As NATO leaders convened in Brussels Human Rights Watch pressed forsteps to curb the mounting violence in Macedonia. Peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans, NATO expansion, and missile defense are expected to feature prominently at the NATO meeting, which marks the second stop on U.S. President George Bush's European tour.
"NATO and its member states have invested heavily in the Balkans," said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "But they have failed to insist on accountability and respect for human rights, bringing us to the brink of yet another Balkan conflict. This time it's Macedonia."
Human Rights Watch researchers recently returned from Macedonia where they documented serious human rights abuses by both sides. They reported that the rebel Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) had physically abused eight ethnic Serb civilians whom it arbitrarily detained in the Macedonian village of Matejce. Human Rights Watch also reported that Macedonian forces have begun separating out Albanian men fleeing the fighting, and have subjected some of them to severe abuse in detention.
"Each of these incidents risks escalating the conflict," Cartner said. "NATO should send a clear and unequivocal message that such abuse must stop."
Human Rights Watch also urged NATO member states to recommit to accountability for war crimes committed during all of the Balkan wars.
"Justice is the key to peace in the Balkans. That's why the United Nations set up a war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia,"said Cartner. "But there can be no justice until NATO arrests the war criminals who have run circles around its Bosnia mission for years, and the international community insists that all of the countries of the former Yugoslavia cooperate fully with the tribunal."
Human Rights Watch called on the international community to postpone a June 29 aid conference for Yugoslavia until the new Belgrade government turns over more war criminals to the Hague Tribunal.