Police abuse is threatening social stability in Macedonia and could worsen the turmoil in the South Balkans, Human Rights Watch said today. In a report released today, the New York-based human rights organization charged that the Macedonian government is ignoring a pattern of police brutality, while the international community turns a blind eye. "

Human Rights Watch said today. In a report released today, the New York-based human rights organization charged that the Macedonian government is ignoring a pattern of police brutality, while the international community turns a blind eye. "

The Macedonian government may be an important ally in the region," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "But ignoring human rights violations is short-sighted. Long-term security in the Balkans can only be achieved through establishing the rule of law and respect for human rights, especially minority rights."

Macedonia's ethnic communities, especially Albanians, are most susceptible to abuse, the report says. But police abuse and due process violations affect all of Macedonia's citizens, regardless of ethnicity. The report notes that opposition political activity and low socio-economic status greatly increase a person's likelihood of being subjected to police abuse.

The most serious form of that abuse is the use of excessive force by the police at the time of arrest, and the physical maltreatment of those in detention. Individuals are sometimes arrested without a warrant and beaten until they confess to a crime. With disturbing frequency, individuals are held longer than the twenty-four hours allowed by law, not informed of the reason for their arrest, and denied immediate access to a lawyer.

The international community has failed to address the illegal behavior of the police and the courts, among other human rights violations. At least U.S. $616 million in foreign aid and loans has been provided to the Macedonian government, which is widely considered a stabilizing force in a sensitive region. The presence of 1,000 U.N. troops has helped keep the peace in Macedonia, but U.N. reporting has downplayed human rights violations. The monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has whitewashed human rights abuses in Macedonia, as demonstrated in an appendix of internal OSCE documents to the HRW report.

The U.S. government bears a special responsibility for the behavior of the Macedonian police. It has trained at least 329 police officers, including a group of special forces that were used in the most severe case of police brutality that took place in the town of Gostivar on July 9, 1997. Government officials "refuse to combat police violence and, at times, have applauded it," the report concludes. The Ministry of the Interior is reluctant to discipline its employees, the prosecutor's office is resistant to press charges against policemen, and the courts often refuse to convict, despite a preponderance of evidence.

Copies of the report can be downloaded from the HRW website at: https://www.hrw.org/reports98/macedonia/