Perspectives | Interpol

Kosovo’s Interpol membership is far from assured

By - 18.08.2017

As UN General Assembly vote approaches, does Kosovo have the support?

Toward the end of 2014, Slobodan Gavric, a Serbian citizen, was caught in Kosovo’s capital with 12 kilos of explosives, which turned out had been transported from Belgrade to the Arberia neighborhood in Prishtina with no problem whatsoever. As a result, law and order institutions faced a lot of criticism and accusations due to their failure to prevent him from entering Kosovo with weapons which, according to charges, he planned to use for terrorist acts and disturbing the constitutional order.

According to the prosecutor in this case, Gavric entered Kosovo through the Rudnice and Jarinje border crossing without being stopped. In June this year, Gavric was sentenced to 13 years in prison, while the role of the customs officers is being investigated by the Prosecution.

This whole matter provoked a debate, especially within security circles, on the need to impose more rigid control of the state’s borders, as well as on the need to exchange information that is relevant for Kosovo’s security with neighbors. In Gavric’s case, such cooperation would have been needed with Serbia, but it is clear that such a thing is currently almost impossible, despite international efforts to facilitate meetings between Serbian and Kosovar police forces.

A number of regional cross-border initiatives to tackle organized crimes such as human trafficking and drugs smuggling have been established — 33 in total since the mid-’90s — but Kosovo’s lack of recognitions by some countries mean that it is not part of them all. This lack of cooperation, especially with Serbia, in the field of justice and security has made Kosovo a suitable transit country for criminals and just like Serbia it is identified in numerous reports and research papers as a “country vulnerable to organized crime.”

Kosovo as a country does not have official relations directly with Interpol, since it is not recognized by all members.

If we take human trafficking for instance, Kosovo is continuously being considered as a suitable transit country for the trafficking of women, men and children for prostitution and hard labor. Furthermore, according to the United Nations Organization against Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Balkan countries are the “main corridors” of drug trafficking.

The “Gavric” case, characterized as a terrorist case by justice authorities in the country, was only one out of numerous cases that added to the public debate on the immediate need for Kosovo to become a member of the most important police organization in the globe — the International Criminal Police, Interpol. This is because the main goals of Interpol are: to provide a global police information system; continuous support for member countries regarding rule of law; capacity building through support and various training in the field of rule of law; and support towards the identification of crimes and perpetrators through information from the Interpol database, which can only be used to view and share information by member countries.

The physical presence of Interpol at Kosovo’s borders would mean the instalment of this database, as well as other identification tools and equipment. Members of the Parliamentary Committee for Internal Affairs, Security and Oversight of the Kosovo Security Force have repeatedly declared that such a presence by Interpol on Kosovo borders would increase the efficiency of the prevention of cases similar to that of Gavric as well as others, especially those related to organized crime.

Different lobbying leagues

The most serious efforts by Kosovo as an independent country to become an Interpol member took place rather late. The first application, made in 2010 by the then minister of internal affairs, Bajram Rexhepi, got no further than the initial recipient, the Interpol Secretary General in Lyon, and never reached the stage of being reviewed by other bodies. Only five years later, in 2015, was another application for membership made.

But Kosovo as a country does not have official relations directly with Interpol, since it is not recognized by all members. Therefore, all communications between Kosovo and Interpol, for information exchange, warrants, international investigations, criminal cases, and so on, is currently facilitated by a third party, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). This cooperation was established through a Memorandum of Understanding between Interpol and UNMIK in 2002 when Kosovo was still administered by UNMIK.

The research additionally emphasized a lack of cooperation and coordination between the state’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in preparing the country for Interpol membership.

Kosovo’s Interpol membership application, which was signed by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, was made by the state’s UNMIK Liaison Office, similar to the way in which information is currently exchanged between Kosovo Police and Interpol. But, Article 4 of Interpol’s constitution stipulates that applications for membership should be submitted by government authorities; this leaves a gray area in the case of Kosovo, whose statehood is not recognized by many international organizations, including most notably the UN through its Resolution 1244 that asserts a neutral position in this regard.

