Linking Peace, Security and Durable Solutions in a Multi-Ethnic Society: The Case of Kosovo

The case of Kosovo provides many interesting insights about the linkages between Security Sector Reform (SSR) and durable solutions to displacement. Rooted in political exploitation of ethnic rivalries between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs, the Kosovo conflict made headlines in 1998 and 1999. Some 1.9 million Kosovo Albanians (or 90 percent of the population) were displaced by targeted violence of Serbian troops and security forces of the Milosevic regime. After a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervention – a bombing campaign of strategic targets in Serbia – Serbia agreed to withdraw its troops in June 1999.

In the chaotic months that followed, the majority of displaced Kosovo Albanians returned, while (the threat of) reprisals displaced some 245,000 Kosovo Serbs, Roma, Egyptians and Ashkali, some of whom returned in subsequent years, but many of whom remain displaced. In 2014, 17,300 Kosovars remain internally displaced within Kosovo and there were about 220,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Serbia and Montenegro. Some of the key ingredients for durable solutions for Kosovar IDPs include justice and security objectives, such as restitution of property, justice for abuses committed during the conflict and a justice and security system that they trust to guarantee their safety, in addition to sufficient income and access to health care, education and other social services.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 placed Kosovo under the international administration of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), with NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) providing security for the territory. In 2008, after negotiations to finalize Kosovo’s status failed, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence. The European Union’s Rule of Law Mission subsequently took on many of UNMIK’s tasks.

Given the absence of a Kosovo security and justice system after the withdrawal of Serbian troops, many SSR efforts were undertaken under UNMIK and subsequently European Union’s Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo. The Kosovo Police Service (KPS) was established, as well as the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) – a lightly armed civilian force with an emergency response and humanitarian mandate. To placate the ambitions of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to be the new security sector in Kosovo, KLA ex-combatants made up the KPC as well as approximately 50 percent of the KPS. The KPC was disbanded after independence, and the Kosovo Security Force established, which was more multi-ethnic and had a somewhat wider mandate that included international peacekeeping. In the judiciary, governance structures were established, the legal system was revised, equipment provided and infrastructure rehabilitated. Inclusion of community voices was actively sought in an internationally-driven Internal Security Sector Review process and the international community took great care to ensure that the Kosovo institutions were multi-ethnic and broadly representative of all the groups in Kosovar society. This was especially successful in the Kosovo Police, which is one of the most trusted Kosovar institutions. Programs also focused on careful vetting of security and judiciary personnel to avoid having the new security and justice apparatus tainted by the presence of perpetrators of conflict abuses.

These reforms and security and justice developments have an impact on durable solutions. Trust building elements of SSR, such as inclusiveness, multi-ethnic representation and vetting can assuage mistrust of IDPs, and begin to build legitimacy. However, such processes also lead to some issues in responsiveness to IDP security concerns, as for example when Kosovo Serbian police officers refused to protect Kosovo Albanian IDP property from attacks by Kosovo Serbs. As such, the Kosovo case shows that to build a truly multi-ethnic security sector, filling quotas needs to be complemented by political commitment to overcome ethnic tensions, training and time to build positive experiences. Similarly, slow vetting processes in the judiciary slowed down the already back-logged justice system. This had particular consequences for those IDPs waiting for property disputes to be resolved as an essential ingredient for durable solutions. Though many disputes were handled fairly quickly and efficiently by the Kosovo Property Agency (a special body created to deal with property disputes resulting from the conflict that can be seen as a positive example of dealing with property disputes related to a conflict), those who had to go through the ordinary justice system have had to wait many years for the adjudication of their cases, further slowed down by delays in the vetting process. As such, this examination of the Kosovo case suggests that there is a need to balance the need for vetting with the need for immediate dispute resolution and service provision.

For the international community, the Kosovo case demonstrates the intrinsic link between SSR efforts and durable solutions. If SSR efforts were to include a focus on IDP security and justice needs – for example by incorporating IDPs as a disaggregated category in SSR assessments and monitoring, training development and delivery, and policy development – they could make a significant contribution to durable solutions to displacement. At the same time, humanitarian actors working with IDPs would be well-advised to pay attention to longer-term peacebuilding activities addressing justice and security challenges, to ensure that IDP concerns are taken into account. By ensuring communication and coordination between the two, durable solutions would be more achievable.