War crimes cases relating to the 2001 internal conflict were returned to Macedonia for prosecution. The general elections in June saw violent confrontations between different political parties. Serious concerns were expressed by international organizations about prison conditions and impunity for ill-treatment by the police. Little progress was made to address discrimination against Roma.
Following elections in June, the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity was returned to power, and in July formed a coalition with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).
"Some 164 people were arrested in connection with election violations..."
The run-up to the elections on 1 June was characterized by rivalry between the two ethnic Albanian parties which often resulted in violence. In May, a member of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) was killed, while DUI members alleged that they, their offices or their homes had been attacked by members of the DPA, including an attempt on 13 May to assassinate their leader, Ali Ahmeti.
On election day, Naser Ajvazi was killed in Aračinovo after the special police unit “Alfa” allegedly returned fire on unidentified armed individuals. Voting was suspended in several cities and election results subsequently annulled in 187 polling stations, necessitating a re-run in several major cities.
Some 164 people were arrested in connection with election violations, including fraud and intimidation. Twenty-eight police officers were suspended and 11 of them charged with election fraud.
- In October, Agim Krasniqi and eight others were convicted for possession of firearms, being part of a criminal gang and causing public disorder. They received sentences of between five and six years’ imprisonment.
In November the European Commission reported that Macedonia had not yet met the criteria for membership of the EU. Reforms, including on the conduct of elections, independence of the judiciary, police accountability and prison conditions, as set out in a Stabilization and Association Agreement, were not fully implemented. Consequently no date was set for accession talks.
International justice – war crimes
- In July, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal), Johan Tarčulovski, an Escort Inspector in the President’s Security Unit, was convicted on three counts of war crimes and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. He was responsible for the deaths of seven ethnic Albanians and the detention and cruel treatment of over 100 others in Ljuboten in August 2001. Former Minister of the Interior Ljube Boškovski, indicted for superior responsibility for crimes committed by Johan Tarčulovski, was acquitted.
Justice system – war crimes
In September, proceedings opened in the “Mavrovo” road workers’ case, one of four cases returned for prosecution to Macedonia from the Tribunal in February. The road workers had been abducted in August 2001, allegedly physically ill-treated, sexually violated and threatened with death before being released some hours later.
Ethnic Albanians had argued that the cases returned from the Tribunal should be subject to the Amnesty Law adopted in March 2002, which applied to all those involved in the 2001 armed conflict, except in cases of war crimes taken under the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. As this case had been returned by the Tribunal some argued that the amnesty law should apply. However, Skopje Criminal Court requested that DUI assembly member Hisen Xhemaili be stripped of his immunity from prosecution in order to face trial.
No progress was made in resolving the fate of three ethnic Albanians and 13 Macedonians who were victims of enforced disappearance and abduction in 2001.
Torture and other ill-treatment
In the absence of an independent oversight mechanism, allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were subject to internal investigations by the Interior Ministry, which failed to be independent or impartial. In February, for example, national television showed mobile phone footage, apparently taken by a police officer, of the bruised and bloody face of a man detained in Brodec in November 2007 during Operation Mountain Storm. While police officers responsible for the footage were suspended pending investigation, the Interior Minister refused to re-open an internal investigation into the incident, in which six people were killed and others allegedly ill-treated by the police.
- In July, 17 men, including 13 of those arrested in Brodec, were convicted of armed attacks against the police, preparation of a terrorist act and weapons possession.
The European Court of Human Rights in April found Macedonia in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom from torture) for failing to investigate the claim of five Romani applicants that they had been ill-treated by police in 1998 in a restaurant in Štip and subsequently in detention.
In May the UN Committee against Torture highlighted concerns about the failure of the authorities to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment; the continued absence of an independent external oversight mechanism to investigate and monitor alleged police misconduct; and the low penalties imposed on police officers convicted of torture and other ill-treatment. In April the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) had also expressed concerns about police violence against minorities, in particular Roma, and the lack of effective investigation. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted similar concerns in its reports in February and September.
The CPT expressed serious concerns about the lack of co-operation by the Ministry of Justice, its failure to remedy “glaring deficiencies” in prison conditions identified in 2006, including the use of chains as punitive restraints, and accommodation amounting to inhuman and degrading conditions in Idrizovo prison.
Counter-terror and security
The HRC in April and the UN Committee against Torture in May recommended that the authorities open a new investigation into their part in the detention for 23 days in 2003 of Khaled el-Masri in a Skopje hotel. He was subsequently unlawfully transferred to the US authorities and flown to Afghanistan, where he was tortured. In October Khaled el-Masri filed a complaint against unknown police officers.
Discrimination – Roma
In April the HRC raised concerns about the authorities’ failure both to guarantee Romani children education in their own language, and to prevent the continued high drop-out rate, segregation and harassment of Romani school children.
Local NGOs reported that their contribution to a consultation process on legislation on discrimination failed to be included in a draft law prepared for presentation to the parliament. The draft law failed to establish an independent anti-discrimination body to provide effective remedies against, or protect people from, discrimination.
The government adopted a national action plan for the advancement of Romani women based on recommendations by Romani women’s NGOs. Little was achieved in implementing the national action plans for the Decade of Roma Inclusion, which were revised but had not received ministerial approval by the end of the year.
An estimated 1,883 predominantly Roma and Ashkalia refugees from Kosovo remained in Macedonia under temporary humanitarian protection. The state failed to guarantee them access to social and economic rights.
In May the UN Committee against Torture expressed concerns about the failures of the system for determining refugee status and the absence of effective remedies by which decisions might be challenged.
Violence against women and girls
Macedonia prepared legislative amendments, but had still to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by the end of the year. The Ministries of Interior and of Labour and Social Policy established protocols for the protection of trafficked children. The authorities reported increasing numbers of internally trafficked people.
In April the HRC expressed concerns about the undue burden of proof imposed on victims of rape, which created impunity for perpetrators. It urged that the definition of rape in the Criminal Code be amended.
Amnesty International reportsFormer Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (10 November 2008)
State of denial – Europe’s role in rendition and secret detention (24 June 2008)