Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the beginning of my Statement, let me welcome Mr. Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, and thank him for his overall commitment to the implementation of the mandate of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) under UNSCR 1244 (1999). I also thank the Members of this distinguished body for the attention they attach to this issue on a regular basis. Also, I take this opportunity to wish H.E. Mr. Antonio Guterres, new Secretary-General of the United Nations, every success in his future work.
It is with sadness and sorrow that I note that Ambassador Vitaly Churkin is not with us today, sitting behind the nameplate of the Russian Federation. A diplomat who contributed by his indefatigable work not only to the protection of the interests of his country in the United Nations and the promotion of the image of the world Organization, Ambassador Churkin was a stalwart of international diplomacy and a trailblazer of global policies of our age. Serbia will forever be grateful to him for the understanding and support he extended over many years, as well as for the dedication and energy that epitomized his work in the Security Council.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to point out once again the importance of convening regular, quarterly meetings of the Security Council in unchanged intervals to discuss the present agenda item. This is an important contribution to transparency and openness and, what is equally relevant, it is the only way to create conditions for an unencumbered implementation of UNMIK’s mandate in Kosovo and Metohija. Also, the meetings lend support to the dialogue conducted between Belgrade and Priština with the facilitation of the European Union.
We fully agree with the observation made in the Report before us regarding “the importance of ensuring that UNMIK is appropriately resourced to address current and emerging challenges, including fragile reconciliation and the evolving threat of violent extremism.” It is evident that the United Nations Mission needs optimal, larger staffing and financial capabilities in order to address all the requirements of the implementation of its mandate.
There is no doubt, Mr. President, that the Republic of Serbia is committed to resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue within a status-neutral framework. Only through such an approach is it possible to bring about stabilization in the southern Serbian Province and uphold Serbia’s right, as a sovereign State, to territorial integrity. Our primary goal was, is and will be to safeguard peace, stability and human lives. By responding determinedly to all the challenges, the government institutions of the Republic of Serbia have been instrumental in calming down the tensions in Kosovo and Metohija as they threatened to escalate.
The message that I send to all extremists from this rostrum is that peaceful solutions have no alternative. Problems and outstanding issues must be solved through dialogue, and not by threats and the use of force.
The Republic of Serbia expects the international community to stand united in defence of this civilizational achievement. In this context, I would like to emphasize in particular the detrimental statements made in respect of a possible formation of an Army of Kosovo; it would be a gross violation of UNSCR 1244 (1999) and present, at the same time, a new serious threat to the efforts invested in stabilizing not only Kosovo and Metohija, but also the Western Balkans.
The Republic of Serbia will continue to pursue responsible and peaceful policy and will provide no excuse to anybody to engage in escalation and violence. In the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, Serbia has sought to pave the way to gradual normalization; for a genuine and implementable agreement, though, it is necessary that the other collocutor be sincere, too.
Serbia’s proposals submitted within the dialogue have been constructive and realistic; also, my country has been ready for compromises not always easy to make. All along, we have strived to find mutually acceptable solutions for many complex issues. This approach of Serbia has not been reciprocated by the other side which often stalls the implementation of commitments it assumes by agreement and signature. Certain results have been achieved, but they are far from what is expected.
For its part, only one part, though, Serbia is firmly committed to the preservation of peace and the creation of conditions in which all residents of Kosovo and Metohija will be ensured security and respect for basic human rights. This is the place and opportunity for us to face the fact that the situation in Kosovo and Metohija is, as borne out by the Reports of the United Nations Secretary-General on the work of UNMIK, different altogether.
Let me recall, more than 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) continue to live in Central Serbia, without any hope of ever returning home. The hope, regrettably, is not provided by the international presences, either. Serbia is interested in protecting the lives and property of all the residents of the Province and creating conditions for sustainable IDP returns. Yet, all our commitments to the dialogue, agreed to by Belgrade and Priština and facilitated by the European Union, are continually undercut by violations of agreements and aggressive acts of the authorities in Priština. The aim is to provoke conflicts: from the Serbian language textbooks ban, over the continuous attacks on Serbs and their property and the unlawful attempt at confiscating the Mining, Metallurgical and Chemical Combine Trepča, to the latest example of preventing a Belgrade train from entering Kosovo and Metohija, the gravest violation of the basic human rights and the freedom of movement.
