Statement by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia, H. E. Mr. Ivica Dacic at the meeting of the UN Security Council devoted to the work of UNMIK:
Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank, also on this occasion, Mr. Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, for the submission of his Report and for his overall engagement in the realization of the mandate of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in accordance with UNSCR 1244 (1999). I also salute all the Members of the Security Council and take this opportunity to advise of the importance of a continued consideration, every three months, of the situation in Kosovo and Metohija before this respectable body in the context of creating conditions for unobstructed implementation of the mandate of UNMIK and as a function of support for the process of dialogue between Belgrade and Priština conducted with the facilitation of the European Union.
Also, I take this opportunity to thank H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, for his contribution to the work of our Organization during his tenure and to wish success to his successor, H.E. Mr. Antonio Guterres.
Notwithstanding numerous challenges, the Republic of Serbia demonstrated time and again its clear commitment to the solution of outstanding issues through dialogue within a status-neutral framework, guided primarily by the interests of regional stability and the creation of conditions for economic prosperity and the progress of the region in the process of EU accession negotiations. The Agreement on Telecommunications was reached recently due to the effort of the Republic of Serbia whereby a contribution was made to the implementation of the Brussels Agreement. Yet, oftentimes, our readiness to seek sustainable solutions through negotiations, conducive to a better life of the people of Kosovo and Metohija, has not been reciprocated by the same approach of the other side which continues, regrettably, to resort to unilateral and, evidently, very detrimental moves, such as the recent unheard-of attempt by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) in Priština to confiscate the Mining, Metallurgy and Chemical Combine Trepča.
Let me point out, Mr. President, that ever since the launch of the dialogue, Serbia has insisted in almost every round and at every level that the question of property be included in the agenda and Priština always refused to talk about it. Such acts of Priština, inaugurating an atmosphere of unilateral imposition of fait accompli and ultimatum instead of the solution of outstanding issues through dialogue with the aim of finding acceptable solutions for all parties involved, which were laid out also in the past, are not in the interest of regional peace and stability at all.
As you may well know, UNMIK undertook in 1999 to oversee the management of the Mining, Metallurgy and Chemical Combine Trepča under UNSCR 1244 (1999). UNMIK transferred the Combine management rights to the Kosovo Trust Agency, established by UNMIK itself in 2002. Following the illegal, unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) by Priština in 2008, the Privatization Agency of Kosovo was established which took over the competencies of the Kosovo Trust Agency, which has not been approved by UNMIK to this very day. The illegal Privatization Agency of Kosovo then proceeded to privatize the state and socially-owned property in the Province so that, by a persistent pursuit of the abusive practices for which no legal basis exists in UNSCR 1244 (1999), Priština unilaterally privatized about 70 per cent of state and socially-owned property in the Province. Parallel to the unlawful privatization, Priština went on to seize the private property of the Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. The widespread ill-practice was carried out, by and large, by way of submission of fraudulent documents issued by Kosovo institutions to local Albanians.
The adoption of the Law on Trepča was done in gross violation of the basic principles of UNSCR 1244 (1999) and the Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government in Kosovo. The latter, let me recall, specifies explicitly that the authority to administer the public, state and socially-owned property in accordance with the relevant UNMIK legislation, as well as regulation of public and socially-owned enterprises are the powers and responsibilities reserved for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.
This Law, I emphasize, has been adopted by the PISG without participation by UNMIK and consultation with the owners/shareholders of Trepča, representatives of the municipalities on the territories of which the Trepča mines and plants are located, representatives of the Serbs in the PISG and the Trepča North management and employees. These unilateral actions of the PISG induce legal insecurity that may seriously threaten the fragile security situation in Kosovo and Metohija. Particularly disconcerting is the fact that the Law disrupts lastingly sustainable economic development without which the ethnic structure of the Serbian communities in the North of the Province is directly in jeopardy.
By these actions, the PISG in Kosovo and Metohija have patently crossed the bounds of their mandate and confiscated the private property of Trepča, affecting the owners/shareholders, creditors and the employees in a direct way; they did it contrary to the principles of international law against this type of confiscation, as well as a number of international instruments guaranteeing the right to peaceful enjoyment of property, prohibiting discrimination and promoting equality before the law, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, European Charter of Local Self-Government, etc. Also, the Law violates the basic principles of a free market and competition and is in direct contravention of the Stabilization and Association Agreement between Priština and the European Union and of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA).
