Fjala e plotë e Kryeministrit të Republikës së Kosovës, Albin Kurti në seancën e Këshillit të Sigurimit të Kombeve të Bashkuara

Thank you Madame President,

Distinguished members of the Security Council,

There is a deep and uncomfortable irony — and, frankly, a dystopian feeling — in responding to false allegations of human rights abuses made by a country known to have committed the last genocide of the 20th century, and a government that is currently one of the biggest authoritarian threats to regional peace and security.

This very Security Council established the ICTY in 1993 because of “horrific crimes” and “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions. The Serbian government throughout the ’90s ordered, planned, and committed murder, torture, mutilation, and rape, committing genocide in Srebrenica and in Kosova. Feminist legal scholars have extensively shown how rape was used as a tool of war. The brutality of what was committed changed international human rights law forever.

Out of this misery, Kosova emerged from the war as a symbol of the fight for dignity and the triumph of human rights. And we did not grow bitter. We have built ourselves into a forward-facing multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Republic, and a growing and robust democratic state. Sixteen years after independence, and a quarter-century after war and devastation, today we stand tall and proud — a republic for all, a multi-ethnic society of all.

Our Government’s dedication to democracy, rule of law, and human rights has bolstered both our economy and internal unity. Since the NATO intervention, we’ve actively engaged with numerous international allies to establish democratic and efficient institutions.

In the last three years, our economy has surged: with 6.2% average growth, doubled Foreign Direct Investments and exports, and a 2/3 rise in tax revenues without substantial fiscal policy change. We’ve funneled this growth into the region’s largest fiscal package, recognized by the World Bank, to directly aid citizens, families, and businesses in facing global energy and cost-of-living challenges.

Kosova is a success story of NATO intervention in the spring of 1999, and an inspiring lesson on how economic development and democratic progress can go hand in hand. This progress has been recognized by a number of international organizations. The 2023 Freedom House report ranks Kosova 1st in the Western Balkans, 2nd in Europe, and 3rd globally for advancements in political rights and civil liberties. We improved by 22 places in just two years in the Reporters Without Borders’s World Press Freedom Index. Similarly, we jumped 21 places in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index since our government took office.

Our growth and wellbeing are shared with minorities. We proudly have and enforce one of the constitutions with the highest protections of minority rights which include 20 guaranteed seats in the parliament (out of 120) out of which 10 are for Serbs. For perspective the entire population of Kosova is approximately 1.8 million, and the Serbian community is about 4% of it. Serbs in Kosova also run 10 out of 38 municipalities, so over 25% of them. We have made sure to allocate a substantial part of our budget to them and made sure that the Serbian language is an official language everywhere.

We are actively working, with the help of international governments and international NGOs, to bolster these rights. Just last year, the Ministry for Communities and Returns — led by an ethnic Serb minister — allocated millions for 265 grants to NGOs, farmers and small businesses from non-majority communities. The majority of these funds went to Kosova Serbs. This month, we’re launching a new initiative to support employment for up to 2,000 residents of the four northern municipalities. This effort will be facilitated by our newly established Employment Agency Office at the Municipality of Leposaviq – a Serbian majority municipality.

The Ministry of Finance’s ‘Kosovo Generation Unlimited’ program provides paid internships for youth, awarded also to the Kosova Serb youth. Our Energy Efficiency program subsidizes energy-efficient home heating equipment, with 17% of subsidies benefiting non-majority communities, including Kosova Serbs. We’ve allocated funds for building and repairing homes in Serb communities, and provided an additional 5.6 million euros to Serb-majority municipalities this year. Education grants for these municipalities are over 20% higher per student compared to others.

In the period of 2008–2022, the 10 Serb-majority municipalities enjoyed on average a 62% larger budget per capita than the rest of Kosova. And for 2024, the Ministry for Communities and Returns has the largest budget increase of all ministries – apart from the Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sports, which has the investment for the Mediterranean games 2030. The Office of Prime Minister press releases are in Albanian and in Serbian language all of the time. In addition, Government meetings are also live streamed both in Albanian and Serbian.

The idea that Kosova is conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign, or prosecution against the Serb community is a lie — one that has been debunked by numerous public bodies. Last October, the European Parliament approved a resolution calling on Serbian authorities and media to refrain from hate speech against Kosovars and the dissemination of propaganda about ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘pogroms’ in Kosova. Last year, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights detailed how the Serbian government intentionally spreads fear regarding the false endangerment of Serbs in Kosova in order to radicalize society and to create a toxic atmosphere in which an agreement with Kosova would be rejected.

The false claims have also been disproven by the European Stability Initiative, a think tank based in Berlin and Vienna that obtained documents directly from official Serbian institutions. Their official statistics on state health insurance, enrollments in schools, pension recipients, the birth rates in hospitals prove that the percentage of Serbs leaving Kosova corresponds to that of those leaving Serbia. Therefore, Serbs who leave Kosova, just as those who leave Serbia, do so to pursue opportunities in Western Europe, not to flee some fictional ethnic cleansing campaign.

