Accessibility links

Breaking News

Analysis: Does Macedonia Need A New Amnesty?

A debate is under way in Macedonia about a new amnesty for crimes linked to the 2001 interethnic conflict between the Macedonian authorities and ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK). Most legal experts and commentators doubt, however, that an additional amnesty would make any sense.

An amnesty for minor crimes linked to the 2001 conflict was one of the preconditions for the UCK to end its insurgency. After lengthy debates, parliament passed the amnesty law in March 2002. The delay in the adoption of the law mirrored the opposition to the amnesty of then-Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his conservative nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). As a result of the amnesty, the Macedonian authorities released most UCK members who were under arrest or already sentenced.

In December, however, the question of an additional amnesty surfaced. The debate was triggered by two separate developments. The first took place in the village of Kondovo outside Skopje. Leaders of an armed Albanian group that controlled the village for several weeks subsequently demanded that they be included under the 2002 amnesty.

Prestigious Call

The second development was a call for a new amnesty from a rather unexpected source: the prestigious Macedonian PEN center. "The new amnesty law must benefit all Macedonian defenders, including former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who in those days was also a poet," "Dnevnik" on 10 December quoted PEN member Katica Kjulafkova as saying. Macedonian politicians and media refer to the police and army members who fought against the UCK as national "defenders," which is a term also used in Croatia for most veterans of the 1991-95 conflict. The PEN center argued that if the state tries and sentences government officials in connection with the armed conflict, it acknowledges that the state was responsible for the conflict.

The background to the PEN club's demand is the fact that Boskovski and a number of high-ranking Interior Ministry officials are being held in detention. They are under investigation in connection with two separate incidents: a police operation in the village of Ljuboten in the last days of the conflict in August 2001 in which about 10 civilians were killed, and the killing of six Pakistanis and one Indian outside Skopje on 2 March 2002.
An amnesty for minor crimes linked to the 2001 conflict was one of the preconditions for the UCK to end its insurgency.

The case of Ljuboten might have fallen under the 2002 amnesty because it took place during the conflict. But the killing of the Pakistanis and the Indian occurred after the peace deal. As the investigation has so far shown, the Pakistanis and the Indian were ambushed by the police in an apparent setup so that they could later claim that they had killed Islamist terrorists.

Intellectual Blindness

In a reaction to the PEN center's proposal, the ethnic Albanian journalist Daut Dauti accused the writers and poets of "intellectual blindness." Dauti wrote in "Dnevnik" of 18 December that "if the intellectuals demand that Boskovski be granted an amnesty, this means that they acknowledge that he [is guilty] of conducting his own war." He added that "the liquidation of a group of young Pakistani citizens [and one Indian] is one of the most shameful events in peacetime Macedonia, about which the Macedonian authorities cannot and must not remain silent."

For the new political party of former Prime Minister Georgievski, the VMRO-Narodna, such arguments do not hold water. When the relatives of the detained high-ranking police officials began setting up roadblocks outside the Skopje courthouse and the parliament in late December, the VMRO-Narodna followed the PEN center in its demand for a new amnesty law. The VMRO-Narodna argues that only members of the UCK have benefited from the 2002 amnesty, while members of the Macedonian Army and police can still be prosecuted.

At present, it is unclear which political parties will support the VMRO-Narodna's draft amnesty law. Janevska said that the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the Liberal Party will support it. There are conflicting reports as to whether the governing Social Democrats (SDSM) or the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) will back the proposal.

In the meantime, legal experts argue that granting a new amnesty could open the door for endless calls for yet further amnesties. Nazim Maliqi, who is a law professor at Skopje University, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 10 January that "the best thing would be for those who propose the new amnesty law to take a look at the questions [presented to Macedonia by the EU], especially the questions pertaining to the country's judiciary."