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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Macedonia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Macedonia, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa53c.html [accessed 18 April 2014]
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.
THE FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA

 

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which became independent in 1991 following the breakup of Yugoslavia, is a parliamentary democracy. The first postindependence multiparty elections were held in October 1994. International monitors judged them to be generally free and fair despite numerous procedural irregularities and complaints by the opposition parties. In October President Kiro Gligorov was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by car bomb. Constitutional mechanisms for appointment of an acting President functioned smoothly after the attack.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees a security apparatus that includes uniformed police, border police, and the state intelligence service. A civilian minister controls the ministry, and a parliamentary commission oversees operations.

FYROM was the poorest of the Yugoslav republics, and its economy was closely tied to the other republics, especially Serbia. Conflict in the region and sanctions imposed on Serbia-Montenegro, along with the problems of transition to a market economy, have led to severe economic difficulties. In February 1994, Greece imposed a trade embargo in a dispute over the country's name, flag, and constitution, which contributed to a sharp drop in the gross domestic product. The two Governments agreed in September to resolve some of their differences, leading to a lifting of the trade embargo.

The Constitution provides for fundamental human rights and the Government generally respects them in practice. There are occasional reports of police abuse of prisoners.

The Government closed a number of independent media outlets in the second half of 1995, saying that it was simply introducing order in a chaotic broadcast milieu. However, it has not yet set up a proper regulatory framework.

Minorities, including Albanians, Turks, and Serbs, raised various allegations of human rights infringements and discrimination. Ethnic Macedonians fill a disproportionate number of positions in state institutions, including formerly state-owned companies. Government promises to boost the number of minorities in these institutions have not been implemented, except for the conscript ranks of the armed forces. An attempt by the ethnic Albanian community to open an Albanian-language university was declared illegal by the Government. The Government's use of police in February to close one university building resulted in a violent clash that left one demonstrator dead and nearly 30 demonstrators and policemen injured. Several people, including the rector of the university and the head of the Helsinki Committee in Gostivar, were arrested after the incident, charged, and convicted with inciting to riot, despite a lack of evidence linking them directly to the disturbance. The Government has agreed in principle to most minority demands, but has done little to implement them, citing resource constraints as the reason.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings by government officials.

On February 17, a demonstrator was killed in a violent clash between ethnic Albanians and police who were sent in to close a private, "unauthorized" Albanian-language university (see Sections 1.e. and 2.b.). The Ministry of Internal Affairs claimed after an investigation that the demonstrator was hit by a bullet from a handgun fired by someone in the crowd, not from a police AK-47 assault rifle. However, a credible report from a nongovernmental organization (NGO) concluded that the wounds on the body were probably from an AK-47.

On October 3, a remote-controlled car bomb seriously injured President Kiro Gligorov. Two persons died in the attack, and a number were injured. By year's end, President Gligorov was reovering from his injuries and had resumed a limited official schedule. The investigation continued at year's end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits such treatment and punishment. Informed sources report that mistreatment in prisons is rare. However, police occasionally use excessive force during and following the arrest of criminal suspects.

Prison conditions are generally acceptable. Prisoners complain about unpalatable food and lack of exercise, but there are few if any reports of abuse by prison authorities (who are separate from the police).

In March following a prison takeover, television footage--including that broadcast by state television--showed prisoners being led by police officers from the prison roof. Out of sight of the cameras, the sounds of beatings were audible; thereafter, bloodied prisoners were led out by the police, once again in full view of the cameras.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs apologized after a September incident in which police used excessive force to break up a late-night party in Skopje.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There were no confirmed reports of arbitrary arrest. Opposition political parties alleged police harassment of their members, but there have not been any clear, confirmed cases. There is no systematic use of detention as a form of nonjudicial punishment. Incommunicado detention is not practiced, although the 24-hour deadline for filing of charges and notification to courts after arrests is not always met.

The Constitution states that a person must be arraigned in court within 24 hours of arrest and sets the maximum duration of detention pending trial at 90 days. The authorities must inform detainees of their legal rights and the reason for the arrest or detention. The accused is entitled to contact a lawyer at the time of arrest and to have a lawyer present during police and court proceedings. Indigents are provided with legal counsel.