Priština is in the business of transforming, without any legal basis and justification, the largest economic giant of Kosovo and Metohija into the property of the so-called ‘Republic of Kosovo’, while denying Serbia any right whatsoever even though it is the majority shareholder in the corporation. This is a serious attack on the interests of the Serbs, including 3 000 of them working in Trepča. It is estimated that some 38 per cent of Serbian families depend, directly or indirectly, on it. Property and the right to property are sacrosanct, particularly in the democratic world, and who owns Trepča is only too apparent. Companies from Serbia and its citizens who built it own it and no unlawful decision of the Kosovo authorities can change this. Proceeding therefrom, the Government of the Republic of Serbia decided to declare all legal consequences of the acts and actions of the PISG in Priština relative to the legal and physical status of Trepča null and void. Desirous of ensuring that Trepča, which is of vital importance for the survival of the Serbs in the Province and for the economic development primarily of the municipalities of Kosovska Mitrovica, Zvečan, Leposavić and Zubin Potok, as well as of Novo Brdo and Gračanica continue to work, the Government moved and made the decision. The attack on Trepča is not only an attack on one company, it is an attack on the right of a people to exist on a territory and an attack on the very provisions of UNSCR 1244 (1999) on which rest peace and stability in the Province.
Trepča is the lifeblood of the Serbs’ existence in northern Kosovo and Metohija. Serbian homes stand on Trepča’s land, thousands of Serbs work in Trepča’s mines and support their families by working there. For them, the defence of Trepča is the defence of their right to exist and in that sense the attempt to seize it from its lawful owners is also an attempt to finish the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs and bring into question the ethnic structure in Serbian communities long-run. This is not acceptable, Mr. President.
Not only do the authorities in Priština usurp the property of the State of Serbia in Kosovo and Metohija by the Law on Trepča; in its Article 5 it is stated that the so-called ‘Republic of Kosovo’ will appropriate mineral resources also in other parts of Serbia, outside of Kosovo and Metohija, which is a legal nonsense through and through. Serbia remains open to a quest for a peaceful and sustainable solution of this situation, which is not of its own making, in the belief that the solution of all questions and problems through dialogue and agreement is the only right way forward. In that context, we expect the Security Council members to bring the force of their authority to bear and have the Law annulled, preventing thus its negative legal and security consequences from jeopardizing the stability in Kosovo and Metohija and the region, as well as the process of dialogue and normalization of relations. Outherwise, Kosovo and Metohija will become a ‘black hole’ of Europe with private property absolutely unprotected.
I would like to point out, as I did at previous meetings of the Council, that the establishment, within the shortest period of time, of the Community of Serb Municipalities, as a mechanism for a systematic institutional protection of the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija, is of paramount importance for the survival of the Serbian people in the Province. Unfortunately, instead of being the central issue and acted upon as a matter of priority, the establishment of the Community has become the subject of political blackmail. Our side insisted in the past period that the dynamics of the establishment of the Community be worked out and that the date for the Management Team to commence their work be determined. The Community of Serb Municipalities is to be based only on agreements already reached in the dialogue and not on subsequent attempts to alter, unilaterally, the agreements reached with the facilitation of the European Union. The process of the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities must not be allowed to drag on and be threatened by unilateral acts that send messages of disenfranchisement to the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija. One such message is the Law on Strategic Investment in Kosovo which, if enforced, would provide Priština with a cover to contract capital projects directly, without tender offers and participation by the institutions of local self–government, and to dispose of and sell general assets arbitrarily to the detriment of the status and interests of the Serbian people in the Province. The said Law was adopted contrary to the procedure provided for the adoption of laws of vital interests of local communities, eviscerating the Community of Serb Municipalities by infringing upon the competencies that belong, under the Agreement, quite explicitly to this Community-to-be. It is clear that this legislative provocation of Priština is aimed at making the Community of Serb Municipalities an empty shell and preventing the Serbs from deciding their economic development and spatial planning in their communities. The theft of the Serbian property in Kosovo and Metohija, such as the failed attempt to seize the tourist complex on Mt. Brezovica, cannot be legalized by any Law, wherefore it is necessary to return to the negotiating table as the unilateral acts do not benefit anybody.
