What lies behind the diplomatic struggle between Kosovo and Serbia related to Kosovo’s place in Interpol and what will be the final decision of this organization?
With the approaching of the General Assembly meeting of Interpol, international organization gathering police from 192 countries, public and diplomatic activities of governments from Belgrade and Pristina are picking up the pace.
Belgrade is trying, by lobbying with foreign diplomatic representatives in Serbia, to prevent Kosovo from becoming a member of the organization, by persuading them it would be detrimental to the security of the region and beyond.
Kosovo, which has this year for the first time managed to have their request for membership accepted for voting, is working on obtaining the necessary support from two-thirds of the countries that will be casting their votes at the session scheduled to start on November 18 in Dubai.
The media in Serbia are flooded with texts reporting statements of Serbian ministers, particularly of the Minister of Interior Nebojsa Stefanović and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacić. Statements serve to encourage the public, as well as to demonstrate that criminals rule Kosovo and that it would be an unprecedented act to accept “such a creation” into the organization whose aim is to fight crime and terrorism.
The Serbian side wants to show that Pristina cannot be trusted when it comes to the access to confidential information of Interpol about various criminal groups, terrorists, and war criminals. Serbia seems to be particularly worried about that, since it would, as claimed, jeopardize Serbia’s security.
On the other hand, Kosovo wants to be an internationally recognized state, and with the assistance of its allies, it is doing everything to enter all international organizations, even before it becomes a member of the United Nations.
Fight against Crime out of Focus
Judging by the officials’ statements, Belgrade and Pristina are primarily looking at the forthcoming decision of the Interpol General Assembly as a definitive diplomatic battle, while the police and security aspect is currently out of focus.
Henceforth, there are very few available analyses related to what the concrete impact of one or the other decision of the General Assembly will be in the arena of fighting crime.
Almost the only security aspect that Belgrade insists on is that in case Kosovo is accepted, thousands of warrants could be issued for members of the army and police who took part in the conflict in Kosovo in the late nineties.
Milan Dimitrijević from the Ministry of Interior also mentions possible abuses of confidential information that Kosovo would have access.
“This alone would mean that Serbia would be endangered from the point of view of security and its protected data in the Interpol system would be compromised.”
Similar arguments were used by Israel when it was lobbying against last year’s admission of Palestine to Interpol. The information available, however, does not lead to a conclusion that the number of warrants has increased since the decision about membership was made.
When it comes to fighting against crime, Dimitrijević believes that this field is still well covered.
He says that Kosovo, pursuant to Resolution 1244 of the SC, is using the capacities of Interpol through UNMIK’s office in Pristina in order to fight crime and corruption.
“So, it’s clear that UN and Interpol have established mechanisms for fighting crime and corruption on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija,” says Dimitrijević.
On the other hand, Aleksandra Ilić, Ph.D., believes that without involving all stakeholders on the territory where crime exists there is no fight against crime.
“To ignore the fact that there is a territory, population, flow of goods and people and if we really want to eradicate those types of criminal behavior, we can’t ignore the fact that is it happening right next to us, we can’t ignore the state of facts.”
Ilić adds that it is just one dimension of the problem and that another question is whether Kosovo has the capacity to fulfill the obligations imposed by Interpol to its member states.
“We have to get back to the issue of Kosovo’s capacity… Even if it gets that support, does it have the capacity to meet all the requirements that Interpol imposes on its member states through the resolution and Constitution?”
When discussing the fear of pressing charges against members of the army, police, and even leading state officials from Serbia, Ilić says that that too is primarily a political question, but a very uncertain one.
“If we take what Interpol expects from all member states an adherence to procedures, we couldn’t expect that such warrants would be issued just like that. Then again, that too is a political question. First, if they accept Kosovo, which we do not recognize, there will be a question and problem how the two polices will cooperate when they do not cooperate at all now, while at the same time it is insisted on international cooperation between relevant police bodies. What is it going to look like in practice? That’s why I’m afraid it could be an unsurmountable obstacle.”
Brief Chronology of Attempts
Kosovo submitted the first request for membership in Interpol in 2010, followed by one in 2015, while in 2017 it gave up just before the General Assembly meeting in China because of the lack of support.
Namely, at last year’s meeting, Palestine was admitted to Interpol, despite great efforts by Israel and America to prevent it, which is probably the reason why Kosovo gave up on its request.
This is indirectly confirmed by the statement made just a few days prior to the start of the General Assembly meeting in Beijing by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Behgjet Pacolli, announcing a “tactical retreat … in cooperation with the USA” and preparations for the next summit in the United Arab Emirates.
The preparations seem to have had some effect since the request from Pristina has for the first time found its way to the agenda of the General Assembly meeting and that 192 members of Interpol will have an opportunity to say whether they want to accept Kosovo to this international association of crime polices.
Who Can Be a Member of Interpol?
Aiming to remove the numerous existing dilemmas regarding the procedure of becoming a member of Interpol and to explicitly set the conditions under which a country can apply and become a member of this international organization, the aforementioned last year’s meeting in Beijing saw a document adopted.
This document is Resolution number 1, based on a study conducted by Interpol’s adviser Hans Corell.
The aim of the Resolution was to define more closely Article 4 of the Interpol’s Constitution, which stipulates that the organization can accept “any country” whose government submits a request to the organization’s Secretary General and if a vote is taken, the request is subject to approval by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.
Since Article 4 does not stipulate any closer provisions and criteria regarding the procedure and conditions, Corell’s document defines it as follows:
The resolution stipulates that the word “country” in Article 4 of the Constitution shall be interpreted as “state”.
Furthermore, it is stated that the requesting country “should explain that it meets the conditions for statehood”, which includes “a territory, a population, a government; and capacity to enter into relations with other states”.