Traffic connections among people in the twenty-first century cannot be considered a provocation against anyone; rather, they are an obligation of all civilized societies to ensure economic development and decent living conditions to its citizens. Let me point out in this regard that the initiative for the operation of a train on that route has not been made by politicians, but by students of the only university in Kosovo and Metohija in which tuition is in Serbian. The request of over 10,000 young men and women for a better and more economical traffic connection with Belgrade and the rest of Central Serbia was met by threats, mining of the line and the recourse to long guns and combat vehicles. Such an approach is in direct contravention of the spirit of the dialogue, aimed at normalizing relations, and poses a serious threat to peace and stability in the region.
They say that the train was carrying the message that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia and that it was a provocation that they were ready to stop by the force of arms. There is not a single decision of the United Nations under which Kosovo and Metohija is not a constituent part of Serbia. For me, the real provocation is that all representatives of the provisional administration in Priština continue to aver that Kosovo is an independent State. Would you justify Serbia, a Member State of the United Nations, if it responded to this provocation with the threat of arms?
I am sure that you share my concern at the dispatch, short of the mandatory agreement of the local Serbian community, of the ethnically pure special police units, armed with offensive weapons, to the north of Kosovo and Metohija, populated by and large by Serbs still harbouring a vivid memory of the wave of organized ethnic cleansing in March 2004. In the wave, let me recall, the Serbs were expelled from almost all cities and towns of Kosovo and Metohija. The deployment of special police units is absolutely unacceptable and was a call to armed conflict. Ask them what orders they had in case the train full of students appeared at the administrative crossing. They did not know what to answer to me at a meeting in Brussels in the presence of Mme Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Perhaps they will tell you. Many sponsors of their behaviour are sitting here.
It was a direct threat to civilian lives. The manifestation of the institutional intention to use violence against peace-loving students, members of non-Albanian communities, was also an open and serious threat to peace in a volatile security situation in Kosovo and Metohija.
Just as it did on many previous occasions, the Republic of Serbia reacted reasonably and responsibly also this time around, taking decisions and sending messages whose only goal was to preserve peace and whatever level of stability in the region and to eliminate the danger to the lives of the remaining non-Albanian population in the Province. Never and in no way has Serbia provided any pretext to Albanian extremists, yet they continue to employ every asset, every tool, to provoke conflicts at a larger scale. This bona fide, compromise-based approach of ours is reflected also in the agreement on landscaping part of the area near the bridge in Kosovska Mitrovica, on 4 February this year.
Distinguished members of the United Nations Security Council,
Almost four years have elapsed since the signing of the First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations. The key segment of the Agreement, agreed and signed, relates to the establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities; unfortunately, it has not been started yet. Priština representatives are sending ever more open messages that they are not interested in the Community and that they will not honour the agreement guaranteed by the European Union. The obstinacy of the Priština negotiators will not be checked by few public criticisms of Priština made in the West en passant.
Serbia demands that Priština honour the agreement reached four years ago, nothing more, nothing less. Serbia also expects to hear a united and powerful voice of the international community, including of our partners from the European Union, against the callous position of Priština on this issue of vital importance to the Serbs. What’s the use of agreements reached and obligations assumed if they are not implemented?
The establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities is a precondition for the normal life and sustainable survival of the Serbian people in the Province; it provides for a systemic institutional protection of the guaranteed human rights. As such, it deserves to be accorded much greater attention also in the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General, whose task it is to protect the basic human rights, primarily the right to life, freedom of movement, habitation, the right to work and education, the right to the preservation of cultural uniqueness of a people, the freedom of religion.
