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Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 - Macedonia

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 December 2000
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 - Macedonia , 1 December 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8de63.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
Comments This report, Human Rights Watch's eleventh annual review of human rights practices around the globe, covers developments in seventy countries. It is released in advance of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2000, and describes events from November 1999 through October 2000.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Human Rights Developments

Although the international community continued to view Macedonia as a model of stability and democracy in the region, its human rights record remained patchy in 2000, with police brutality and the treatment of minorities continuing areas of concern. Events leading up to the election of Macedonia's second president at the end of 1999 typified the country's mixed record: after a generally well-conducted first round of elections on October 31, 1999, the November 14, 1999, run-off was flawed by serious irregularities in some districts. When the state electoral commission ordered a new round of voting on December 5 in 230 polling stations, irregularities were again reported, marring the victory of Boris Trajkovski, the candidate of the ruling coalition, who took office on December 15.

The killing of three police officers outside the Albanian village of Aracinovo on January 11, 2000, sparked some of most serious cases of police abuse in Macedonia since the riots and subsequent crackdown in Gostivar and Tetovo in 1997. During raids on Aracinovo by police units during the three days after the killing, Aracinovo's ethnic Albanian residents reported widespread beatings at the hands of police, as well the destruction of property and the use of tear gas. One of the three suspects arrested in connection with the murders of the police died in police custody, and at the time of this writing, the autopsy report had yet to be released. Nine other suspects were arrested and beaten in custody and some claim to have been forced to sign confessions. At time of this writing, the murders of the police officer remained unsolved.

An investigation by the office of the ombudsman in Macedonia found that the police had used excessive force in Aracinovo and recommended an internal investigation. Although some families were compensated for damage to their property, the government did little to tackle police abuse in the wake of the incident. The suspicious death in custody of another ethnic Albanian man in a Skopje prison on May 14 did little to improve confidence in policing among the Albanian community. In the three months following the Aracinovo killings, three police stations in predominantly ethnic Albanian areas were attacked with explosives, although it was not clear if the incidents were linked.

Macedonia's Roma community also suffered at the hands of the police during 2000. On April 21, a married couple of "Egyptian" ethnicity (Macedonia's so-called Egyptians consider themselves distinct from Roma) was reportedly beaten by police on the road to Ohrid after a traffic stop. The husband, a taxi driver, was arrested for lacking necessary permits (which he later claimed he had presented), was allegedly beaten in custody and sentenced to eight days in jail. On May 14, a sixteen-year-old Roma boy from Negotino Municipality was taken to the police station there, where he was reportedly beaten and forced to confess to various crimes. A further incident occurred on May 26 in the village of Stip, when six Roma men illegally removing firewood from a forest in a nearby village were apprehended by a group of police and village residents. The six men were beaten before being taken to a nearby police station where the beatings continued. The difficulties faced by Roma in Macedonia were further highlighted in June when five Roma houses in the village of Stip caught fire under suspicious circumstances. One of the houses was completely destroyed and the other four badly damaged. Police suspected arson. Roma houses in Stip has been the target of arson attacks in 1992.

A new draft law on information, introduced by the Macedonian government on May 12, drew criticism from local journalists and international press groups. Although there was consensus on the need for a new law to replace existing regulations from the communist era, free speech advocates were concerned that ethical standards for journalists were being transformed into legal provisions regulated by the government. They were also concerned about the requirement that local journalists obtain government-issued press accreditation. The law remained pending. Free expression took a blow in June with reports of widespread confiscations of the Tirana-based daily newspaper Bota Sot in the towns of Tetovo and Gostivar, and a five-day shut-down of its production by a local printer, ostensibly on technical grounds. Bota Sot was generally critical of the government.

In July, the government adopted legislation to resolve the long-standing question of Tetovo University, a private Albanian-language institution that Macedonian authorities refused to accredit as an educational institution. The passage of the law on education on July 25 established a new multi-lingual tertiary institute offering training in business, education, and public management. The internationally funded institution, intended as a replacement to Tetovo University, would allow Albanians to study in their own language, although a proficiency test in Macedonian would be required before their diplomas were officially recognized. Despite receiving the backing of the Albanian party in the ruling government coalition, the new institute did not receive unequivocal support from the country's ethnic Albanian population, many of whom wanted nothing less than the recognition of Tetovo University itself.

The overall standard of September's municipal elections in Macedonia was lower than that of the 1999 presidential elections, with the vote in both rounds marred by irregularities including violence and intimidation in some districts. International monitors pointed to problems with the election law and the fact that administrative measures were selectively applied to media critical of the government. Fewer problems were observed during the second round, although ballot boxes were destroyed in fourteen polling stations.

Despite government promises to reform Macedonia's overly exclusive 1992 citizenship law in line with Council of Europe standards, the law remained unchanged. Drafted at the time of its independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Macedonia's citizenship law never adequately resolved the status of the significant number of Yugoslav citizens who were long-term residents in Macedonia but who were neither born in Macedonia nor ethnic Macedonian. Large numbers of ethnic Albanians, Turks, and Roma who knew no other home than Macedonia remained effectively stateless as a result of the law.

Defending Human Rights

There were no reports of government restrictions on the right to monitor by local human rights organizations, such as the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the Republic of Macedonia, or from visiting international human rights organizations.

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child considered Macedonia's initial report on its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child in January. Among the committee's recommendations to the Macedonian authorities was a call to focus on improving school enrollment rates for minority children, particularly Roma. The difficulties faced by Roma in Macedonia were also noted at a special three-day session in August of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

The OSCE continued to pay close attention to events in Macedonia during 2000. In addition to the long-standing Spillover Monitor Mission to Skopje, set up in 1992 to monitor the Macedonian-Yugoslav border, the OSCE was also active in monitoring the presidential elections in October and November 1999 and local elections in September 2000 through its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Although the first round of presidential elections was deemed acceptable, ODIHR's election observation mission found irregularities in the second round, and in both rounds of the local elections. The resolution of the status of Tetovo University in July owed much to efforts by the OSCE high commissioner on minorities, who also issued a comprehensive report in March on the difficulties faced by Roma and Sinti in OSCE member states, including in Macedonia.

Council of Europe

On May 5, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly decided to end its monitoring procedure for Macedonia. The decision followed a March report from its monitoring committee commending Macedonia's progress in meeting its membership obligations and commitments. The report encouraged Macedonia to bring its citizenship law into line with the European Convention on Nationality.

European Union

In March, the way was opened for negotiations between the European Union and Macedonia on an Agreement on Stabilization and Association, offering the promise of closer economic and political ties. The upgrading in relations was symbolized by the change of the E.U.'s office in Macedonia to a Permanent Delegation. During a June visit, E.U. External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten noted Macedonia's progress and indicated that the agreement was likely to be concluded before the end of 2000. E.U. financial assistance to Macedonia included 25 million euro (approximately U.S. $30.8 million) through the PHARE program and infrastructure support through the OBNOVA program.

United States

U.S. policy continued to support Macedonia's role in the NATO partnership for peace program and to emphasize its role in regional stability. The focus on security cooperation was underscored by a visit from Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton in July and visits by two teams of U.S. military experts in June. That the U.S. remained reluctant to criticize human rights abuses in Macedonia was reflected in the overly positive State Department report on Macedonia in its annual review of human rights practices and its silence over irregularities in the September municipal elections.

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