President Boris Trajkovski
Human Rights Watch is a privately funded international non-governmental organization dedicated to documenting human rights abuses throughout the world. In the past ten years, we have committed substantial time and effort to investigating violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia. We have documented violations of international humanitarian law by all sides of the armed conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the NATO war with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Reports of the renewed conflict in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia between security forces and armed groups of ethnic Albanians raise concerns relating to adherence to international humanitarian law. As in all other conflicts on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, our principal concern is that all parties involved respect civilian immunity and ensure the protection of civilians.
Human Rights Watch wants to express its concern that Macedonian authorities take all measures to ensure that security forces comply with basic principles of international humanitarian law applicable to situations of internal armed conflict, and enshrined in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. This provision protects those who do not take an active part in hostilities from the most serious violations, including acts of murder, torture and cruel treatment, the taking of hostages, outrages upon personal dignity, and the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court.
This concern is strengthened by our findings following the March 2001 actions by the security forces against armed ethnic Albanian groups in the western part of the country. Available evidence suggests that government forces were responsible for the deliberate killing of 16-year-old Omer Shabani on April 3 in the village of Selce. We also received reports that families of ethnic Albanians arrested on suspicion of membership in the so-called National Liberation Army (NLA) were unable to obtain any information on the whereabouts of their relatives. Finally, our documentation suggests that government forces were responsible for the wanton destruction and looting of villages perceived as being pro-NLA, including the villages of Selce, Gjermo, Gajre, Drenovec, and Kolte. We urge you to make these incidents the subject of prompt, thorough, and transparent investigations.
With regard to the renewed fighting, Macedonian authorities should also prohibit all attacks against civilians, attacks and reprisals against civilian objects, as well as threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population. We call on the government of the FYR Macedonia to take all available measures to prevent the displacement of civilians.
We also call on the authorities to ensure that the civilian population of the affected areas enjoy maximum protection against the dangers of harm resulting from the military operations. The most fundamental principle of the laws of war requires that combatants be distinguished from noncombatants, and that military objectives be distinguished from protected property or protected places. Parties to a conflict must direct their operations only against military objectives (including combatants).
In this respect we wish to remind Macedonian authorities that the provisions of Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions that prohibit indiscriminate warfare are considered to be norms of customary international law. These provisions are binding on all parties to a conflict, regardless of whether it is an international or internal armed conflict. Indiscriminate attacks are "those which are not directed against a military objective," "those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective," or "those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by the Protocol," "and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction."
We also note that the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) applies to serious violations of international humanitarian law committed after 1991 in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, including FYR Macedonia. Human Rights Watch acknowledges the obligation of the armed Albanian groups to uphold the same standards of international humanitarian law and urges their adherence to these norms. A letter expressing Human Rights Watch's concerns to this effect is being sent to the NLA.
We hope, Mr. President, that you will give serious thought to the points addressed in this letter and, guided by consideration for human life and well-being, do everything in your power to ensure respect for Macedonia's obligations under international law.
Europe and Central Asia Division
cc: Mrs. Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor, ICTY