The situation in Kosovo and Metohija continues to be characterized by the chronical lack of physical and legal security for the Serbs, especially for the internally displaced persons (IDP) who have either already returned or would like to return to former places of residence. The IDPs have been prevented from participating in the drafting of the Law on the Kosovo Property Comparison and Verification Agency, which is yet another inadmissible and striking example of the attempt to seize Serbian property in outright contravention of the agreement on cadastre reached within the EU-facilitated dialogue. All along, thousands of Albanians are being registered in the land registry as owners of the property of IDPs by way of submission of fraudulent documents, while no special mechanism has been provided to notify the IDPs of the proceedings instituted in connection with their property. Another method used to discourage IDP returns, especially in the region of Peć, is the dissemination of information in the Kosovo media of the issuance of indictments for war crimes against a large number of Serbs, almost as a rule against the IDPs applying for return. The returning IDPs are repeatedly being attacked with frequent use of firearms and explosive devices, while desecrations of Orthodox graveyards and memorial plaques of abducted and murdered civilians are on the rise. And attempts to prevent the IDPs from observing religious holidays, as was the case in Đakovica and Mušutište, continue unabated.
Also, religious extremism, compounded with terrorism and the activities of radicalized extremists coming back from battlefields and terrorist group formations, has dramatically increased in Kosovo and Metohija. On the other hand, the polarized political scene is awash with tensions and ‘teargas democracy’ and with persistent violence against the members of Serbian and other non-Albanian communities. In other words, security in Kosovo and Metohija has always been in short supply and prone to escalation of violence, and the returnees to ethnically mixed communities are, as a rule, most vulnerable. It is therefore hard to understand why the space and focus on security observations are reduced in the Report of the Secretary-General. For this reason, we suggest that new chapters on the situation in the communities south of the Ibar River, on obstacles aggravating or preventing IDP returns, on property rights and the impunity of ethnically motivated crimes be included in the quarterly Reports of the Secretary-General. Let me also point out that the monotonous recitation of incomplete statistics on the attacks on the life and property of the members of non-Albanian communities serves but to cast a pall of relativity over the civilizationally inadmissible phenomenon of persecution on the basis of ethnicity and religion. The Report would be much more informative if, in addition to statistics, it advised of how competent institutions, including police, public prosecutors and the judiciary reacted and if it provided the data relative to investigation, search for perpetrators, indictments, criminal or civil trials, types of sentences passed, along with terms of their validity and enforcement in cases of ethnically-motivated criminal offences. Without institutional reaction, all attacks and other offences against Serbs are being de-personalized and reduced to statistics, which leads to the toleration of a climate of impunity of ethnically motivated crimes against the Serbs in the long run. Provision of data on the solution percentages related to these criminal offences would therefore be very informative indeed.
The instances of the desecration of the spiritual heritage of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija are many. The last one in this long line was the arson in the Church of Christ the Saviour in Priština at the beginning of September of which I made mention also in my last Statement to the Council. Let me remind you: this is an unfinished church that was converted to a public lavatory and a podium to shoot music videos featuring scantily clad songstresses. And as if this was not enough, unknown persons broke into the Church and set it on fire. The contemptible act is an outright consequence of the refusal by the Kosovo authorities and police to provide an around-the-clock protection to the Church frequently broken into and desecrated before. The incident had been preceded by protests of Kosovo and Metohija Albanians who manifested, over and again, unchecked hostility towards the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people in the Province, the targets of systematic ethnic terror for the last 17 years. The Church, the only remaining trace and symbol of the presence of Orthodox Christianity in downtown Priština in which over 40 000 Serbs lived in the period prior to 1999, has been ‘designated’ for destruction, just as every other thing Serbian, destroyed or expelled from this and many other places in Kosovo and Metohija. For weeks, Mr. President, the Priština authorities had bulldozed each and every square foot of the land surrounding the Church in an attempt to link it in whichever way with war crimes; once they failed the arson ensued. The extremists calling for the destruction of the Church or its seizure from the Serbian Orthodox Church and conversion are in fact calling for the continuation of ethnic cleansing and the denial of the fundamental religious rights and freedoms to the Serbian people, abusing the civilizational norms of the present-day world. They fan the flames of ethnic and religious extremism and radicalism and undermine stabilization and reconciliation. Also, reflecting Priština’s true attitude towards the cultural and religious heritage of the Serbs, they are, at the same time, indicative of how right Serbia was to oppose Kosovo’s admission to UNESCO. Those who destroy, set on fire and desecrate Serbian churches cannot be their keepers. Perhaps those who supported the admission have now come to realize to whom they wanted to entrust the protection of the Serbian heritage in the Province.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Because there do not exist elementary conditions for sustainable returns, the number of returnees to the Province continues to be lamentably low. This is, I submit, a defeat for all those involved in the process of return. It is incumbent on all of us to change it and create conditions in which the IDPs will be given the real choice, in deeds and not only in words, between return and local integration. To do so, though, we must see to it that elementary conditions be fulfilled in places of return with regard to personal and property security and safety. The rule of law, non-discrimination, full respect for basic human and civil rights and a step-away from politics, which widens the gap among communities on ethnic and religious grounds, are the necessary preconditions for normalizing relations and finding solutions to questions relative to IDPs from Kosovo and Metohija. It is important to keep these people in the focus of the international community and the United Nations in particular, despite the numerous problems facing the world, including the current refugee and migrant crisis, all the more so as this is exactly the question falling explicitly within the UNMIK mandate. The international community must not allow that these people be forgotten. It is not enough to note that the level of returns is unacceptably low; the reasons for the failure should be analyzed instead, the failure attributable primarily to the rigid attitude of the majority community, as well as of its political leaders, towards the return of the displaced Serbs. The truly sustainable return, let me remind you, has been realized only by some 4 000 Serbs or 1.9 per cent. One of the reasons is disregard for communities south of the Ibar River, which increases their feeling of being isolated, sidetracked and left to their own devices, as well as resultant hopelessness.
