Covering events from January - December 2003

The human rights situation continued to improve, but there were continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security officials, and reckless use of firearms by border guards that sometimes had fatal results. The trafficking of women and girls for forced sexual exploitation continued, although there were arrests and convictions of some perpetrators. New legislation strengthened the Office of the Ombudsperson.


The international community continued to support the peace process following the conflict in 2001 in the north and west of the country between an ethnic Albanian armed opposition group and the Macedonian security forces. In March, EUFOR – a European Union (EU) armed force of between 300 and 400 soldiers from different countries – took over NATO's military functions of protecting monitors from the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). EUFOR was in turn replaced in December by an EU police force.

Despite some violent incidents and the appearance of the so-called Albanian National Army – an armed ethnic Albanian group purportedly seeking the union with neighbouring Kosovo and Albania of areas in Macedonia inhabited predominantly by ethnic Albanians – the security situation remained relatively stable. However, underlying tensions between the Macedonian and Albanian communities at times became apparent in violent inter-ethnic incidents.

In January it was announced that the "Lions", an ethnic Macedonian paramilitary police force set up following the 2001 insurgency and allegedly responsible for many human rights violations, would be disbanded. It was subsequently agreed that half the force would be incorporated into police or army units.

In June the government bowed to pressure from the USA and entered into an impunity agreement not to surrender US nationals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes to the International Criminal Court. The agreement was passed by parliament in October. Such agreements are in breach of states' obligations under international law.

In July parliament passed an amnesty law for those who had avoided compulsory military service since 1992. This affected 12,369 people, of whom 3,260 were ethnic Macedonians, 7,730 ethnic Albanians and the remainder from Macedonia's other ethnic groups.

In September parliament enacted a law that significantly extended the powers of the Ombudsperson Office in relation to state authorities, and proposed setting up six decentralized units throughout the country.

Killings by border patrols

In some instances, guards on the border with Albania, where smuggling was rife, used excessive force, in some cases resulting in loss of life.

  • On 18 June, Agron Sherif Skënderi, an Albanian citizen, was shot in the head twice and killed by Macedonian border guards while trying to cross the border. The authorities said that he and another Albanian citizen, Arben Qamil Kaja – who was shot and wounded but escaped arrest – were smuggling arms and ignored orders to stop. Arben Qamil Kaja said that the border patrol opened fire without warning. No evidence of arms smuggling was known to have been produced, and reports suggested that the two men were engaged in illegal but small-scale trading in everyday goods.

Police torture and ill-treatment

Police continued to ill-treat people during arrest and detention. On 16 January the authorities authorized publication of reports by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but failed to carry out thorough and impartial investigations into the reports' serious allegations of torture.

  • On 7 February, two Roma, Skender Sadiković and Memet Dalipovski, were allegedly beaten by police in Kumanovo. Skender Sadiković said that he was beaten at his home and in Kumanovo police station by six officers wielding an axe handle, to try to force him to confess to a theft. Memet Dalipovski said that five officers beat him at the station. Unusually, the Minister of the Interior ordered an investigation, which confirmed that the police had ill-treated him. The police officers involved were reportedly disciplined by a 15 per cent salary reduction for six months.

Failure to address past abuses

Inadequate investigation continued in the "Rashtanski Lozja" case, in which the authorities were suspected of extrajudicially executing one Indian and six Pakistani nationals on 2 March 2002. In March 2003 the authorities announced a special inquiry, to finish by mid-April. However, no results were forthcoming by the end of 2003.

Similarly, there appeared to be no progress on ascertaining the fate of 20 people who either "disappeared" or were abducted during the 2001 fighting, despite promises by the authorities that concrete information on the cases would be produced.

Trafficking of women and girls

A number of people were arrested and charged with trafficking women and girls for forced sexual exploitation. In June the US State Department reported that, in the period from April 2002 to March 2003, 70 charges were brought against 100 alleged perpetrators, and that there were 11 convictions with sentences ranging from six months to seven years' imprisonment.

  • In February the authorities rescued at least 40 women trafficked for forced sexual exploitation, mainly foreign nationals, in raids in Skopje, Tetovo, Gostivar, Struga and Bitola, and arrested a purported main trafficker. He was sentenced in March to the minimum sentence of six months' imprisonment for involvement in prostitution, and escaped from custody on 19 June. The Struga prison director and other officials were sacked over his escape and the court criticized for the leniency of the sentence. He was rearrested on 2 July in Montenegro and transferred back to Macedonia. A new trial of him and others on charges of trafficking and forced prostitution began in October with the evidence of protected witnesses from Moldova and Romania and in December he was sentenced to three years and eight months' imprisonment.
  • In October, five people in Skopje were sentenced to between five and eight years' imprisonment for trafficking women and girls from Moldova for forced prostitution.
  • Also in October, six people in Gostivar, including two Albanian citizens and a Bulgarian woman, received sentences of between seven and 12 years' imprisonment. They were convicted of trafficking and other crimes in connection with an armed incident between rival traffickers in January in which three trafficked women – two from Bulgaria and one from Moldova – were shot dead.

Refugees and the displaced

Over 2,500 people displaced by the 2001 fighting were still unable to return to their homes. In May over 600 Roma from Kosovo, including women and children, made an unsuccessful attempt to leave Macedonia – where they had temporary asylum – to seek asylum in Greece. They had fled to Macedonia, fearing attacks on them by Kosovo Albanians after the 1999 NATO operation over Kosovo. They camped on the border until August, when they were persuaded to leave and were all offered asylum status under the terms of the new asylum law which was passed by parliament on 16 July. However, most refused, hoping instead to gain entry to the EU, and thus faced the threat of forcible deportation back to Kosovo.

AI country visits

An AI delegate visited Macedonia in November and December.

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