“An important element is also that the requesting country mentions if it is a member of the United Nations or an Observer State”.
Therefore, the document uses the word “should”, not “has to”. In addition, it states that it is “an important element”, but not “obligatory”. This prompts the question whether Serbian officials are correct when they claim that admitting Kosovo to Interpol would be against the rules of this international organization since membership in the UN is a necessary requirement.
Milan Dimitrijević says that the possible membership of Kosovo would be a precedent that would create legal insecurity.
He emphasizes the fact that the Resolution stipulates membership in the UN, i.e. status of an Observer State as “important”.
“The Serbian side bases their arguments on interpretations, analyses, attitudes and experience of international experts dealing with such issues at Interpol and who had direct influence on the content of the Resolution,” says Dimitrijević and adds that those experts believe that the way Serbian arguments are formulated does not leave room for an arbitrary decision.
Aleksandra Ilić, Ph.D. from the Faculty of Security Studies is of a different opinion. She said to BIRN that the formulations that were not imperative leave room for a number of possible scenarios to be dealt with by a certain provision and those exceptions were more likely to be made.
“It is not stipulated anywhere that it is a necessary requirement without which a positive decision could not be made, either in case of Kosovo or any other entity that would submit a request.”
Nevertheless, she believes that placing focus on the membership in the UN or at least status of an observer state in Corell’s annex is not likely to be neglected just like that.
Ilić compares the specific circumstances surrounding last year’s acceptance of Palestine with the Kosovo case.
“Palestine is special, but it does have the status of an observer state in the UN. That was an argument for its admission at the time. In the case of Kosovo, that argument is not valid, so the question remains how a positive decision, in this case, could be justified.”
What Is the Voting Procedure?
The impression of general politicization of granting Kosovo membership in Interpol is supported by the earlier practice, i.e. voting procedure at the General Assembly meeting.
Each member state comes to a General Assembly meeting with its platform, which is in accordance with general, as well as current interests of the state.
Most member states do not reveal how they will vote, so the outcome is not certain, even if a country promises to vote “for” or “against” through diplomatic channels.
Quorum is not a condition for voting on the membership application.
The request is adopted if a two-thirds majority of members who voted either “for” or “against” (“sustained” votes do not count) vote for it, which means it is not a two-thirds majority of the total number of member states or the number of present members, which makes the job somewhat easier for the requesting state.
For example, when the General Assembly voted on Palestine, there were 157 members taking part, while 133 members were present when the Assembly voted on Palestine’s request.
Out of that number, 75 voted “for”, 24 voted “against”, while others sustained from voting.
Therefore, with 75 votes “for”, Palestine became a member, since it had the support of 75.76% of those who voted either “for” or “against”, which would not have been enough had a two-thirds majority of the present members been necessary.
Serbian Political Angles
While Serbian officials release alarming statements almost on a daily basis saying that a possible membership of Kosovo in the international police organization would be a catastrophe, deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo Fatmir Limaj recently said that he was skeptical regarding the acceptance of Kosovo to Interpol, since a large number of votes needed to be secured.
Belgrade also states that all measures have been taken to prevent Kosovo from becoming a member of Interpol.
“Bearing in mind the complexity and intertwining of, first and foremost, police and national interests of each member state, we have taken all steps to submit to both countries who have and who have not recognized Kosovo as a state all relevant arguments, so that they would make decisions in favor of Serbia,” says Milan Dimitrijević from the Ministry of Interior.
Aleksandra Ilić, Ph.D., says that it is not quite clear what is really happening “behind the curtain”, but that it is clear that the tension is being raised in the Serbian public.
“Knowing to some extent how the media work, there is definitely an element of creating moral panic regarding that issue.”
Dimitrijević says that if international law was obeyed, as well as the rules that define the work of INTERPOL, the situation would be crystal clear and Serbia would have no reason to feel anxious.
“Bearing in mind the fact that we are living in a world of powerful countries which have the authority and capacity to disobey the international law and turn opportunities into their victories, Serbia is worried that the law will be violated, in which case the outcome would be unpredictable“.
Unlike Belgrade officials, certain opposition politicians believe that Kosovo’s membership would have positive effects. Sasa Jankovic is of that opinion.
“A membership in an organization providing international police help and working in compliance with the highest standards can only increase the security of honest people and elevate the level of law application. I am the president of a political organization, which believes that the most important policy is – “a person in the center of attention”. What is good for the people is also good for their state. A nation and state are meaningful only when they serve their people.”
The political party Dveri, just like the official Belgrade, is against Kosovo’s membership in Interpol. However, Boško Obradović says that this does not mean that his party supports the attitude of the government.
“With the Brussels Agreement, the government allowed Kosovo to enter certain international organizations, and the problem is that we don’t know what organizations that refer to since the government is keeping the agreement secret… the government is leading a double-policy, where they sign agreements with Pristina on the one hand, while on the other hand, they are allegedly fighting against the fulfillment of certain provisions of such agreements.”
Gordana Čomić from DS also believes that Serbia is facing a difficult task. She says that Serbia will, in a sense, definitely be a loss. Whether it stops Kosovo’s admission to Interpol or not, it is bound to receive criticism, either from the Serbian or international public.
However, she too points out that the public still does not know exactly what obligations Serbia accepted regarding Kosovo’s membership in international organizations and she urged the government to let the public know that.
“Serbian public doesn’t know what we’ve agreed to and what we can dispute. We know the general attitude that ’there will be no obstruction in intergovernmental and other organizations’, but we do not have a clear “list” what that means. Why it could be UEFA, but not UNESCO or Interpol remains a mystery.”