Each and every time representatives of Priština utter their accusations of alleged genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Albanians, please remember that, out of 427 localities in which they lived until 1999, the Serbs were expelled from 311. More than 220 000 of them. Remember the victims of the monstrous crime of trafficking in human organs, testified to by Mr. Dick Marty, the Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in his Report. Remember the abducted and disappeared Serbs and other non-Albanians from Kosovo and Metohija, the fate of whom is unknown 17 years after the conflict and more than 1 000 Serbs killed since 1999. The number of their killers, passed legally valid sentences against, still equals zero.
Remember Father Chariton, the martyr bestially killed in my native Prizren in June 1999; he was decapitated in the same way in which, to the consternation of the entire world, the ISIS terrorists behead their innocent victims today. His headless body was found, with arms and the spine broken and the stabs in the heart, a gruesome testimony of the torture he received at the hands of Albanian extremists.
Remember the March pogrom of 2004 in which 19 Serbs were killed and 900 wounded notwithstanding the international presences in the Province. 935 Serbian, Roma and Ashkali houses were set on fire, 6 towns and 10 villages were ethnically cleansed, about 4 000 men and women expelled from their homes and 35 churches were destroyed, burned down or desecrated, many of them built as early as the fourteenth century. The abbey of Devič, founded by the Serbian despot Đurađ Branković in 1434, was also burned down that March, while those who set fire to St. Mary of Ljeviš, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, burned automobile tyres so that some of the most beautiful icons from the first half of the fourteenth century, the cultural heritage of the world, go up in flames faster.
Remember the numerous instances of vandal attacks on the Serbian cultural and religious heritage throughout the Province, unbecoming modern-day Europe and the civilized world. Since June 1999 and the cessation of the armed conflict, 236 churches, monasteries and other facilities owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as cultural-historical monuments have been targets of attack. 174 religious sites and 33 cultural-historical monuments have been destroyed. There is no undamaged tombstone on most of the Serbian Orthodox cemeteries, while south the Ibar River no monument from the Serbian history stands upright now. No locality south of the Ibar has a street today with a Serbian name as most of them have been renamed to bear the names of the members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, proven terrorists and perpetrators of monstrous crimes. The message sent to the Serbs in that way is very clear indeed. Those who killed and expelled you now pass as national heroes and monuments are being erected and streets and public institutions named in their honour. These instances of institutional violence in present-day Kosovo and Metohija are part of the strategy aimed at erasing the traces of the centuries-long presence of the Serbian people and State and at legalizing the results of the ethnic cleansing of the Serbian people.
Remember all this, distinguished Members of the Security Council, every time the representatives of Priština repeat their false accusations, based on the premise that a lie rattled off one thousand times becomes a truth. These lies cannot change the fact that Kosovo is not and cannot be a State. What they call a ‘State’ is nothing else but the product of a violation of international law, the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the postulates on which modern civilization is built. There you are: ethnic cleansing, mass violations of human and civil rights of non-Albanians, destruction of the cultural heritage that does not belong only to the Serbian people, but is also part of the European and world cultural heritage, these are the foundations of the self-declared fake State of Kosovo.