Instead, let’s focus on Serbia’s treatment of its ethnic Albanian population today: an ethnic cleansing campaign carried out administratively. The Serbian Government has systematically removed over 4,200 ethnic Albanians from the Civil Registry in Medvegja and over 2,000 in Bujanoc. This erasure has tangible consequences: victims lose access to IDs, passports, medical services, social assistance, vehicle registration, property transactions, pensions, and voting rights, leaving them stateless. This discriminatory targeting constitutes a method of depopulation against the Albanian community in Serbia.

Ethnic Albanian citizens are far from being the only targets of Serbia’s authoritarian regime. On the 2nd of January of this year, The Guardian’s editorial board described the state of politics there as “state capture”. A few hours ago, the European Parliament adopted with overwhelming majority a resolution calling for an investigation into the elections held in December, citing manipulating results, aggressive rhetoric, verbal abuse and Russian media actively engaging in disinformation on behalf of the government.

Serbia has aligned itself with Russia. It is the only European country, except for Belarus, not to impose sanctions following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And it acts as the Kremlin’s Trojan horse in Southeastern Europe, in a geopolitical war against the democratic world. When I was a political prisoner in Serbia at the age of 24, for 2 years and 7 months, I heard the guards loudly expressing joy and euphoria one day. It was September 11, 2001. Sadly, that violent, anti-democratic sentiment prevails, and mafia, authoritarianism, and the glorification of torture reign supreme.

I now turn to the Central Bank of Kosova’s recent Regulation on Cash Operations, which entered into force on February 1. Let me be absolutely clear: the Regulation does nothing to prohibit or prevent the Government of Serbia from providing financial support to Kosova Serbs. Any suggestion to the contrary is nothing more than false propaganda aimed at inciting ethnic tensions. The Regulation seeks merely to ensure the transparency and legality of cash imported into Kosova, in line with both our Constitution and EU monetary policy. The very same rules apply to all cash imports from any country, in any currency: they do not ban transfers of dinars from Serbia, any more than they ban transfers of dollars from the U.S., pounds from UK, or for that matter, lekë from Albania.

The Central Bank of Kosova is committed to doing all that it can to ensure that Kosova Serbs are able to continue receiving financial support from Serbia, uninterrupted and unimpeded. It has sent a letter to its counterpart, the National Bank of Serbia, proposing an agreement on the transfer of funds through legal and transparent means, in full compliance with the new regulation. And our government is fully committed to ensure a smooth transition with sufficient time invested in education and information instead of imposing penalties for noncompliance. We are committed to jointly identify and promote the best available tools to ensure a continuation of financial transfers from Serbia towards legal municipalities or households.

The Central Bank’s regulation seeks not to harm any single group of citizens, but rather to protect all citizens — of every ethnic community — from the threats of organized crime, arms trafficking, and money laundering. All of these activities rely on the ability of criminal groups to receive illegally smuggled cash, largely across our border with Serbia. Citizens in the north of Kosova — the overwhelming majority of whom are ethnic Serbs — are threatened day in and day out by such groups.

Our Serb citizens face intimidation from criminal groups dictating their actions, from protesting to voting. Disobedience results in violence, car burnings, and threats to family members. When Kosova Serbs ask to meet with me, we cannot make the meetings public because their lives and livelihoods are threatened. This must stop. Belgrade cannot be permitted endlessly to finance its criminals and terrorists in Kosova with undeclared and unregulated streams of money, flowing freely — and illegally — into our country.

And that, Distinguished Members of the Security Council, is the real source of Belgrade’s hysteria over the Central Bank’s regulation. Belgrade has sounded the alarm not because of dinar exchange into euro, but because we are banning large sacks of money at the border. They are crying foul, not out of concern for the plight of Kosova Serb citizens, but because their convenient pipeline of illegal cash into the north of Kosova is about to be shut off. This gathering, and the propaganda and vitriol that has preceded it, is nothing more than part of a ruthless campaign by an authoritarian regime.

The Republic of Kosova is fortunate to enjoy broad support from its international partners and allies in its fight against organized crime and corruption. The Central Bank and its regulations are just as essential to that fight as police officers, prosecutors, and judges.

In some ways, we are not surprised that Serbia would create problems out of democratic procedure. Since the end of the war, the Serbian government, run by many of the people who held senior positions in the Milosevic government — including Mr. Vucic, Milosevic’s Information, Propaganda Minister — has mustered all its power and imagination to find new ways to terrorize Kosova. Unsurprisingly, Serbia not only promotes genocide denialism, but also violently enforces it. After Serbian opposition leader Nikola Sandulovic apologized for Serbia’s war crimes in Kosova and laid flowers on the grave of a seven-year-old victim, the Serbian secret service arrested him early this January and beat him until he was unconscious, leaving him paralyzed. Meanwhile, Kosova Serbian journalist Radomir Dimic, who has resided in Serbia, has publicly stated that he plans to return to Kosova because Mr. Vucic’s authoritarian regime has made life unbearable for journalists. And as we speak now, he has arrived in Kosova.

