leadership decisions.
In the run-up to the Serbian general elections, the international community urged the authorities in Pristina and Belgrade to agree on modalities to facilitate the participation of eligible voters in Kosovo. This would have been consistent with the practice of previous years. This time, no solution has been identified to allow this. Together with my international colleagues and the representatives of various Member States, I regretted the polarizing effects of this decision, as it sharply divided public opinion along ethnic lines. Nevertheless, more than 19,000 Kosovo voters participated by voting at special polling stations established in Serbia. Thanks to an impressive logistical exercise facilitated with the support of both parties, the electoral process went smoothly and without any incident. The resilience of democratic institutions throughout the Balkan region is a crucial factor in maintaining a secure and democratic Europe. Earlier this month, I met with Serbia’s re-elected president and other heads of government in Belgrade. I was encouraged by the very direct and open conversations I had there.
Unfortunately, very concerning incidents occurred just a few days ago in northern Kosovo, attacks apparently directly targeting Kosovar police patrols. Shots were fired at the patrols, as well as stones and pyrotechnics thrown. Although the motive is still unknown, these criminal attacks were brazen. I urged the general public and officials on all sides to join in condemning this violence and to provide any information they may have to law enforcement so that those responsible are quickly identified and brought to justice.
Today, I wish to call on the leaders of Pristina and Belgrade to be very judicious in their actions and in their political rhetoric. During these complex days, these leaders bear the primary responsibility for reducing tensions rather than fueling them. This applies at the political level and also in the public space. For these reasons, I also urged both sides to engage constructively and more actively in the EU-facilitated dialogue. I was reassured about this commitment during my recent meetings.
I have not yet had the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister or the President in Pristina, and that is of course an important prerequisite for a constructive and positive engagement. However, I met most of the leaders from all political backgrounds in Pristina, including those of the ruling parties, those of the opposition and the political independents. I will also regularly contact the leaders of other parts of the Balkan neighborhood to hear their views on relations with Kosovo and on dialogue. I am sure that the region’s political actors will demonstrate by deed that they understand that dialogue and compromise represent the only viable path to stability, prosperity and security for all.
Yesterday marked the 9th anniversary of the first agreement on the principles governing the normalization of relations. Although this process has yielded significant results on various practical issues, an overall normalization of relations between the two parties remains elusive so far.
Even on highly technical topics covered during this reporting period, such as vehicle license plates, progress remains timid and slow. As we gather here today, we cannot be sure that Belgrade and Pristina will reach an agreed solution on this issue by tomorrow’s deadline. I would like to encourage Pristina and Belgrade to proactively seek a permanent solution to the issue of driving licenses, as well as other issues concerning freedom of movement as well as energy agreements. Whatever the pace of the discussions – which we hope will accelerate – another principle deserves to be underlined: however difficult the road to agreements and solutions, unilateral actions – of any side – have the potential to harm the real interests of the people on both sides.
Dramatic shocks to the economy of Kosovo and other regional economies were building up long before the events in Ukraine began. After two years of the global COVID19 pandemic, economies have struggled to first manage and then recover from the profound effects of this disease on health as well as social and economic well-being. Inflation, supply shortages, rising interest rates and rising debt burdens were already happening and have since been exacerbated. In this context, finding concrete ways of economic cooperation between Belgrade, Pristina and all the neighbors in the region takes on greater urgency. Any initiative at the regional level that can help promote this objective should be welcome. Reducing restrictions on the movement of people and the flow of goods and capital can only help all neighbors in the region to overcome current and future challenges.
Since my arrival in Pristina, I have witnessed first-hand the internal and external challenges facing Kosovo’s political leaders. Expectations for progress and reform are exceptionally high. This government will depend on both sound decision-making and strong international support to deliver on its ambitious agenda and serve the people.
It is therefore logical that the subject of improving relations is at the top of the agenda of so many regional and international interlocutors in Kosovo. Reconciliation and addressing past grievances should strengthen the pursuit of important strategic goals.
Allow me, at the beginning of my mandate, to be very clear on two important points. First: as Belgrade and Pristina well know, my responsibility is to provide objective information to the Secretary-General and the Security Council. I will always remain open to listening to all points of view; however, the contents of the Secretary-General’s reports are not subject to negotiation with any party. Second: UNMIK is not a determining factor – nor the spokesperson for a particular point of view – concerning a just and lasting settlement between the parties. It is not our role. Too often since my arrival, I have heard insinuations that UNMIK, in itself, represents either an obstacle or a vehicle for the outcome preferred by one side or the other. Or that UNMIK itself has a particular program to promote or foster, outside the limits of its mandate, to ensure the conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all the inhabitants of Kosovo. Neither of these inaccurate perceptions contains demonstrable truth, but both have too often been allowed to gain traction in local public discourse.
Accordingly, we will continue our work in areas where we are truly able to help advance the common goals of Kosovo authorities, communities and institutions. UNMIK’s legacy of institutional support, its trust between communities and political actors, and its work with all multilateral and bilateral actors, will guide the program of my mission. Naturally, this means working in synergy with the family of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, and in partnership with the international community. Progress in high-level policy discussions, in particular EU-facilitated dialogue, can be supported and aided by intensified people-to-people work on the ground. My mission remains a place of knowledge, experience and expertise in a relevant field, which serves the institutions and communities of Kosovo. Support an active civil society; promote new tools to help Kosovo strengthen the rule of law; contribute to the empowerment of women and youth; providing expertise and support to human rights mechanisms: all of these will remain key priorities. Of course, we will continue to explore all areas where we can make fruitful contributions within the framework of the mandate that you have entrusted to us.
I would like to end by saying that the Council’s support for our mission remains essential. Your attention to the state of relations between Pristina and Belgrade is equally important, although we are aware that many new and difficult situations require your attention. Our efforts as a Mission will remain focused on contributing to stability, political progress, respect for human rights, support for women, peace and security and youth programs, peace and security, and the promotion of greater trust and dialogue between communities – in Kosovo, and in the region.
On behalf of all Mission personnel, thank you for your continued support to UNMIK.