The best evidence of the civilizational immaturity of those professing to be the leaders of the Albanian people in Kosovo and Metohija is the recent adoption in the Kosovo Parliament of a document entitled, cynically, the Resolution on the protection of the values of the Kosovo Liberation Army. This shameful document is predicated on the assumption that crime is a positive social value. If seizure of property and the torture and killing of civilians, as well as the ambush of journalists and ambulances can be called values, the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army does then deserve to have a resolution devoted to it. It is not known that any Parliament in the world, bar perhaps during World War Two, ever adopted a resolution glorifying criminals and terrorists; yet, the Parliament in Priština has managed to make itself unique once again. Not a modicum of censure of terrorism and violence is to be found in this resolution and it makes no mention either of the ‘Yellow House’ in which people had their organs torn away, of the abductions, rapes or of the pogroms of Serbian and other non-Albanian civilians, which are the true values and legacy of the Kosovo Liberation Army. For these reasons, distinguished Members of the Security Council, who are, at the same time, the representatives of civilized societies, the act of the highest legislative body in Priština deserves the strongest possible condemnation. It is exactly in this way that the Parliament in Priština sent a clear message to the entire international community, including you who are sitting in this chamber, of what it thinks of the Specialist Chambers, and what of the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army which these very Chambers are to verify and sanction. This means that, at the very beginning, the Parliament in Priština which issued the necessary regulation for the commencement of the proceedings of the Specialist Chambers in The Hague has sent an unequivocal advance notice as to what we can expect, going forward, in the process of the establishment of the responsibility for the crimes committed against the Serbs and other non-Albanians. It also shows that the visits by Hashim Thaçi to the monuments to the harvesters killed in their fields at Staro Gracko in July 1999 and the children killed at Goraždevac in 2003 while they were playing on the banks of the village stream are nothing but an act of one-shot unsuccessful political marketing and that the assessment from the Report before us that this is “an example [that] helps to change attitudes in wider context, and gives optimism for the potential for reconciliation to succeed at a societal level” (Report of the Secretary-General, V, 22.) is, to say the least, exaggerated and premature. Let me remind you that nobody was held accountable for these crimes and that, in all likelihood, nobody ever will, so that only time will tell if these visits will be transformed in a palpable positive step forward in the furtherance of security and respect for the rights of non-Albanian communities.
In the interest of regional stability, our side will continue the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština. The dialogue is aimed, primarily, at addressing the everyday vital problems of the people living in Kosovo and Metohija and at normalizing relations and not at abusing it as a platform to push through the independence of Kosovo. Let me recall that the essence of each and every dialogue, including this one in Brussels, is to achieve agreements and not impose solutions. The role of the international community is to help reach compromise rather than assist one side to impose its own interest. This is true, in particular, of the Community of Serb Municipalities which is of paramount importance for the Serbian population in Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia will never recognize the UDI of Kosovo, but it will continue the policy of peaceful solutions of this question on the basis of a responsible approach and with full implementation of the agreements reached within the Brussels dialogue. Regardless of numerous challenges and frequent manifestations of non-constructiveness and the only too evident propensity towards resorting to harmful unilateral steps by the other side, we shall continue to be committed to working towards normalization of relations. We do not want the situation to be a latent threat to the stability and progress of Serbia and the region and shall therefore work dedicatedly on solving disagreements peacefully, aware that a long process is in front of us in which, to make things more difficult, we often do not have a proper collocutor to share our vision with from a different region aspiring to reconciliation, rule of law and democratic values.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I call on States that have not recognized the UDI of Kosovo to remain loyal, despite the pressure to which many of you have been exposed, to your principled respect for international law, United Nations Charter and the supreme authority of the Security Council for safeguarding international peace and security, the Resolution 1244 (1999) of which confirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia. Bear always in mind that the support of the international community is the key of the success of the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština. Each and every change of the position of the countries that have not recognized the UDI of Kosovo would negatively affect the continuation of the constructive approach of the parties to the dialogue and the implementation of the agreements reached. At the same time, I call also on those States that have recognized the UDI to re-assess seriously their decisions and contribute in that way to the efforts invested in finding a mutually acceptable solution for the question of Kosovo and Metohija. This is what we are asking for: a chance for dialogue and agreement instead of unilateralism. And we expect from you, distinguished Members of the Security Council, to support these efforts mindful of the values epitomized by the United Nations and shun away from being conned by rampant propaganda and outright lies that we keep being told perpetually by representatives of the PISG in Kosovo at the meetings of the Security Council.
In conclusion, let me point out once again that Serbia continues to be firmly committed to peace, dialogue, reconciliation and regional stability. In a word, to lasting solutions that will lead us to the future, instead of to conflicts of the past.
Thank you, Mr. President.”
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