Sadly, even 25 years after the war, Serbia persists in its attempts to violently reclaim Kosova. A glaring instance of this occurred on September 24th last year. Around 80 paramilitary troops, organized and supported by Serbia, launched an unprovoked attack on a Kosova Police patrol, resulting in the death of one police sergeant, Afrim Bunjaku, and injuries of two others. Despite the terrorists’ attempt to use innocent Serbian pilgrims as human shield in a monastery aiming to exploit any casualties for anti-Kosova propaganda, our police force’s professionalism averted civilian casualties.

Then, on September 27, Serbia declared an official three-day mourning period for the terrorists killed in the Kosova Police’s anti-terror operation. And you noticed today, that Mr. Vucic was recalling several Serbs being wounded or injured in different incidents, but he did not mention three killed Serbs. Why did he not mention them? Because he knows that they were terrorists which were financed, supported, orchestrated by him. That is why the three killed Serbs were not mentioned at all.

And on September 29, the White House National Security Council drew the world’s attention to an “unprecedented” deployment of Serbian tanks, troops, and heavy artillery along the Kosova–Serbia border. Only after U.S. and other international pressure did Serbia finally draw down its forces.

Meanwhile, Kosova Police discovered a disturbing set of documents left behind by the terrorists in their hasty retreat back to Serbia. The documents showed that the September 24 attack had been part of a larger plan to violently annex the north of Kosova, via a coordinated assault on 37 distinct positions. A corridor was then to be established to enable a continuous supply of arms and troops from Serbia.

In the subsequent months, Serbia has rejected international calls to extradite the terrorists to Kosova or otherwise hold them accountable. The paramilitary leader of the September 24 attack, Milan Radoicic — the U.S. and UK–sanctioned former Vice President of the Belgrade-sponsored political party in Kosova, Lista Srpska — still roams free in Serbia, just as Serbia itself has thus far escaped international sanctions for its role in the attack. Radoicic has an outstanding arrest warrant by Interpol that was issued this past December, and that Serbia has ignored.

This impunity is both unacceptable and dangerous. As President Biden stated in October of last year, “history has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction. They keep going.” These are wise words. Serbia must be held to account for its terror and aggression. Otherwise, it will keep going.

Serbia’s increasingly alarming acts of aggression and terrorism make it all the more urgent that it fulfill its obligations under the Basic Agreement, reached between our countries on February 27 of last year. The agreement was facilitated by the European Union and reflects Europe’s renewed engagement in resolving the main dispute between Kosova and Serbia. It has also been endorsed as legally binding by the United States. The European Union’s obligations in the dialogue emanate from UN General Assembly Resolution 64/298. Accordingly, on May 12 of last year, the EU notified the Secretary-General that an agreement between Kosova and Serbia had been reached. The next logical step would be for the EU to formally register that agreement with the UN.

The Basic Agreement sets a benchmark of de facto recognition, based on the 1972 Basic Treaty between the East and West Germany. The Agreement’s text expressly invokes the UN Charter as the guiding light governing the relations between our countries. It imposes on the parties a number of obligations, including: to develop good neighborly relations (as specified in Article 1), to engage with one another on the basis of sovereign equality and to respect one another’s territorial integrity (as specified in Article 2), to refrain from the threat or use of force (as specified in Article 3), and Serbia’s obligation not to object to Kosova’s membership in any international organizations (as specified in Article 4). The chief innovation of the agreement is to elevate de facto relations between our countries to the level of sovereign equals — beyond the mere recognition of documents, symbols and institutions and a minor upgrade of liaison offices.

Unfortunately, nearly a year after the agreement was reached, Serbia seems to be suffering from a severe case of buyer’s remorse. Its Prime Minister, Madam Ana Brnabic sent a letter to the EU on December 13, stating that the agreement isn’t legally binding. Serbia also rejects two key obligations: not to object to Kosova’s international memberships and to respect its territorial integrity. This refusal, particularly the latter, suggests a willingness to retain the option of invading Kosova.

Against this background, signing the agreement is not a mere formality; it’s the only guarantee for its full and unconditional implementation, Kosova’s national security, and regional peace. Despite my repeated offers, Mr. Vucic has refused to sign. I invite him, present at this meeting, to sign here and now, emphasizing the UN Charter’s crucial role in our agreement and relations. This symbolic act would demonstrate his commitment to peaceful and neighborly relations with Kosova.

Kosova is primarily known worldwide for the massacres and ethnic cleansing under the Milosevic regime, but few realize this was just the latest chapter in a century-long history of state crimes against Kosova Albanians. Starting with Ilija Garashanin in the 19th century, leading Serbian figures devised 24 plans for the deportation or extermination of Kosova Albanians. Our people’s history represents one of the greatest, yet internationally unrecognized, anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century. While the genocide in the 1990s marked a climax, our oppression began long before and resonates with citizens across many nations.

Acknowledging the painful history of oppression and violence endured by our people, we are committed to safeguarding the rights of all individuals. Our past experiences have instilled in us a profound desire to create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone. As a nation that has overcome immense adversity, we aspire to serve as a beacon of solidarity and respect for human rights.

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