Escalation in Northern Kosovo: Causes, Dangers and Prospects
Escalation in Northern Kosovo: Causes, Dangers and Prospects
Report / Europe & Central Asia 4 minutes

Kosovo: Toward Final Status

Time is running out in Kosovo. The status quo will not hold. As evidenced by the deadly rioting in March 2004, Kosovo Albanians are frustrated with their unresolved status, the economic situation, and the problems of dealing with the past.

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Executive Summary

Time is running out in Kosovo. The status quo will not hold. As evidenced by the deadly rioting in March 2004, Kosovo Albanians are frustrated with their unresolved status, the economic situation, and the problems of dealing with the past. The Albanian majority expects the international community to begin delivering this year on its independence aspirations. Without such moves it may act unilaterally. In such circumstances, given the dismal record of Kosovo Albanians with regard to minorities, Kosovo's Serbs may call upon Serbia's armed forces to protect them, and the region could be plunged into new turmoil.

Either 2005 sees major progress on a future status solution that consolidates peace and development, or the danger is that Kosovo will return to conflict and generate regional instability. This report, seeking to fill the blanks left by Security Council Resolution 1244 at the conclusion of the 1999 conflict, shows how that progress might be made.

As a first step, the six-nation Contact Group should issue as soon as possible a statement spelling out a timeline for the resolution of the status issue and four crucial ground rules: that the protection of minority rights in Kosovo is the issue on which progress will most depend and that neither Kosovo's return to Belgrade's rule, nor its partition, nor any possible unification of Kosovo with Albania or any neighbouring state or territory will be supported. At the same time, a Special Envoy should be appointed by the UN Secretary-General to begin consultations on the content of a settlement accord and the process by which it should be implemented.

In mid-2005 the UN is due to assess the Kosovo government's commitment to democracy, good governance and human rights standards. If the assessment is positive, the Special Envoy should prepare a draft settlement text -- the 'Kosovo Accord' -- and the details of an international conference to endorse it.

If Kosovo's new government is to lead its people to the independence destination they desire, there must be complete respect and protection for Kosovo's Serb and other minorities. The Kosovo Assembly, with international assistance, must immediately begin to draft a constitution, fully satisfying these concerns, the text of which would, if accepted by the international conference, form part of the proposed Kosovo Accord. Overall the object of the Accord, together with the new constitution, would be to create the conditions for acceptance of Kosovo as a full member of the international community.

It would be appropriate, given everything that has happened in the past and the uncertainties about behaviour in the future, for the Accord and constitution, between them, to set some limits -- important in content, but few in number and relatively limited in scope -- on an independent Kosovo's freedom of action, in particular:

  • Kosovo would be explicitly committed not to unify with Albania, or any neighbouring state or territory, other than in the context of EU integration;
  • there would be a number of internationally appointed judges in Kosovo's superior courts, and certain international parties would have the standing to ensure that certain key matters relating to minority rights and other agreed obligations can be brought before those courts;
  • Kosovo would accommodate an international monitoring presence -- the 'Kosovo Monitoring Mission' -- to report to the wider international community and recommend appropriate measures if Kosovo were to backslide on its commitments.

Before the end of 2005 the international conference should take place, under UN chairmanship and attended by representatives of the Contact Group members, the EU, Belgrade, and Kosovo's government and opposition parties. In early 2006, approval of the constitution by Kosovo's citizens in a referendum would trigger the coming into effect of the Kosovo Accord. Desirably, to give it complete legal as well as political effect, the Accord would also be endorsed by the UN Security Council. Kosovo's de jure sovereignty, if not achieved by Serbian agreement or Security Council resolution, should be recognised by the whole international community, or at least such of its member states (including the U.S. and EU members) as are prepared to do so.

It has to be contemplated that Serbia -- and perhaps Russia as well ­-- will refuse to cooperate with part or all of this. But the proposed process should not be held hostage to that eventuality: the situation on the ground in Kosovo is too fragile, and the status quo too unsustainable in too many ways, for the international community to allow its future status to be put on indefinite hold. While legitimate Serbian concerns should be taken fully into account, particularly about the status of Kosovo's Serb minority, Belgrade should be cautioned from the outset that "the train is leaving, with or without you", and encouraged to participate fully in achieving the best possible terms of settlement.

Complacency has guided policy on Kosovo for too long. The potential for renewed violence is very real. The international community, in particular the member states of the Contact Group, must decide whether to regain control of the agenda or allow matters to slip until unpleasant new facts are created on the ground that they will have to deal with. The agenda set out above requires political courage as well as energy. But the alternative is worse.

Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels, 24 January 2005

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