Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The fog of negotiations

Anna Di Lellio, former international Media Commissioner in Kosovo, reminds us that the Kosovo status negotiations are losing the point by not taking into account the will of the Kosovo people. Here is her comment in the Guardian, with her permission:

The fog of negotiations

As the global powers discuss the fate of Kosovo, one thing seems to have been forgotten - the people who live there.

In the fog of the negotiations on Kosovo's status, what's being lost is the point of it all. As the troika composed by the EU, Russia and the US proposes a 14-point document in which the word status does not even appear, the question arises: have they forgotten what are they negotiating and why? Is anyone remembering?

It is only eight years since 1999, when Nato bombed the Former Republic of Yugoslavia because it had turned savagely against its own people: the Albanians of Kosovo. The war violated Belgrade's sovereignty over Kosovo and Russia opposed it, but peace came in the shape of UN Resolution 1244, with the full support of Russia.

What 1244 decided was the suspension of Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo and the facilitation "of a political process designed to determine Kosovo's future status, taking into account the Rambouillet Accords" [S/Res/1244 (1999) 11 (e)]. Chapter 8 of the Rambouillet Accords established that the final settlement of Kosovo should be determined on the basis of the will of the people. Thus the demand for a referendum on the province's political future is a legitimate one, as the Independent International Commission on Kosovo reckoned. Not only that. The same commission wrote that it was "within the special representative of the secretary general's power to frame the referendum question on future status."

That was the year 2000. Kosovo became a UN trust, and there was no talk of status until November 2005, when the contact group deemed "a negotiated solution an international priority." Once the process has started, diplomats stated, "it cannot be blocked and must be brought to a conclusion." So much for that. Two years later, the process has been blocked by the security council's inability to find an agreement. But on what exactly?

1244 and Rambouillet have opened a clear path, consistent with the law and morality: the decision as to whom Kosovo's sovereignty should be granted belongs to the women and men who live there. Kosovo is a land in dispute between Belgrade and Pristina. The problem is, in a world that promotes democracy and liberty the land follows the people, and not vice versa.

All this has been lost in endless negotiation, shuttling among capitals, meaningless promises, and an ever-shifting deadline. No wonder the troika's assessment concludes with a return to the status quo: a Kosovo held in trust of an international authority, with no perspective of claiming the independence that has been the will of the people for quite some time, but never been democratically tested with a referendum.

These conclusions forget the obvious. The starting point of the negotiations was not how to maintain the status quo by giving it another name (moving from UNMIK to EUMIK and calling it International Civilian Presence). On the contrary, it was the realisation that the status quo was not sustainable, as established by the esteemed Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide.

It was Eide who, in June 2004, was sent to Kosovo by the UN secretary general on a fact finding mission just after a deceptively stable situation had erupted in violent street riots targeting Serb homes and religious sites, as well as UN property. Eide found a restive Albanian majority, a fearful Serb minority, and a UN mission lacking intelligence, planning, and direction. He proposed a new strategy based on "an understanding that the future status question should be addressed soon".

There is nothing in the 14 points the troika has just laid out which addresses the status of Kosovo. The document concedes that "there will be no return to the pre-1999 status"; "Belgrade will not govern Kosovo"; "Belgrade will not reestablish a physical presence in Kosovo"; "Belgrade will not interfere in Pristina's relationship with International Financial Institutions"; and "Kosovo's Stabilisation and Association Process (tracking mechanism) will continue unhindered by Belgrade". The word "status" only appears at the end, to affirm that "the international community will retain civilian and military presences in Kosovo after status is determined.

The mind has to be some sort of a contortionist to understand what all this means, concretely. There is an abundant rhetoric on human rights, minority rights, democracy, and rule of law peppering the negotiations. Yet, although there is enough evidence that the Kosovo community has all the right to claim its independence through the peaceful and democratic mean of a referendum, this very right is denied.

The formal justification of this denial is that a negotiating solution needs to be approved by all parties and Serbia will never concede Kosovo's independence. The reality is that the troika, like the Athenian Generals in Thucydides' Melian Conference, has no time or patience for issues of fairness, law or justice: the question of justice, after all, "arises only between parties equal in strength, and the strong do what they can, and the weak submit". Will they? And should they?

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