According to human rights observers and criminal defense attorneys, police often violate the 24-hour requirement and deny immediate access to an attorney. Although the law requires warrants for arrests, this provision is also sometimes ignored, and the warrant issued only some time after the arrest.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Constitutionally, the courts are autonomous and independent. Municipal courts, district courts and a supreme court form a three-tiered system. A Constitutional Court deals with matters of constitutional interpretation. Almost all trials appear to be uninfluenced by political considerations, although there is a credible perception that bribery is not uncommon in the courts. The Constitutional Court has a mandate to protect human rights, but has not taken action in any case in this area. Parliament has yet to pass implementing legislation to establish a people's ombudsman to defend citizens' constitutional and legal rights.

Ten ethnic Albanians who were convicted in the politically charged Albanian Paramilitary case in mid-1994 were all released in August. Two of them were pardoned and the other eight released after having served at least one-third of their sentence with good behavior.

After the Mala Rechica (Albanian university) incident in which a demonstrator was killed in February, six people were tried administratively and sentenced to 30 days for disturbing the public order. Three others were charged with "calling on the people to resist" or "interfering with the police in the performance of their official duties." Albanian university "rector" Fadil Sulejmani was convicted on the first charge and sentenced to 30 months in jail on the basis of a statement he made 2 days before the incident. He had called on ethnic Albanians to demonstrate in favor of the university 2 days before the disturbance occurred. He had not called for any violent action and was not on the scene. His codefendant, a human rights activist, received a 6-month sentence on the same charge. Ethnic Albanian political leader Nevzat Halili was convicted and sentenced to 18 months for interference with the police despite a lack of strong evidence that he had done anything more than observe the events in Mala Rechica. All those convicted were eventually released on bail pending appeal.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The right to privacy of person, home, and correspondence is provided for in the Constitution. Although no instances of abuses were substantiated, officials of an ethnic Serbian political party charged that their telephones were tapped and their privacy violated by the state security service. They also complained about an incident in which police entered the party offices and demanded that a portrait of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic be taken down.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution forbids censorship and provides for freedom of speech, public access, public information, and freedom to establish private media outlets. However, a number of private broadcast stations were shut down by the authorities, including local affiliates of the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation. The Government maintains that it is merely closing unlicensed stations to bring order to a chaotic broadcasting scene. However, it has not set up a proper regulatory mechanism for the broadcast media. Members of the media, and the political opposition believe that the Government is shutting private outlets to restrict the flow of information and opinion. Members of national minorities charge that minority-language stations are targeted disproportionately. While there is no clear pattern of government suppression of the private media, it is difficult for the Government to refute such charges in the absence of a transparent regulatory regime.

In July the Government said that it would not renew the accreditation of the local correspondent for the VOA's Albanian service, alleging that she had engaged in political and even criminal activities incompatible with her status as a journalist. The Government did not detail its charges beyond stating that the journalist was involved in promoting the Albanian-language university in Tetovo, which the Government considers illegal. There were other cases in which journalists working for Albanian-language media were taken into custody by police, harassed, and in one case deported. A correspondent for an opposition weekly and a correspondent for an independent Turkish-language paper also had their credentials rescinded.

There are several daily newspapers in Skopje, and numerous weekly political and other publications, including weeklies published by opposition groups. An Albanian and a Turkish newspaper are distributed nationally and subsidized by the Government. The bulk of newspapers and magazines published in the country are government owned and government oriented. Opposition parties have made alleged government control and manipulation of the media a major theme of their complaints about the present Government. The state-owned media report such charges, and in general do give some coverage to the statements and press conferences of opposition parties. The overall balance of coverage, however, is in favor of the Government.

The leading newspaper publisher is a government company that owns the only modern, high-speed printing plant in the country, as well as most newspaper kiosks. Opposition groups complain that they are charged high prices for the services of the printing plant. Newspapers can be imported from Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, and Greece only with the permission of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The former Ministry of Information has been downgraded from a ministry to a secretariat, but it continues to decide on accreditation of journalists and to be involved in closing independent media outlets.

Academic freedom is respected in theory and practice. However, an attempt by the ethnic Albanian community to open an Albanian-language university was declared illegal by the Government (see Sections 1.a., 1.e., and 2.b.).

