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Kosovo: time to shift focus to development, rule of law, human rights, says UN envoy

29 February 2016 – With Kosovo set to face "complex challenges" this year, it is an opportune time to perhaps shift local and international focus away from political battles towards more fundamental issues, such as the intrinsic links between post-conflict development, enforcement of the rule of law, and human rights, the head of the United Nations political mission there said today.

In his first quarterly briefing in 2016 to the UN Security Council, Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said that today's meeting followed significant developments, such as the factious but successful election of a new President on Friday.

"This is a year in which Kosovo will face complex challenges," he said, noting that in recent months the polarization of the political landscape has reached levels where progress is being impeded, despite considerable efforts by the Government to pursue an ambitious reform agenda. The most obvious example of this has been the repeated use of violence by the opposition to prevent the Kosovo Assembly as well as other government institutions from conducting their work, he said.

Rule of Law

Building respect for the rule of law, and ensuring adequate enforcement, are great challenges in many parts of the world, as well as in Kosovo, because those goals are not always being high on the agenda, he noted. Although a strong legislative framework is already in place in Kosovo, including several key laws enacted during just this past year, the application of this framework remains inconsistent, the administration of justice unacceptably slow, and instances of political interference common.

Corruption at many levels increases public frustration, harms the daily lives of all persons in Kosovo by reducing economic development and opportunity, and undermines faith in the political system, Mr. Tanin said.

Steadily improving the coordination of support for the rule of law should remain a central objective this year, he said, adding that UN can offer support to that end.

Nexus Between Peacebuilding and Development

Another central focus will be the nexus between peacebuilding and development, which necessitates coherence and complementarity of work across the UN system present in Kosovo, as well as with the broader range of multi-lateral and bi-lateral development initiatives, he said.

Intensive effort is needed to create more economic growth and opportunity, which in turn would ease political tension, Mr. Tanin continued. Despite extensive natural and human resources, few opportunities are being opened for major investment. Unemployment is at high levels. Education needs to be modernised and de-politicised. Harmful environmental practices, which significantly affect public health, need to be addressed systematically.

Human Rights

On the human rights front, he highlighted that implementation is uneven and directly influenced by political and inter-community tensions. Laws and programmes designed to uphold the rights of minority groups and the protection of cultural heritage remain matters of real concern, along with the realisation of property rights, and the still-limited access of women to property ownership.

The returns programme for displaced persons has faltered in part due to the significant shortcomings in each of these areas. Without ensuring the necessary conditions for reintegration into social, economic and political life, even limited returns are unlikely to become more sustainable, Mr. Tanin explained.

On a positive note, he welcomed the willingness of the Government to engage with UNMIK on human rights reporting to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The recent agreement signed on new premises for the Kosovo Ombudsperson, in line with the Paris principles, as well as the appointment of a new chair of the Pristina delegation of the Joint Working Group on Missing Persons, are also welcome developments.

Capacity to Address Migrant Flows and Radicalization

The vast refugee and migrant flows through the Balkan region are unlikely to abate and will continue to challenge the resilience of institutions, he said. Kosovo's planning for contingencies should benefit from international resource and planning support, as well as regional cooperation.

Assuring adequate institutional capacity and responses to the problems of radicalisation and extremism, terrorist training and finance, and the associated traffic of human beings and weapons, is likewise becoming more pressing.

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