Serbia confers by agreement all these rights on the provisional institutions in Priština; under the Brussels Agreement, Priština has to confer all these rights on the Community of Serbian Municipalities, the institution that is to implement them within the non-Albanian and, especially, Serbian populations in Kosovo and Metohija, in municipalities in which they constitute the majority. The Community of Serbian Municipalities was entrusted the task of establishing the rule of law and human freedoms for the Serbs through the institutions of the system.
It is also in this context that the Republic of Serbia views the importance of convening regular meetings of the Security Council from which messages are sent to either side, especially to Priština, that agreements are not and cannot be just a dead letter and that, instead, they must be achieved in practice and materialize. Four years are more than sufficient time. Procrastination excuses must no longer be lightly accepted. The establishment and the commissioning of the work of the Community of Serbian Municipalities is of priority importance. The dynamic of the establishment must be defined and the date of the commencement of the work of the Management Team must be determined, while the Community is to be based exclusively on what has been agreed and not on some subsequent attempts to change unilaterally the agreements that have already been reached by the facilitation of the European Union.
The establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities, with substantive powers provided for by the Brussels Agreement and by accompanying agreements rather than with the competencies of a non-governmental organization is also necessary in order to prevent further escalation of mistrust. Anything else would amount to the flouting of assumed commitments and would render the very dialogue between Belgrade and Priština meaningless.
The situation in Kosovo and Metohija continues to be characterized by a continued lack of physical and legal safety for the Serbs and all other non-Albanians, especially for IDP either returned or willing to return to their homes. The padlocks on the Church of Christ the Saviour in Priština symbolize the intolerance and the attitude towards non-Albanian communities, especially the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. Behind this unambiguous anti-civilizational act is the resolve to erase all the traces of the existence of the Serbian people and culture in the city in which more than 50,000 Serbs lived until 1999. The international community must not allow that the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Serbs and other non-Albanians from Priština be carried also symbolically by the violent acts of usurpation of this holy site. Every effort to create at least an illusion of a multiethnic society in Kosovo and Metohija is rendered meaningless in this way. The Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija are thus sent an abundantly clear message that their centuries-long history, culture and religion are unwelcome.
In their fictitious endeavours to protect the Serbian cultural and religious heritage, Priština resorts to double talk as the historical, cultural and religious heritage is not protected by desecration, arson and destruction of the centuries-long Christian heritage that belongs not only to the Serbs, but is also the medieval memory of mankind.
A truly democratic society cannot be developed in an atmosphere in which the crimes committed against the Serbs and other non-Albanians, their property and historical, cultural and religious heritage and identity go unpunished. This is becoming increasingly clear today also to those countries that supported at a time the attempt of the authorities in Priština to join UNESCO.
I emphasize: there can be no true reconciliation unless all crimes are tried.
This is an obligation towards the families that have the right to find out the truth about the fate of their loved ones. The Republic of Serbia has never brought into question the need that all those who committed war crimes, irrespective of their ethnic belonging, be brought to justice. On the contrary. At the same time, it is of utmost importance in this regard not to resort to manipulations and abuses for political purposes, employed ever so often by the authorities in Priština. This provides eloquent evidence of the lack of readiness of Priština to confront the responsibility within its own ranks for war crimes. I point this out well aware of the upcoming commencement of the work of the Specialist Court, established to try the crimes committed in Kosovo and Metohija in connection with the assertions in the Report of Dick Marty on the trafficking in human organs of the abducted Serbs, as well as other war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Serbia also attaches great importance to the solution of the problem of missing persons, as a priority humanitarian question.
The French judiciary is to decide on the request to extradite Ramush Haradinaj to Serbia, suspected for the commission of the gravest war crimes. In an attempt to run away from justice, this brute, one of the commanders of the terrorist so-called “Kosovo Liberation Army”, does not refrain even today from openly threatening with a new war before the eyes of Europe and the world and says, I quote, “Serbia will fare just as it did in 1999”.
