Kosovo – what role for the UN?

The UN should play the lead role in negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina – or at least serve as a neutral umpire – as the continuing Kosovo status dispute cannot be settled through the one-sided approach so far pushed by the Quint.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited Serbia and Kosovo this week. His stop in Belgrade prompted the new government there – still formulating its Kosovo policy – to ask that any future talks with Pristina be held “with UN presence.” The Secretary General, in his comments in Pristina, took credit for the UN’s role in “building democratic institutions, strengthening the rule of law, protecting minority rights, facilitating dialogue and promoting confidence between communities.” He expressed concern over the “tensions” in northern Kosovo and called for the issues there to be settled through “peaceful dialogue” and with the “views of the communities most directly affected” being heard. He also visited Decani in southern Kosovo, highlighting the continued importance of Serbia’s cultural links there. Ban suggested, however, that the EU now has the international lead in the region.

It’s right and proper that the UN Secretary General should visit Kosovo. It is still under the responsibility of the UN according to Security Council Resolution 1244. But in fact, the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been little more than a place-holder since 2008. In November of that year, the Secretary General – with the Security Council’s acquiescence – passed its core responsibility for rule of law to the EU mission (EULEX). The UN stepped aside for the Kosovo government south of the Ibar. UNMIK has taken no active role in the north either. It neither supported nor restricted EULEX and KFOR’s misuse of their UN mandates in unilaterally siding with Pristina’s provocative efforts to take control there. The UNMIK offices in the north do perform an essential function in providing the only institutional link between that part of Kosovo and the territory as a whole under UNSCR 1244. But the UNMIK leadership has done little to support a more active role there.

Ever since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, the policy of the UN and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York has been to shed and duck as much responsibility for Kosovo as it could. It allowed the Quint to use UNMIK in the attempt to subdue the north through force in March 2008. It allowed its police and judges to be replaced by EULEX. It allowed NATO to use its 1244 mandate to force Pristina’s political agenda in the north and at the boundary. Ban reportedly met the Kosovo leadership at the airport in this visit only because the Russians objected to a more formal meeting. The UN has failed to show any leadership in ensuring a status neutral approach to peacekeeping and peacemaking in Kosovo.

It’s appropriate that the Secretary General called for dialogue including the local Kosovo Serbs to settle issues in the north. But left to itself, it is unlikely that DPKO will heed Nikolic’ request that the UN take part in negotiations. To be clear, the UN Secretary General is – as the agent of the Security Council – responsible for helping achieve peace in Kosovo. The UN is the only available neutral interlocutor. As long as the Quint doesn’t want a neutral facilitator in the dialogue, however, New York will not step forward. DPKO will do nothing to assume any responsibility unless there is countervailing pressure within Security Council. Nevertheless, the UN does not need another resolution to play a leading role in the next stage of dialogue between the two sides. It just needs the will. That won’t come from DPKO but only from the outside.

The UN should play the lead role, or at least serve as a neutral umpire. Ban Ki-Moon cannot meet the UN’s responsibility by simply visiting and saying the right things. The continuing Kosovo status dispute cannot be settled through the one-sided approach so far pushed by the Quint (chiefly the US and EU). Somehow, the parties must be helped to a genuine compromise solution. Optimally, that would be a new Contact Group effort – the Quint plus Russia – within a UN frame. The Quint cannot hope for real progress in freeing Pristina from the anchor of unresolved status by keeping the UN on the sidelines. The Secretary General’s visit simply pointed to a hole that must be filled.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.

To read TransConflict’s policy paper, written by Gerard and entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here.

To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s new reading lists series by clicking here.

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