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Human Rights Developments

Since declaring its independence in 1991, Macedonia has avoided the war in the former Yugoslavia and established a basic framework for the protection of civil and political rights. Nevertheless, the implementation of these rights has remained a problem. In 1996, the government continued to commit human rights violations against Macedonian citizens of all ethnicities.

The most sensitive issue is minority rights, since Macedonia is made up of numerous ethnic groups, including Albanians, Roma, Serbs and Turks. All of these groups reported state discrimination, especially in minority-language education and state employment. At times their complaints were politically motivated, but, in many cases, the state failed to abide by the non-discriminatory principles of international law.

By far the largest and most vocal of the ethnic communities is the Albanians who, according to official statistics, comprised almost one quarter of the population. Despite some minor improvements, Albanians were still grossly under represented in state jobs, especially the police force. Some voting districts in the western part of the country, where Albanians predominate, were three times larger than districts in the east inhabited primarily by ethnic Macedonians.

The most important issue for ethnic Albanians is education in their mother language. An attempt in 1995 to open a private Albanian-language university was deemed illegal by the state, and the university was ordered to shut down. Four of the university=s organizers were imprisoned after a trial that violated international standards of due process; they were later released on bail while they awaited an appeal. In 1996, the appeals court confirmed the guilty verdicts but reduced each of the defendants= sentences by one year. One of the defendants, Milaim Fejziu, was subsequently released.

Albanians were not the only victims. All citizens of Macedonia, regardless of ethnicity, suffered from the country=s weak democratic institutions.

A constant problem in 1996 was the excessive use of force by the police. A local human rights organization, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, documented numerous cases of arbitrary arrest and abuse in detention. On August 9, a Romani woman, Rakiba Mehmed, died under unclear circumstances after being chased by the police in Skopje. The authorities claimed that she died from a heart attack, but eyewitnesses claimed that they saw her being beaten severely by the police. As of November, the government had not begun an official investigation.

The independence of Macedonia=s courts also came into question after the election of some judges with close ties to the government. Despite the adoption of democratic legal standards, there were violations of due process in 1996. Defendants were sometimes held in detention longer than the twenty-four hours allowed by Macedonian law, did not have proper access to a lawyer or were denied the right to a fair trial.

The political opposition continued to complain about state efforts to restrict its work, such as phone tapping and police harassment. In March, the two largest opposition parties, the Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity and the Democratic Party, submitted a petition with 150,000 signatures calling for new elections. Shortly thereafter, the government proposed, and parliament hurriedly passed, legislation that altered the guidelines for submitting citizens= petitions. In June, according to the new guidelines, parliament decided that new elections would not be held.

In January, the government decided to privatize the state-run media conglomerate Nova Makedonija, which had a monopoly on the printing and distribution of newspapers. As of October, the privatization process had still not begun. Many private television and radio stations exist in Macedonia, but their broadcasts were limited to their local areas.

The Role of the International Community

The United Nations and the OSCE

The international community=s priority was to maintain the territorial integrity and political stability of Macedonia. Toward this end, a 1,200 member United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) and an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission continued to monitor and report on the internal and external threats to the country. In the name of stability, however, both organizations voiced little public criticism of human rights violations committed by the Macedonian government. Macedonia established full diplomatic relations with the European Union on January 10. The E.U.=s PHARE aid program provided Macedonia with approximately U.S.$30 million annually.

The United States

The United States continued its support of the Macedonian government and the government=s attempts to promote inter-ethnic dialogue. Approximately 600 U.S. soldiers participated in the UNPREDEP mission. High ranking Macedonian military delegations visited the U.S., and joint military exercises were held within the framework of the Partnership for Peace. The first American ambassador to Macedonia was appointed in March.

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