Allow me to take you back in just a couple of sentences to 1999, not by stories of the people killed, innocent civilian victims and ruins, of the destruction and demolition during the aggression which, it is not difficult for me to recall, was carried out against a sovereign European State without the decision of the Security Council and the United Nations. Instead I shall advise of the consequences with which we live eighteen years later, i.e. with the facts available also to the World Health Organization as well: science has established that, once the micro- and nano-particles of depleted uranium enter the body, they have the heavy metal radio-active and toxic effects and if they are sufficiently small they pass through all corporal barriers, including the haemo-cerebral barrier and the placenta and can be found in all tissues and organs of a contaminated person, as well as in the intrauterine faetus. Under the 2004 research carried out by doctors A. Gatti and C. Montanari, if an examinee comes from the territory hit by missiles containing depleted uranium, one cannot exclude the presence of depleted uranium as a potential pathogen, even if there is no proof of its presence in his tissue. This is telling proof, ladies and gentlemen, that nuclear arms, including those containing depleted uranium, are in fact by-products of civilization, an invisible, ideal killer, a means of mass trans-generational destruction and durable invertible changes of all natural resources, despite being the results of the state-of-the-art technology. Dropped on Serbia eighteen years ago, the bombs containing depleted uranium are violating the eco-system of the entire planet today.
However, I leave this topic to the conscience and consideration by all of us, as an inseparable part of the UN Security Council’s mission in the field of armament, the use of arms and the consequences to the future survival of men on planet Earth.
I do not know therefore why there was no strong condemnation of the statements, I would say, of the open threats of Ramush Haradinaj. Impunity for the crimes committed must not be allowed and tolerated. This is a civilizational matter and a litmus test for the entire membership of the United Nations, an opportunity for us to demonstrate that law and justice are above politics and that all victims are equal in suffering.
Many are the incidents that confirm that security in Kosovo and Metohija continues to be unstable and that there is a latent danger of violence escalation. I reiterate, the returnees in the nationally mixed environments are the most vulnerable. Therefore, this question should be accorded greater attention in the Reports of the Secretary-General. Here is a concrete example: between 1 October 2016 and 31 January 2017, i.e. only in the past four months, over 30 ethnically motivated attacks against the Serbs and other non-Albanians have been recorded. Physical attacks were committed, attempts were made to prevent the displaced persons from celebrating Christmas Eve in the Church of the Assumption of Holy Virgin Mary in Djakovica, the property of returnees was broken into and set on fire and the memorial plaque of the abducted Serbian journalists in the Municipality of Orahovac was damaged again. Instances, such as the planting of a bomb found in the Serbian part of Orahovac, near the Orthodox church and the explosive device found at the water supply line in Kosovska Mitrovica or the stoning of a school bus with children on the road between Šilovo and Koretište evince all the discrepancy between Priština’s formal pronouncements and the reality on the ground.
Isn’t the continued prevention of the Serbs to visit their churches and graveyards even during the great Christian holidays, such as Christmas, a clear call to concern and reaction by the entire international community? If you are not concerned, if you do not stop it, you are sending then a clear message that you approve Pristina’s position that the Serbs are unwanted, that they will never be able to be the masters of their own destiny, that there are no conditions for their safe return, that their life will never be safe, let alone their property and legal security!
The restitution of private property remains an unresolved problem, which is one of the most frequent violations of human rights, facing, in particular, the IDP from Kosovo and Metohija. Over 40,000 requests for the restitution of illegally seized and usurped property have been submitted to the Kosovo Property Agency, which is under the control of Priština. Out of the requests, 97 per cent were submitted by the Serbs and other non-Albanians, while about 18,000 lawsuits relative to the compensation of damage done to the destroyed and damaged property, were filed to the courts in the Province.
It is evident, therefore, that there are no elementary conditions for a sustainable return of the displaced, from the absence of personal safety and the protection of property, as well as the rule of law, to a widespread discrimination and lack of respect for the basic human and civil rights and freedoms of the non-Albanian population. The number of returnees to Priština continues to be defeatingly small, even though the creation of conditions conducive to an unhindered and long-term sustainable return is one of the main tasks of UNMIK’s mandate.
