Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: The Need for Accountability

Which governing authority in Kosovo should bear responsibility for failing to prevent the recent violence?
By Fron Nazi

The recent clashes between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo that left at least twenty-four people dead and hundreds injured should not raise the old question of whether Kosovo’s two main communities can co-exist. The more relevant question is which governing authority should the victims hold accountable?

Both Europe and the United States have slowly retreated from Kosovo, maintaining all is well and leaving behind not only the status issue unresolved but also a unique system of government that is not accountable to the people.

On one hand, there is the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, the ultimate authority that is responsible for the police and the courts. On the other, Kosovo has a Provisional Institute for Self Government, PISG, comprised of elected citizens, but which is no stronger than a high school student council. The structure is further complicated by the Serbian government’s ongoing influence over the Kosovo Serbs.

Taken together, Kosovo’s governing system is like a Byzantine maze with doors in Pristina, Belgrade and the UN. Both the authorities and civilians lose their way in the shadows and turns.

So, which governing authorities can the people of Kosovo - both Albanian and Serbian - hold accountable for failing to prevent the recent violence? The locally elected PISG is accountable to the electorate but lacks power, while UNMIK has power but is accountable only to the UN Security Council.

Under its current structure, the governors of Kosovo – both the local and the international officials – are the most “independent” in the world – purely in the sense that none of their authority is accountable to the people.

UNMIK has developed a road map comprised of a series of standards that the Kosovars must fulfil before final status will be discussed. Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs call for the region to remain part of the state of Serbia and Montenegro, while the Albanian majority calls for independence. There are two bumps in the road: in order for the PISG to meet the set standards, UNMIK has to relinquish more power to them.

But UNMIK is hesitant about doing this, as it would place Kosovo further on the road to independence, and, as UNMIK has repeatedly warned, there is no guarantee that even if the standards are met that Kosovo’s independence will follow.

While the status issue remains in limbo, two parallel governing systems have emerged. Powers are divided between the UN, which is legally responsible but not accountable, and the PISG, which is, at best, morally responsible and accountable. The end result is a “stateless state” where emphasis is placed on an on-going exercise in democracy rather than the establishment of responsible elected officials and rule of law.

Although Kosovo’s future status remains unclear, UNMIK needs to clearly transform its “nation building” role and establish principles of good governance applicable to both UNMIK and the PISG that allow Kosovo’s citizens to hold them accountable. For example, UNMIK has led the drive for an anti-corruption policy, but at the same time has made it clear that the policy does not apply to the UN authorities who continue to control the purse strings.

UNMIK needs also to address issues that are not negotiable, like the fate of missing persons and the return of Serbs. This should not be done piecemeal, as now, but collectively, so each group’s concerns are addressed. The inhabitants of Kosovo should not be addressed as ethnic Albanians or ethnic Serbs - which only adds to the divisions - but as citizens.

The police and the judiciary need to be strengthened by allowing the rule of law to take precedent over respective western political concerns. This would lead to the arrest of such groups as the so-called “Serb Bridge Watchers” who patrol the bridge across the River Ibar in the divided town of Mitrovica, and the Albanian militants who use the guise of “nationalism” to justify their criminal acts.

Since the war, non-governmental organisations have developed a number of “inter-ethnic citizen” campaigns that address such common causes as improving health facilities and schools. These need supporting.

With regard to the recent violence, UNMIK, the PISG and Serbia ought to be held accountable for their practice of paying only lip service to citizens’ concerns. The PISG believes a few words said in Serbian or a visit to a Serb enclave wins them points with the international community; UNMIK fails to use its legal powers to address violations of the law; as for the government in Belgrade, it continuously stokes the fires of ethnic hostilities.

In the end, however, it is Europe and the United States that must be held accountable for their back-door exits from Kosovo and for leaving the status question in limbo.

Fron Nazi is Director of Balkan Projects, East West Management Institute, Inc.

More IWPR's Global Voices