Statement to SC by SRSG Zahir Tanin - 29 February 2016
Statement by Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of The Secretary-General and Head of UNMIK Security Council Debate on UNMIK
New York 29 February 2016
Mr. President, Excellencies, Today is the Council’s first meeting on Kosovo of 2016, and it takes place at a moment of significant developments, not least of which was the factious but successful election of a new President on Friday. This is a year in which Kosovo will face complex challenges, and accordingly, today I take time to assess key developments emerging from 2015, and most importantly, to look ahead.
In recent months the polarization of the Kosovo political landscape has reached levels where progress is being impeded, despite considerable efforts by the government to pursue an ambitious reform agenda. The extremes of political antagonism have clearly transgressed basic democratic norms. The most obvious example of this has been the repeated use of violence by the opposition to prevent the Kosovo Assembly as well as other government institutions from conducting their work. I have joined many of my colleagues in the international community to stress that adherence to the basic democratic “rules of the game” is more than simply a responsibility of all political leaders. It is also what empowers the voices and the messages of all genuine political actors in the democratic process, including the opposition, which otherwise could become squandered and lost.
With matters having reached this point, I believe this is an opportune time for all to stand back and evaluate, and perhaps also to shift local and international focus away from political battles, and towards more fundamental issues. The intrinsic links between post-conflict development, enforcement of the rule of law, and human rights, should be at the center of a pro-active and resultsoriented agenda for Kosovo. Political leaders should be more outward-looking in exploring opportunities for regional cooperation – as exemplified by the Western Balkans Investment Summit in London one week ago – rather than focusing on limited political interests. With so much already invested in building stability in Kosovo and the region, continued attention to core issues, and more focused deployment of resources, can help make the difference between setting a course for progress or decline.
Through all this, it is important to acknowledge that many essential commitments made by Kosovo’s political leadership have remained firm. These include continuing to normalize relations with Belgrade through the EU facilitated dialogue; meeting the fiscal and financial obligations set forth by international creditors; and ensuring the conditions necessary for full establishment of the special court. Additional and emerging challenges underscore the importance of working with all leaders in Pristina to be sure that these essential commitments do not waiver.
Several fundamental steps towards strengthening the European perspective of Kosovo were taken last year. At the same time, these steps have been accompanied by detailed, and at times critical, assessments from European bodies about the conditions and efficiency of public institutions, especially the Kosovo judiciary. I refer in particular to the European Commission’s “Kosovo 2015” report, and the recent Council of Europe report, “The situation in Kosovo”, among others.
Building respect for the rule of law, and ensuring adequate enforcement, are great challenges in many parts of the world. In Kosovo, these crucial goals are not always being kept high on the agenda where they belong. A strong legislative framework is already in place, including several key laws enacted during just this past year. However, the application of this framework remains inconsistent, the administration of justice unacceptably slow, and instances of political interference common. Corruption at many levels increases public frustration, harms the daily lives of all persons in Kosovo by reducing economic development and opportunity, and undermines faith in the political system. Steadily improving the coordination of support for the rule of law should, I believe, remain a central objective this year. It is also one in which the United Nations remains ready to play a part, within available resources and our mandate.
At times the security and political agendas divert too much attention away from Kosovo’s serious economic development challenges. As the government has acknowledged, intensive effort is needed to create more economic growth and opportunity, which, in turn, would ease political tension. Despite extensive natural and human resources, few opportunities are being opened for major investment. Unemployment is at high levels. Education needs to be modernised and de-politicised. Harmful environmental practices, which significantly affect public health, need to be addressed systematically.
As so often stressed by the Secretary-General, the close nexus between peace building and development necessitates coherence and complementarity of work with all the UN agencies, funds, and programmes present in Kosovo, as well as with the broader range of multi-lateral and bi-lateral development initiatives. This will be another central focus of our effort during this year.
Kosovo’s legal framework guarantees the protection of human and fundamental rights, but implementation is uneven and directly influenced by political and inter-community tensions. Although without UN facilitation, Kosovo cannot directly associate itself with international and European human rights instruments and institutions, this has never precluded its adoption of robust human rights legislation. I welcome the willingness of the government to engage with UNMIK on human rights reporting to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. I also welcome the positive working relationship we have established with the government on policy development, including of the Kosovo Human Rights Strategy. We, and many international partners, remain committed to working closely with the authorities to encourage positive trends, above all in full implementation of the established legislative framework. The recent agreement signed on new premises for the Kosovo Ombudsperson, in line with the Paris principles, as well as the appointment of a new chair of the Pristina delegation of the Joint Working Group on Missing Persons, are welcome recent developments. Laws and programmes designed to uphold the rights of minority groups and the protection of cultural heritage remain matters of real concern, along with the realisation of property rights, and the still-limited access of women to property ownership. The returns programme for displaced persons has faltered in part due to the significant shortcomings in each of these areas. Without ensuring the Check against delivery 5 necessary conditions for reintegration into social, economic and political life, even limited returns are unlikely to become more sustainable. Cooperation between the Serbian Orthodox Church and Kosovo authorities suffered several setbacks during the course of last year. Unresolved issues related to church property and the enforcement of legal protections have strained relations. We continue to receive reports of incidents, including thefts, at households owned by Kosovo Serbs which cause concern. We are joining with the EU and other partners to improve facilitated dialogue at all levels, from central authorities to civil society.
Kosovo and the entire region are facing the likelihood of substantial external shocks during the coming period, which will test the resilience of institutions. The vast refugee and migrant flows through the Balkan region are unlikely to abate, constituting a humanitarian tragedy and a political crisis. Kosovo’s planning for contingencies should benefit from international resource and planning support, as well as regional cooperation. It is important to stress that measures taken do not restrict the universal rights due to refugees and asylumseekers, and that we see their plight as individuals at the forefront among all policy considerations. Assuring adequate institutional capacity and responses to the problems of radicalisation and extremism, terrorist training and finance, and the associated traffic of human beings and weapons, is likewise becoming more pressing. The presence of groups driving radicalisation and the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters are challenges which demand close and efficient partnership of Kosovo authorities with regional and international bodies. Kosovo’s “strategy Check against delivery 6 and action plan on the prevention of violent extremism” should benefit from wide-ranging international support, commensurate with extensive bi-lateral assistance already being directed to intelligence and law enforcement bodies.
While politicians usually focus on near-term and insular priorities, regional partnerships mark the real path to progress. The Pristina-Belgrade dialogue is essential, while its ultimate success must be grounded in collaboration among all leaders, across the region. As to the international community, safeguarding the considerable investment already placed in Kosovo requires a pro-active orientation to both the current challenges and additional emerging ones. Political progress and institutional resilience in the region are essential goals. However, they are by no means assured. Accordingly, our work in UNMIK is intended, and must be, part of an international as well as local partnership to address problems which, realistically, cannot be tackled in isolation. By working with all those who recognise and embrace the aims of peace, security, and prosperity, we can actively support Kosovo and the entire region in meeting the formidable challenges ahead. I wish to conclude my remarks by expressing my deep appreciation to you, the members of the Council, for your support. This support is indispensable to success.
Thank you very much.