It is clear that UNMIK carries out this part of its mission with difficulty and the key reason is the absence political will of the majority community and its irreconcilable intolerance of all other communities. To name but one example: a declaration passed by the local assembly of the Municipality of Suva Reka makes the return of IDP to Mušutište contingent on the resolution of the question of missing persons and the apology of the Republic of Serbia and the Serbs from Kosovo for the crimes allegedly committed during the conflicts of 1999. In vain are all the Serbs’ title deeds proving the origin of property, in vain is the right to live in a house passed on to them by their forefathers, in vain are the Brussels agreements and the mandate of UNMIK.
No one reacts to such self-will and denial of all rights to Serbian returnees. Failure to react to such incidents are a tacit acceptance of, even the support to, the continuation of such practice, which is neither in the spirit of the Security Council nor all the instruments and declarations of the United Nations, which is not in the spirit of law and justice.
We therefore request that the question of minority rights be accorded greater attention in the Reports of the Secretary-General on the work of UNMIK. It is evident that systemic, legal, administrative, institutional and political threats to the human rights of the members of non-Albanian communities are very widespread in Kosovo and Metohija. Double standards are applied systemically, whereby the members of non-Albanian communities are facing numerous obstacles when trying to exercise their rights – from the most basic right to life without fear of physical violence and the right to see perpetrators punished, to the right to return and stay in the place of return, the right of employment and children education, health protection, to the rights of property and religious rights. As long as the crimes go unpunished, as long as the authorities in Priština carry out their designs without consequences and fail to implement the provisions of the Brussels Agreement, the life worthy of a man in a multi-ethnic community will not be possible. In this I see the responsibility of this esteemed organization which I am addressing today.
In a word, we must not allow the issues of crucial importance to the normal and dignified life of Serbs and members of other non-Albanian communities to be immersed into general statistics, irrespective of the ethnic component that essentially underlies all the problems in Kosovo and Metohija. That path cannot be acceptable, for it can be construed as the readiness to accept the existing condition, without the intention of making any substantial changes.
Proceeding from the fact that “enclaves” have their own specific problems and that they deserve, first and foremost, the recognition of the current situation, as well as greater efforts to be invested towards resolving numerous everyday problems, I shall reiterate, on this occasion, too, that we find it necessary to introduce a part of the Report, along with the existing part dedicated to the north of Kosovo and Metohija, which would focus on the position of the minority communities south of the Ibar River.
Radicalization of the political climate and the strengthening of the political, ethnic and religious intolerance amplify the instability of the security situation in Kosovo and Metohija. A drastic rise of religious extremism, with elements of terrorism, is evident in the Province, as are the activities of radicalized extremists, returning from the battlefields in the Middle East. At the same time, at the polarized political stage of the Kosovo Albanians themselves, there is a trend of further escalation, with a constant threat of the Albanian electorate redirecting its discontent to the members of non-Albanian communities, primarily the Serbs, which requires heightened attention on the part of international presence.
Guided by the interests of regional stability and a vision of a different region, truly dedicated to reconciliation, the rule of law and democratic values, the Republic of Serbia is firmly committed to maintaining the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, whose primary aim is the solution to everyday problems of the people living in Kosovo and Metohija, with full respect for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999), which represents the basis and the framework for the resolution of these issues.
However, in order for the dialogue to be truly purposeful, it must be grounded on the genuine desire to resolve the problems on the basis of compromise and it must not be abused at all as a platform for the imposition of the interests of one party alone, especially not for the purposes of the promotion of the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo, which the Republic of Serbia will never recognize.
The solution to the issue of Kosovo and Metohija cannot be based on diktat and the presentation to the Republic of Serbia of a fait accompli. The solution is only possible through dialogue, and the quest for an outcome acceptable to all sides.
The last thing we want is the situation in Kosovo and Metohija which will pose a constant threat to the stability and progress of both Serbia and the region, for which reason we shall continue our dedicated work on the process of normalization, responsibly and regardless of the increasingly frequent manifestations of the lack of constructiveness and the presence of harmful unilateral actions of the other side.