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights. Advance notification to the police is required, but the authorities do not appear to abuse the requirement. Opposition rallies occur on a regular basis.

Political parties and NGO's are required to register with the Interior Ministry in compliance with a comprehensive political party registration law. Some 44 political parties are registered, including ethnically based parties of Albanians, Turks, Serbs, and Roma.

An attempt by the ethnic Albanian community to open an Albanian-language University was declared illegal by the Government. On February 17, police action to close a university building resulted in a violent clash that left 1 demonstrator dead and nearly 30 demonstrators and policemen injured, after police opened fire in response to rocks and lumber thrown by members of the crowd.

Several people, including the rector of the university and the head of the Helsinki Committee in Gostivar, were arrested after the incident and charged and convicted with inciting to riot (see Section 1.e.). In October the Government publicly reaffirmed its position that the university is illegal by refusing to grant its students conscription deferments (available to state university students).

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution specifically provides for freedom of religion for "the Macedonian Orthodox Church and other religious communities and groups."

The Government does not generally interfere with the practice of religion. However, the refusal of the Serbian Orthodox Church to recognize the independence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church has led to difficulties for Serbs who wish to worship in their own church. On a number of occasions the Government has refused Serbian Orthodox priests permission to enter the country.

While only the Macedonian Orthodox Church is mentioned by name in the Constitution referring to freedom of religion, it does not enjoy established status. However, members of other religious communities credibly charge that the Government favors it based on the ease with which it can obtain property and building permits for new construction. During 1995 at least two or three houses that did not have such permits and were being used as mosques were destroyed by the authorities.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens are permitted free movement within the country as well as the right to leave and return. These rights may be restricted for security, public health, and safety reasons, but are fully respected in practice.

The law on citizenship is highly restrictive, requiring, for example, 15 years of residence for naturalization. This has left some people who were living legally in the country at the time of independence without citizenship. This particularly affects ethnic Albanians who had moved from other parts of Yugoslavia before independence. As citizens of the predecessor state living in the territory of the FYROM at the time of independence, they believe that they have a right to citizenship.

Ethnic Albanian political leaders also charge that Ministry of Internal Affairs officials responsible for making citizenship determinations discriminate against ethnic Albanian applicants. The officials are said to make more demanding documentary requirements and to fail to act on applications expeditiously. There are also credible charges that officials demanded bribes in return for a favorable decision. However, the same kinds of citizenship problems also affected many ethnic Macedonians.

While the country accepted a number of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia at the start of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, it restricted entry of additional refugees in 1992, and now accepts only citizens and other former residents for repatriation. There was one report that the Government had deported refugees approved by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees during 1995, but the Government says that they were sent on to asylum states in Western Europe.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens elected a president by popular vote for the first time in October 1994. At the same time they chose a new Parliament in the second multiparty elections in the country's postwar history, the first since independence. Opposition groups charged the Government with massive fraud and boycotted the second round. International monitors, under the auspices of the Council of Europe and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, found the elections to be generally free and fair despite widespread irregularities attributed largely to careless organization.

Ethnic minorities, including Albanians, Turks, Serbs, and Roma, have political parties to represent their interests. Minorities complained that the political structures were biased against them. Albanian-majority districts had far more voters than Macedonian ones, thus calling into question the "one-person, one-vote" principle. The ethnic Turkish and Serbian communities were disappointed because the failure of the previous Parliament to pass a new election law providing for 20 seats to be elected by proportional representation meant that their dispersed members could not elect a candidate on an ethnic basis. Despite such shortcomings, access to the political process was available to all citizens. However, ethnic Albanians complained that discrimination against them in citizenship decisions effectively disenfranchised a large portion of their community (see Section 2.d.).

The 120-member unicameral Parliament governs the country. The Prime Minister, as head of government, is selected by the party or coalition with a majority in the assembly. He and the other ministers may not be members of Parliament. The Prime Minister is formally appointed by the President, who is Head of State, chairman of the Security Council, and commander in chief of the armed forces.

