Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour to join so many friends of Kosovo to mark such an important milestone.
A little over twenty years ago, in what is today the independent state of Kosovo, more than a million of our fellow Europeans were caught up in an horrific conflict. The human suffering was of a kind, and on a scale, we had all hoped would never be seen again on this continent.
The unfolding humanitarian catastrophe, together with the failure of intensive diplomatic efforts, meant that NATO simply had to intervene.
Their action undoubtedly saved lives, and for that we are thankful. However, we do remember all those who died, on both sides of the conflict. Their families and friends are in our thoughts today.
We also remember and give thanks to the servicemen and women from the UK and other NATO countries who served in Kosovo; and we commemorate the fourteen British soldiers who gave their lives in the cause of peace.
For their sake and the sake of all the innocent lives lost and the many others directly affected by the conflict, we must look to the future and finish the work that began with the liberation of Kosovo. We must fight for justice for all the victims, pursue reconciliation and strengthen peace and stability in Kosovo throughout the region.
As Kosovo continues to address the legacy of the past, progress is being made. It is encouraging that, so far,
384 men and women have been formally recognised as survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.
It is also important that both Kosovo and Serbia continue to work together on identifying the fate of missing persons.
Crucially, for reconciliation to be possible, and for Kosovo to move forward, there must be justice for victims and survivors.
The UK, as one of Kosovo’s many friends, stands ready to help Kosovo strengthen the rule of law and hold perpetrators to account.
The UK’s relationship with Kosovo is one of genuine and abiding friendship. Friends support each other, and we are honest with each other, even when the truth is difficult.
It is in that spirit of sincere friendship that I say this:
The commemorative events in Pristina last week quite rightly bore the refrain “for our freedom”, to remember those who suffered, fought and died to secure that freedom.
However, it is a refrain that also reminds us that now is the time for the people and Government of Kosovo to fully shape their freedom. Kosovo’s leaders should commit themselves again to the rule of law, and to build a stable democracy – free from corruption, nepotism and organised crime. This is the best way to create jobs for young people, and to nurture a society where every citizen is not just protected by law, but welcomed and valued.
We know from our own experience in the UK that ensuring all groups and ethnicities feel integrated, included and valued is not easy.
However, we also know that a society which strives to nurture a common vision for all its people is a society that is stronger and more able to achieve its full potential.
So today, as we celebrate Kosovo’s hard-won freedom, and commemorate the lives lost on all sides 20 years ago, we congratulate the people of Kosovo on the progress they have made, and we urge them to strive for that common vision for their country.
As they do so, and Kosovo takes forward its efforts to build a stable, prosperous, multi-ethnic state, they can continue to count on the committed support of the United Kingdom. Thank you.