This issue was also mentioned in the 2016 research by Kosovo Center for Security Studies titled “Gordian Knot: Kosovo’s obstacles towards membership into international security organizations.” The research additionally emphasized a lack of cooperation and coordination between the state’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in preparing the country for Interpol membership (as well as a general lack of concrete steps by the government in making progress towards the integration of the country in security organizations, either regionally or beyond).

Ultimately, Kosovo’s application did not even make the agenda of the 2016 Interpol General Assembly meeting, which is held annually in September. But its inclusion on the agenda of the 2017 Interpol General Assembly, which will be held in Beijing, China, was approved by the Interpol Executive Committee in May. To become a member of Interpol, a country needs the votes of two-thirds of existing members, which means 126 votes.

Besides Kosovo, September’s Interpol General Assembly will also review Interpol membership requests by Palestine and the Solomon Islands, both of which applied in the same year as Kosovo, 2015. While every application will be voted upon individually, some consider the fact that Kosovo (with 114 recognitions out of 190 UN member states) is on the agenda at the same time as Palestine (with 136 recognitions) to be an advantage.

Their thinking is that voting in favor of one and not the other would represent double-standards and that this could perhaps give Kosovo the possibility of being supported by those countries that would potentially vote in favor of the membership of Palestine, whose statehood is also a gray area for international bodies. But there is also the chance that the opposite could happen — that members that don’t want to vote in favor of Palestine also choose to vote against Kosovo’s membership.

Lessons from the past

Kosovo’s previous experience of applying to international organizations has left a bad taste in the mouth in terms of managing to secure the necessary votes of two-thirds of member states.

On November 9, 2015, Kosovo failed to become a member of UNESCO, falling short by just three votes. On that occasion, 15 countries that have recognized Kosovo’s statehood did not support its application, deciding to either vote against, to abstain or to leave the room. They were: Colombia, Antigua and Barbuda, Burundi, Union of Comoros, Egypt, Japan, Poland, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Micronesia, Peru, South Korea, Sao Tome and Principe, Swaziland, and Uganda.

The lack of these votes led to criticism of Kosovo’s diplomacy, run by PDK since 2011, due to inadequate lobbying.

While Kosovo’s authorities have expressed confidence that they will secure Interpol membership this year, their diplomatic track record suggests that this should be viewed with a heavy amount of skepticism.

A look at the history of Kosovo’s path toward membership in regional security initiatives and organizations, shows a pattern of failure of Kosovar diplomacy, especially in lobbying, even though the processes of membership application for regional and European security initiatives has been much easier than the membership process for Interpol.

In 2013, Kosovo applied to be a full member of the Center of Security Cooperation, (RACVIAC), which functions within the umbrella of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). However, it was rejected on the basis that it was not yet a member of the latter.

By October 2014, Kosovo had been accepted as a participant in RACVIAC’s activities, though not with full membership rights due to the positions of non-recognizing countries Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Romania. However despite the fact that by the end of that same year, Kosovo was accepted in SEECP, it never followed up in order to advance its position in RACVIAC.

Looking at another area of Kosovo’s diplomatic work in recent years, we see that it has also failed in securing significant recognitions of its independence. Since 2015, Kosovo has had only four new recognitions, from Antigua and Barbuda, Suriname, Singapore, and Bangladesh.

So, while Kosovo’s authorities have expressed confidence that they will secure Interpol membership this year, their diplomatic track record suggests that this should be viewed with a heavy amount of skepticism.

On the other hand, Serbia has been busy blocking the processes of Kosovo’s integration in international organizations, and the respective recognition of its statehood, and has already made it known through its diplomatic channels that it will try to block Kosovo’s Interpol membership by using all means at its disposal.

Serbian daily “Blic” reported in June this year that Serbia is lobbying to hinder Kosovo’s membership of Interpol. Head of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, moreover declared at the beginning of August that “Kosovo is already being represented in Kosovo by UNMIK and Serbian bodies, and if there was a case when a perpetrator from Kosovo had to be detained, this issue has already been resolved.”

Now, while all eyes have turned toward Interpol, the result will be seen during the Interpol General Assembly meeting in Beijing on September 26-29. But the bitter taste of past experience, suggests that Kosovo may have again popped the champagne cork too early for a process that has yet to be concluded.K

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.