The opposition party boycott of the second round of parliamentary elections in October 1994 resulted in a dominant role in Parliament for the government coalition parties. The composition of the Parliament limits the ability of the opposition parties, and their constituencies, to make their views known concerning matters before Parliament. There is little or no use of public hearings or public commissions on pending legislative matters.

No formal restrictions exist on the participation of women in politics and government. There are 2 female ministers (out of 20) and 4 female Members of Parliament (out of 120).

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights groups and ethnic community representatives meet freely with foreign representatives without government interference. The Forum for Human Rights, a nongovernmental group, operates freely. The Government does not oppose visits or investigations by international human rights groups. The mediator on ethnic issues of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia has visited the country frequently to discuss various issues with representatives of minority groups and with the Government.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex, race, national or social origin, political or religious beliefs, property, or social status.

Women

Women's groups report that there is widespread violence against women. Cultural norms work against the reporting of such violence: there has not been a single case of criminal charges being brought on these grounds for 15 years. A hot line established in 1994 received some 900 calls during 1995.

Women enjoy the same legal rights as men. Macedonian society, in both the Muslim and Christian communities, remains traditionally patriarchal, and advancement of women into nontraditional roles is limited. Some prominent professional women are nevertheless now visible. Women's advocacy groups include the Union of Macedonian Women and the League of Albanian Women in Macedonia.

Children

The Government is committed to providing education and health care for children. Its ability to provide social services is under resource constraints, and the provision of schooling beyond eighth grade and modern medical care is further hampered by poor transportation infrastructure in mountainous rural areas. There is no pattern of societal abuse against children.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population of 2.2 million is composed of a variety of national and ethnic groups, mainly Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Roma, Serbs, and Vlakhs. All citizens are equal under the law. The Constitution provides for the protection of the ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identity of minorities, including state support for primary and secondary (but not university level) education in minority languages.

Ethnic tensions and prejudices are evident. The Government is committed to a policy of peaceful integration of all ethnic groups into society but faces political resistance and the persistence of popular prejudices in the lower levels of administration. Moreover, the economic crisis makes it difficult for the Government to find resources to fulfill minority aspirations, such as more education in minority languages. The main political opposition is more ethnocentric than the governing coalition and has objected to some modest steps to meet the educational needs of minorities.

Popular prejudices can affect the relationship that ethnic minorities have with the Government. For example, in a village in the Skopje area, Macedonian and Serbian parents protested the use of the local school building for teaching children in Albanian as well as Macedonian despite the fact that the Albanian-language classes were on a separate shift.

Representatives of the ethnic Albanian community, by far the largest minority group with 22.9 percent of the population, are the most vocal in charging discrimination. Expressing concern about government manipulation of the data, the ethnic Albanian community boycotted a 1990 census. A census held during the summer of 1994 to correct the situation was marred by the threat of a boycott. A group of experts from the Council of Europe monitored the census and were satisfied that it was carried out fairly and accurately, and that virtually all of the ethnic Albanian community took part. According to the census, Turks are 4 percent of the population, Roma 2.3 percent, and Serbs 2 percent. About 8,500 citizens declared themselves as Vlakhs.

Ethnic Albanians complain that there are not enough Albanian-language media outlets. There are also complaints about the small amount of broadcast time in the Albanian language on state television (1 1/2 hours daily), although this represents an increase over the past year. The Government is seeking international financing to open a third state-owned television channel for minority-language broadcasts. In the meantime, the growth of private media outlets has helped fill some of the gap.

Underrepresentation of ethnic Albanians in the military and police is another grievance of the community. Even in areas dominated by ethnic Albanians, the police force remains overwhelmingly ethnic Macedonian, with only 4 percent ethnic Albanians. The Ministry is making efforts to recruit ethnic Albanian police cadets, but maintains that it is very difficult to attract qualified candidates. Ethnic Albanian leaders allege that there is continued discrimination against those who do apply. There has been more improvement regarding the proportion of ethnic Albanians recruited into the military. Military service is a universal male obligation, and it appears that most young men, whatever their ethnic origin, now fulfill it. The proportion of ethnic Albanians in the ranks is now estimated at 25 percent, although in the officer corps it is lower. A plan to take in minority members as 25 percent of the first military academy class this year was not realized, according to the Ministry of Defense, because there was an insufficient pool of qualified applicants. The first ethnic Albanian was promoted to general in mid-year.

