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Amnesty International Calls for Justice for Macedonians

Global human rights organisation Amnesty International has asked the Macedonian government to reverse a recent decision which grants war crimes suspects immunity from legal proceedings.

The decision was made in July and relates to four war crimes cases which were returned to Macedonia from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in 2008.

The significance of the decision is best understood by looking at the context of events.

The 2001 armed conflict was brought to an end by the Ohrid Peace Agreement and resulted in a so-called Amnesty Law being passed.

The exact interpretation of this law remains the subject of some dispute. Some understand the law as granting immunity to all who took part in the insurgency. Others, including Macedonia’s chief public prosecutor, Ljupco Svrgovski, consider that the four cases which were referred to the ICTY involving suspected war crimes, should be exempt from this immunity and should face investigations.

By applying the Amnesty Law to these four investigations, Amnesty International believes victims of the armed conflict may not receive justice.

“The parliament’s decision is clearly inconsistent with international law and will leave the victims and their relatives without access to justice,” Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s researcher on the Western Balkans, said.

After the 2001 conflict, the ICTY requested four cases for it to examine. But in 2008, the ICTY returned the four cases to Macedonia. Macedonia’s domestic prosecutors then decided to re-open the cases but many feared that reviving the cases would rekindle ethnic disputes of the past.

The first case, dubbed “NLA leadership”, suspected that the then heads of the NLA, most of whom are now high ranking politicians in the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration party, DUI, of having responsibility for atrocities committed against civilians during the six month long conflict.

NLA is the acronym used to describe the now disbanded ethnic Albanian rebel force.
Another case accused former rebels of capturing and torturing several construction workers and another for cutting the water supply to the Macedonian town of Kumanovo for several months.

The “Neprosteno” case accused former rebels of the alleged kidnapping and killing of 12 ethnic Macedonians and one ethnic Bulgarian.

Only the last case has reached a courtroom so far but proceedings have moved slowly because of constant delays and postponements.

“Authorities must thoroughly and impartially investigate all cases returned from the ICTY and ensure that all those allegedly responsible for violations of international humanitarian law are brought to justice. The survivors and victims must also be provided with full reparation,” a statement from Amnesty International read on Thursday.

Amnesty International also stated that since 2001 “no adequate measures have been taken to investigate the cases of six ethnic Albanians believed to be the victims of enforced disappearances by the Macedonian Ministry of Interior police”.

The Albanians also disappeared during the armed conflict.

Some have speculated that the recent parliament decision, made in July, was part of a post-election deal between the two ruling parties, the ethnic Macedonian VMRO DPMNE party and the DUI. The elections were held on 5 June.

Amnesty International states that a political deal “can not” interfere the prosecution of violations of international humanitarian law.

The human rights organisation stated that it hoped that the decision, which will soon be assessed by Macedonian Constitutional Court, will be scrapped.