HR Watch Responds to OSCE and US Government's Criticisms


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Subject: HR Watch Responds to OSCE and US Government's Criticisms

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HR Watch Responds to OSCE and US Government's Criticisms


Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Ave.  34th floor
NY, NY.  10118
Telephone: 212-216-1270
Facsimile: 212-736-1300
E-mail: hrwnyc@hrw.org
 
Statement for the Press in Macedonia
 
Contact Person:
Fred Abrahams
Tel: (1-212) 216-1270
Email: Abrahaf@hrw.org
 
April 28, 1998
 
(New York) Human Rights Watch appreciates the responses of the OSCE
and the U.S. Embassy to our recent report on police violence in
Macedonia, issued on April 7, 1998, and hopes that there can be an
ongoing dialogue between governments and non-governmental
organizations on these important matters.  At the same time, we stand
by the facts presented in our report, as well as our criticisms of
U.S., OSCE and UN policy in the country.

Our fundamental criticism of the international community is that it
has withheld criticism of human rights abuses committed by the
Macedonian government in order not to weaken an ally in the region. 
The evidence suggests that there has been a political decision to
downplay human rights violations.
 
As mentioned in our report, Human Rights Watch understands the need to
promote stability in Macedonia.  But we feel strongly that this will
not be achieved by ignoring violations like police brutality and
politicized courts.  Human rights abuses, especially restrictions on
minority rights, inevitably promote tension and conflict.
 
In a statement issued last week, the OSCE mission in Skopje rejected
our claim that it neglected human rights abuses in Macedonia, and said
that it preferred to engage in diplomatic negotiations with the
"involved parties."  Obviously, Human Rights Watch supports efforts to
address human rights concerns behind the scenes.  However, if the
fortnightly reports of the OSCE mission are indicative, the message
being conveyed to the Macedonian government through quiet diplomacy is
hardly more forceful in its condemnation of human rights abuses than
are the public statements that have been issued.  Furthermore, the
public statements that have been issued by OSCE representatives, such
as High Commissioner Max van der Stoel, have consistently failed to
mention the abuses committed by the government.  We fear that the
failure of organizations like the OSCE publicly to condemn abusive
government conduct serves to increase the government's sense of
impunity, as well as the sense of abandonment by those whose rights
have been violated.  Regarding the public response of the U.S.
government to our report, we have a few comments. First, we would like
to clarify the figures on U.S. training of Macedonian police, since
our numbers were questioned by the U.S. Embassy.  The figure of 329
Macedonian policemen trained by the United States was obtained
directly from the U.S. State Department.  According to officials at
the State Department, the number is actually closer to 400 because not
all of the 1997 training reports have been submitted.

As mentioned in our report, sixty-six policemen were trained through
the State Department's Anti-Terrorist Assistance program (ATA) in 1996
and 1997, including a group trained to form a "Crisis Response Team",
which responds to terrorist incidents and domestic disturbances.  A
much larger training program was administered by the State
Department's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL)
program, with funding through the Support for East European Democracy
program (SEED).  In 1996, 145 people were trained, either in Macedonia
or at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest. 
According to the State Department, 118 Macedonians went through the
program in 1997, although the total number is not yet known since the
1997 reports are still not complete.
 
In its statement, the U.S. Embassy also said that "to suggest that the
U.S. Government bears responsibility for the behavior of individuals
is a somewhat naive reaction without any basis in fact."  Obviously,
the U.S. government cannot be held directly accountable for the
behavior of individuals, and we never make such a suggestion in our
report.  However, we do believe that the U.S. government bears some
responsibility if the policemen it trains are then engaging in abusive
behavior.  As a main provider of assistance to the Macedonian Ministry
of the Interior, the United States can impress upon the Macedonian
government the importance of proper police behavior, as well as a
system of accountability for cases of police abuse.
 
In addition, U.S. law has clear conditions for providing assistance to
foreign police who commit human rights violations. According to
Section 570 of the 1998 Foreign Operations Act, which affects the
distribution of U.S. foreign aid, the U.S. may not provide training or
assistance to any police unit that contains policemen who have
committed gross violations of human rights, unless those responsible
for abuses have been brought to justice.  This means that, according
to U.S. law, the U.S. government must determine whether a Macedonian
policeman has committed any abuses before he, or anyone in his police
unit receive U.S. training or assistance.
 
Finally, according to the U.S. Embassy, the Human Rights Watch report
says that the international community "did not in any way comment" on
the Gostivar events last summer.  In fact, our report made no such
claim.  In the section of the report on U.S. policy, we make direct
reference to the U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for
1997, which included a section on the violence in Gostivar.  Our
criticism was that the report "minimized the level of police abuse in
Gostivar, portraying it more as a clash between demonstrators and the
police, and failed entirely to mention the trial of Rufi Osmani."  In
addition, the U.S. government's public statement on Gostivar, issued
on July 10, 1997, failed to criticize the police for using excessive
force.
 
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the one-sidedness of such
public statements.  While governments may find it more productive to
press for change through quiet diplomacy, since the U.S. government
and OSCE High Commissioner van der Stoel did decide to make public
statements on the events in Gostivar, we believe it is inappropriate
not to reflect any of the abuses committed by the Macedonian
authorities.
 
Human Rights Watch would also like to express its regret that the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights decided on April 22, 1998,
not to include Macedonia in its mandate for the Special Rapporteur on
Human Rights in the Former Yugoslavia.  Human Rights Watch had
received assurances from top level U.S. officials that Macedonia would
be included in the mandate.  In addition, a paragraph requesting the
High Commissioner on Human Rights to maintain contact with the
Macedonian government for the purpose of technical cooperation was
withdrawn on order of the State Department.
 
Human Rights Watch will continue to monitor the human rights
conditions in Macedonia.  Special attention will be placed on the
issue of police abuse, including a process of accountability for the
police violence in Gostivar on July 9, 1997.  The report from the
parliament's investigative commission is a good start, since it
requested the government to "identify the real leaders and
perpetrators of the unfortunate events."  Now we hope that the
government will respond by the April 31 deadline.  We urge the U.S.
government, OSCE, and UNPREDEP mission to use their good offices to
insist on a timely response.
 
_______________________________________
 
Greek Helsinki Monitor &
Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-14510 Kifisia
Greece
Tel. +30-1-620.01.20
Fax +30-1-807.57.67
e-mail: office@greekhelsinki.gr
http://www.greekhelsinki.gr
________________________________________

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