In a letter to the President of Macedonia, Human Rights Watch cautioned today that a proposed amnesty for ethnic Albanian rebels should not bar prosecution for serious human rights abuses.

President Boris Trajkovski promised an amnesty for former members of the ethnic Albanian rebel National Liberation Army as a key element of the peace process that Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders commenced in August. While not opposing the amnesty, Human Rights Watch argues against immunity for war crimes.

“If peace in Macedonia is going to endure, the perpetrators of serious violations on both sides to the conflict must be brought to justice,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “The amnesty should not prevent accountability for those most serious crimes.”

Human Rights Watch has investigated several cases of serious NLA abuses against civilians. In June 2001, NLA forces detained and tortured eight elderly ethnic Serb civilians from the village of Matejce, who were subjected to mock executions.

On August 7, 2001, uniformed members of the NLA kidnapped for several hours three road construction workers, who were severely beaten and sexually abused. There have also been allegations of kidnappings, expulsion of civilians, and destruction of religious sites by the NLA.

Human Rights Watch also renewed its calls on the Macedonian government to investigate violations by its own security forces and ethnic Macedonian paramilitaries. In particular, the group urged investigation of an August 2001 attack on the village of Ljuboten, in which the police shot dead six ethnic Albanian civilians.

Noting that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague has jurisdiction over gross violations of international humanitarian law committed during the Macedonia conflict, Human Rights Watch underscored that the Macedonian government has primary responsibility for holding violators on both sides to the conflict accountable.