There are numerous examples of unilateral steps that Priština took outside the agreements reached within the dialogue, such as the attempts to join international organizations. In point of fact, the dialogue provides that all issues, and I repeat, all issues be resolved through the dialogue between the two parties with the facilitation of the European Union. Detrimental, Mr. President, is the habit of Priština authorities to resort to unilateral actions, with the approval of some major powers, the sponsors of their attempts at independence, in contravention of the Brussels dialogue as the agreed framework for resolving the outstanding issues. The continuity of this bad practice mirrors the efforts to join UNESCO, Interpol and other organizations, which unnecessarily disturbs the atmosphere in which the dialogue takes place, and which are keeping us back from what is supposed to be the primary goal for both sides - stabilization of the situation in the region and the finding of sustainable and mutually acceptable solutions.
Serbia, for its parts, honours agreements.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Five years ago, I decided to join the dialogue with the provisional authorities in Priština in order for us to calm the tensions and, above all, to ensure a normal and safe life of the Serbs and the non-Albanian minority in Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia’s experiences in the dialogue have made me wonder if I did the best thing.
Many forget that, historically, Kosovo and Metohija is the territory of Serbia, and not of the Albanians who, according to the Ottoman census, did not even live, unlike the Serbs, in these territories in the fourteenth century.
It is forgotten that it was exactly here in the United States that the Day of Kosovo as understandably a Serbian land was celebrated 99 years ago and that President Woodrow Wilson sent an Epistle to the Serbian community on that occasion with the message of goodwill to Serbia and the Serbian people.
It is forgotten that the Serbs founded their State on that territory already in the Middle Ages, and that the Serbian emperors and kings built their churches and monasteries, most of which are inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage as Serbian heritage. Unfortunately, most of them are now on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In danger from whom? Certainly not from us, who have the right to preserve our Christian heritage.
It is forgotten that Kosovo was populated by the Albanians only in the past two centuries, especially during the dictatorship of the Communist leader EnverHoxha, from whom they fled Albania and came to Kosovo and Metohija where they were received by the Serbs as brothers in good faith.
It is forgotten that a unilateral declaration of statehood means nothing if it is not the result of the agreement between the mother country and people. That this is right is confirmed by the constant pressure on Serbia to renounce its territory, the land where it established its statehood almost ten centuries ago.
We shall not do that, as nobody else would. We have a guarantee in this Council in that certain permanent members respect international law and support the integrity and sovereignty of Serbia. We know that there are countries that recognized the so-called Kosovo out of their own interests, but we also know that over 70 per cent of mankind does not share this view.
Perhaps I am talking some of you in vain. We say in Serbia that it is futile to whisper to the deaf and to wink at the blind. You do not have pain, and you turning your back to the pain of others.
I would never wish to you that your children live in the conditions in which the Serbian children in Kosovo and Metohija live. I would not, because I believe in the right of a child to grow up in peace, the right of the parents to raise it in peace, and the right of a man to complete his life, come time, in the home of his ancestors. I would not, because I believe in God.
I would like to be clear once again: Serbia will not recognize Kosovo, whatever we are offered in return and to whatever pressures we may be submitted to. This has everything to do with the defence of principles and a permanent longing for justice. Those who honour principles and fight for justice are always right.
On behalf of the citizens of Serbia, I would like to thank all the countries respecting international law and supporting our position. The political leaders of Pristina should be aware of all of this, who finally would have to embark on reasonable negotiations and to keep the promises they have signed as their ancestors were known to do.
On this occasion, I call on those states which have not recognized the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo to resist the shameless pressures of the mighty and powerful and to remain true to their principled respect of international law, the Charter of the United Nations and the supreme authority of the United Nations Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security. I call on those States that have recognized “Kosovo” to reconsider their decision and contribute in that way to the efforts invested in finding a mutually acceptable solution to these issues.
Serbia is ready to agreements, but not to blackmails, it is ready to talk, but not for ultimata and unilateral solutions, ready for the substantial autonomy of Kosovo and Metohija, but never for the “Independent State of Kosovo”! And ready, in this context of substantial autonomy, to guarantee all the rights to national communities and these rights exceed in Serbian laws and everyday life by far the standards of most countries.
Thank you for your attention.