Human Rights Developments

In 1995, Macedonia faced a number of serious obstacles associated with the transition from communism. Once a member of the Yugoslav federation, the young republic must now construct democratic institutions, revitalize its civil society and decentralize its economy—all demanding tasks in any circumstances. But Macedonia also found itself on the borders of a Balkan war. Bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia severely affected the country by exacerbating inter-ethnic tensions, damaging the economy and threatening stability in the region. An assassination attempt on President Kiro Gligorov in October 1995 underlined the fragility of the country's political balance. United Nations forces have been deployed in the country since 1992 to prevent a spill-over of the war.

Despite these obstacles, Macedonia has taken some significant steps toward democratization since declaring its independence four years ago. Substantive reform has opened the door to the Council of Europe and laid the foundation for a multiparty system based on the rule of law. Human rights are satisfactorily guaranteed in Macedonia's new constitution and relevant legislation. Nevertheless, while human rights are guaranteed in Macedonian law, their application has remained selective and incomplete.

The main human rights problem in 1995 was the treatment of national minorities. Macedonia has a vast number of minority groups, including Albanians, Turks, Roma, Serbs and Vlachs, all of whom reported state discrimination. While some of their complaints were politically motivated, the Macedonian government did not always take adequate steps to provide for basic minority rights, especially regarding equal access to state employment and education in minority languages. While the government addressed some of these problems in recent years, including a 1995 decision to expand the pedagogical academy in the Albanian language, the lack of improvement in many areas contributed to a deterioration in inter-ethnic relations.

By far the largest and most vocal of the ethnic communities is the Albanians who, according to official statistics, comprised almost one quarter of the population. Despite some improvements in recent years, Albanians were still grossly under represented in the police force and state administration, even in areas where they constituted a majority of the population. For example, Albanians made up 4.12 percent of the staff of the Ministry of the Interior (which includes the police) in June 1995, only a slight improvement from 1.7 percent in 1992. In addition, some voting districts in the western part of the country, where Albanians predominate, were three times larger than districts in the east inhabited primarily by ethnic Macedonians.

One major complaint of the Albanians concerned higher education in the Albanian language. An attempt in early 1995 to open a private Albanian-language university in Tetovo was deemed illegal by the state, and the university was ordered shut down. The initiative continued nevertheless, and one Albanian man was killed during clashes with police on the first day of classes on February 17. In April, the organizers of the university were sentenced to between eight months and two and one-half years' imprisonment after a trial that violated international standards of due process. They were released on bail one month later.

But Albanians were not the only victims. All citizens of Macedonia suffered from the country's weak democratic institutions, immature political parties and economic hardships. Despite the adoption of democratic legal standards, for example, there were numerous violations of due process in Macedonian courts. Defendants were sometimes held in detention for longer than the twenty-four hours allowed by Macedonian law, did not have proper access to a lawyer or were denied the right to a fair trial. The political opposition also reported continued mistreatment by the state during 1995, including phonetapping and police harassment.

Freedom of the press also remained a concern during 1995. The state-run company Nova Makadonja maintained a virtual monopoly on printing and distribution, which severely limited the possibilities for an independent press. In May 1995, the government closed eighty-five private radio and television stations, including the most influential minority stations, allegedly for technical reasons. On December 17, the director of the private television station ART was detained and ordered to hand over a videotape of the founding of the university initiative in Tetovo. On February 17, the first day of classes in Tetovo, journalist Branko Gerovski was severely beaten by police as he left the scene of fighting between police and ethnic Albanians. The Interior Ministry subsequently disciplined the policemen responsible.

The Role of the International Community

The United Nations and OSCE

The international community took a strong interest in Macedonia, primarily because of a fear that fighting there would spark a larger conflict in the region. To prevent this, a 1,200-member United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) and an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission had been deployed in Macedonia since January 1993 and September 1992, respectively, to observe and report on the internal and external threats to the country. In addition to U.N. patrols along the physical borders, both organizations attempted to assist the government with the process of democratization and occasionally to mediate among the various political forces, especially the ethnic communities. Both the government and leaders of the different ethnic communities praised the preventive role the U.N. played in helping to maintain peace.

To preserve stability, however, both the U.N. and the OSCE tended at times to downplay human rights problems within the country. Only gentle criticism was directed against a friendly Macedonian government that is seen as a stabilizing force.

U.S. Policy

The United States maintained close relations with Macedonia after its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, although Greek pressure prevented the establishment of full diplomatic relations until October 1995. Approximately 500 American troops were based in Macedonia during 1995 as part of the United Nations preventive deployment force. They were responsible for monitoring the border in the north between Macedonia and Serbia. Officially, U.S. assistance totaled approximately $25 million a year. Military cooperation was close, with a number of joint exercises taking place during 1995 and more planned for the coming year.

The Department of State's Country Report for Human Rights Practices in 1994 presented an accurate, though general, picture of human rights in Macedonia. Official U.S. statements on Macedonia were largely sympathetic to the government. Regarding inter-ethnic relations, the U.S. mostly called for "dialogue" and "tolerance" rather than criticize governmental actions.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki received no reports of Macedonian or foreign organizations that were restricted in their right to monitor human rights in the country. However, in December 1994, the ethnic Albanian organization Forum for Human Rights had 200 copies of a book titled "Evidence of Crimes Committed Against Albanians in Macedonia" confiscated on the Macedonian border as it was brought in from Albania. The government's reason for confiscation was "not possessing a permit for importing and distributing foreign printed materials."

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

During 1995, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki focused primarily on raising public awareness about violations of civil and political rights in Macedonia, especially restrictions on minority rights. It also examined the work of UNPREDEP and the OSCE monitoring mission and their role in preventing the spread of war and promoting democratization in the country. A fact-finding mission to Macedonia during the summer of 1995 examined the status of minority rights, press freedom and allegations of police abuse.

This report covers events of 1995

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