Joint letter from the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches to Mr Harri Holkeri, special representative of the secretary general, United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo
29 March 2004

Dear Mr Holkeri,

We write on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) concerning the recent tragic events in Kosovo, and their implications for stability and peace-building throughout the Balkan region. The background to our concern is the close and long-standing involvement of our organisations, in partnership with the religious communities in the region and church-related humanitarian agencies from Europe and the wider world, in promoting peace and reconciliation throughout the Balkans.

We have also, throughout this period, regarded the role of UNMIK and the internationally-provided instruments at its disposal as being of crucial importance in securing the immediate security needs of all communities in Kosovo, and in providing a framework for its continuation as a multi-ethnic community. It was this recognition which prompted the secretariats of WCC and CEC to write on 16 August 2002 to the the-then Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Mr Michael Steiner, expressing our concern at what was even then happening in Kosovo. That letter included the following two paragraphs:

The deliberate attacks on the churches and holy places of the Serbian Orthodox Church occurring in Kosovo and Metohija at this time are a painful and scandalous manifestation of the extremism and instability affecting parts of this region. We condemn these and all acts of violence and destruction, and remember with sadness all those, from all communities, who have fallen victim of extremism and intolerance in recent years. These attacks are a major obstacle to the hope of a normalization of inter-communal relations in the province.

This situation also reflects the inadequacy of the international protection provided by the interim authorities, including the UNMIK, in Kosovo to the minority communities, and particularly to the Serbian community. We appeal to you and to the responsible authorities in Kosovo to ensure effective security and justice for all the peoples and the protection of their spiritual and cultural inheritance in Kosovo.

It is with great pain that we find it now necessary to repeat these sentiments and appeals, the more so as the recent events have been even more serious in nature and scale: the damage to or destruction of eighteen churches and monasteries, as reported to us by the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church; the loss of life and injuries suffered by many citizens especially in the Serbian community; and the evictions of many families, following the destruction of their homes, who will now join hundreds of thousands ofmore than 200,000 displaced persons and refugees still awaiting their return to Kosovo in their homes after the conflict of 1999.

We are relieved to hear reports that, with the strengthening of the presence of security forces in Kosovo, the situation is now calmer, and we especially wish to reaffirm the vital role of UNMIK, in both its administrative and security aspects, in an exceedingly difficult context. At the same time, we wish to emphasize certain points as follows, and urge their importance not only on for the United Nations but also for NATO and the European Union.

First, whatever the exact sequence of events which prompted the recent outbreak of violence, the extreme continuing fragility of society in Kosovo has been made clear five years after the international community took action in 1999. The failure to foresee and prevent the latest tragedy must not be down-played in an understandable desire to see a speedy return to a surface “normality”. Instead, but it must be a matter for serious reflection by all concerned at the international level. The military action undertaken by NATO in 1999 was justified to the international community as a necessitynecessary to counter ethnic oppression and violence in Kosovo being instigated by the the-then Yugoslav government. Equal to that commitment carried out thenToday, there must be the an equal commitment to maintain the multi-ethnic nature of Kosovo and the protection of its minority communities.

Second, in addition to the suffering directly experienced by people themselves, the particular significance of attacks on religious buildings in this region cannot be overestimated. Throughout Europe, churches and other sacred buildings are cherished both as places of worship for believers and as beautiful historic sites appreciated by people at large. In the Balkan region, however, they have even more special significance: as symbolizingthey symbolize the very identity of a community and its right to live freely and to flourish in a particular place. Any attack on such buildings is, therefore, effectively an expulsion order.

Third, we are aware that UNMIK and KFOR personnel have acted responsibly and courageously in attempting to fulfill their duty in the recent crisis, even to the extent of suffering personal injury in some cases. The main questions must be addressed to the international organisations and governments in whose name they are acting, and whose responsibility it is to see that UNMIK is adequately resourced to fulfill its mandate. At a time when much of the international attention is focusing on serious situations elsewhere in the world, not least the Middle East, it is perhaps understandable that Kosovo and the Balkans as a whole now seem to present less of a threat to peace, and a less urgent call on resources. This would be seriously to misunderstand the situation. Kosovo not only remains a delicate and explosive scene in itself, but carries with it much wider implications. A failure to prevent further conflict and to build peace here would be interpreted in other situations as giving license to resort to violence, without let or hindrance by the international community.

Fourth, as WCC and CEC we are keenly aware of the immense investment – human and material - which has been made in Kosovo and the region in recent years by non-governmental organisations, relief and development agencies (church-related and others), peace-building organisations and the churches themselves. They have a vital role in the building of a civil society incorporating the values of respect for human dignity, tolerance, participation and democracy, without which there can be no stable and peaceful future. This can only be a long, difficult and complex process. Many in this constituency of service have been dismayed by recent events which they fear will have damaging consequences for much of what they have achieved thus far, and will make their future efforts even more challenging. It is vital that they be given the confidence that in Kosovo they have a continuing and strengthened framework of stability and security such as can only be provided by an adequate and effective UNMIK.

Finally, the recent events have shown how little progress has been made towards an acceptable political solution for Kosovo. We are aware that this is an exceedingly difficult and complex issue, and that there are at the moment a number of alternatives being proposed, none of which appear to be acceptable to all parties involved. The recent events, it is to be feared, will have deepened mistrust and antagonism still further. As representing representative organisations comprising churches which are communities of faith, however, we appeal to all actors in the political process, both in the region and in the international community, not to yield to despair. In particular we ask that religion, which too often in this context is seen as a factor making for antagonism, be viewed for the potential it can offer for reconciliation, and that the religious communities in the region be taken seriously as partners in long-term peace-building. Our organisations will, therefore, be doing whatever they can to encourage and enable the Serbian Orthodox Church and other churches to play their role in promoting a spirit of dialogue within which a constructive political process can develop.

We thank you for attending your attention to this letter, and assure you that your demanding and vital work is accompanied by our prayers and good wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia Rev. Dr. Keith Clements
WCC General Secretary CEC General Secretary