Mr. Ali Ahmeti
Political Spokesman for the National Liberation Army (NLA)
Dear Mr. Ahmeti,
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 in 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 the groups organized under the name of National Liberation Army (NLA) take all measures to 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.
With regard to the renewed fighting, the NLA leadership should refrain from any 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 also call on the NLA leadership to ensure that the civilian population of the affected areas enjoys as much protection as possible against dangers of harm resulting from the fighting. 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). Also, the use of civilians as shields for defensive positions, to hide military objectives or to screen attacks, violates the principles of the international humanitarian law.
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 on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, including the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Human Rights Watch also recognizes the obligations of the Macedonian security forces to uphold the standards of international humanitarian law and urges their adherence to these norms. Letters expressing Human Rights Watch's concerns to this effect are being sent to the president and the prime minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
We hope, Mr. Ahmeti, 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 that the NLA respects obligations under international humanitarian law.
Europe and Central Asia Division
cc: Mrs. Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor, ICTY