Albanian-language education is a crucial issue for the ethnic Albanian community: it is seen as vital to preserve Albanian heritage and culture. Almost all ethnic Albanian children receive 8 years of education in Albanian-language schools. Only about a third of them go on to high school, partly because of the lack of available classes and partly because the traditional nature of ethnic Albanian society means that many families in rural areas see no need to educate their children, especially girls, beyond the eighth grade.

Ethnic Turks also complain of governmental, societal, and cultural discrimination. Their main complaints center on Turkish-language education, and media. One long-running dispute has been over the desire of parents who consider themselves Turkish to educate their children in Turkish despite the fact that they do not speak Turkish at home. The Education Ministry refuses to provide Turkish-language education for children who do not speak Turkish. The parents have banded together to hire teachers of their own, but this kind of private education is not legally authorized.

Serbs also complain of discrimination, alleged censorship of the Serbian press, and an inability to worship freely in the Serbian Orthodox Church (see Section 2.c.).

Little tension is evident between Roma and other citizens of the country. There has been some progress on providing supplementary Roma-language education, but no call for a full curriculum is apparent. There is some Roma-language broadcasting.

A number of Macedonian Muslims and Bosnian Muslims are also present in the country.

The Government has established a 13-member Council on Ethnic Relations with representatives of the country's main ethnic groups. The Council has not, however, played an active role. Despite underlying ethnic tensions, few incidents have occurred apart from the February 17 university confrontation.

People with Disabilities

Special programs to meet the needs of the disabled exist, to the extent that government resources allow. Discrimination on the basis of disability is forbidden by law. There are no laws or regulations mandating accessibility for disabled persons.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1991 Constitution provides citizens with the right to form trade unions. There are restrictions on this right for the military, police, and civil service. The Council of Trade Unions of Macedonia (SSM) is the successor organization to the old Communist labor confederation. It maintains the assets of the old unions and is the Government's main negotiating partner on labor issues. While its officers may tend to oppose strikes because of the legacy of the past, they appear to be independent of the Government and committed to the interests of the workers they represent. An Association of Independent and Autonomous Unions was formed in 1992, and independent unions have been allowed to organize without harassment by the Government or official unions. The disastrous economic situation in the country led to many brief strikes in 1995. These were undertaken mainly by employees of state-owned companies, many of whom were receiving their pay months late or were being laid off as the companies were privatized. The companies, cut off by the Greek embargo from the new markets they had begun developing since the collapse of Yugoslavia, often simply did not have the money to pay their workers. In most cases, the workers and unions understood these difficulties and showed great restraint.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution implicitly recognizes employees' right to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining is still in its infancy. Legislation in this area has yet to be passed by parliament.

Official unemployment is about a third of the work force, and many people who are ostensibly employed are in fact furloughed. Even employed workers routinely receive their salaries several months late.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Legal prohibitions against forced labor are observed in practice.

d. Minimum Age of Employment for Children

The constitutional minimum age for employment of children is 15 years. Younger children, however, are often seen peddling cigarettes or other small items or working in family-owned shops or on family farms. Children may not legally work nights but are permitted to work 42-hour weeks. Education is compulsory through the eighth grade. The Ministries of Interior and Labor are responsible for enforcing laws regulating the employment of children.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The average monthly wage in July was about $225 (denars 8,546). The minimum wage is, by law, two-thirds of the average wage. The economic crisis meant that few workers could support a family on their wages alone and had to do additional work in the informal economy or draw on savings. Yugoslavia had extensive laws concerning acceptable conditions of work, including an official 42-hour workweek with a minimum 24-hour rest period and generous vacation and sick leave benefits. FYROM adopted many of these provisions, including the workweek and rest period.

The Constitution provides for safe working conditions, temporary disability compensation, and leave benefits. Laws and regulations on worker safety remain from the Yugoslav era. However, credible reports suggest that the Ministry of Labor and Social Work which is responsible for enforcing regulations pertaining to working conditions does not enforce them strictly.

If workers have safety concerns, employers are supposed to address the dangerous situations. Should they fail to do so, employees may leave the dangerous condition without forfeiting their jobs.

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