Macedonian Court Rejects Review of War Crimes Amnesty

Macedonia’s Constitutional Court has refused to evaluate whether parliament’s decision last year not to prosecute four war crime cases was constitutional.Wednesday’s decision brings to an end the legal challenge by the victims’ relatives to the controversial move by the Macedonian parliament.

In July 2011, the ruling coalition voted to abandon the four war-crimes cases related to the 2001 conflict that were returned to Macedonia from the Hague Tribunal, ICTY, in 2008.

This move angered Macedonia’s opposition parties and human rights organizations.

The cases concerned atrocities originally alleged to have been committed by former ethnic Albanian rebels, some of whom are now high officials in the junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI.

The relatives of the victims asked the court to determine whether the state had the right to close these cases through an act of parliament.

They argued that parliament’s decision was a breach of international humanitarian law, which states that there is no expiry date for war crimes cases.

“The state has the right to grant amnesty and parliament is entitled to interpret the laws,” said Ismail Dardista, an ethnic Albanian judge of the Constitutional Court and a former Macedonian Justice Minister who voted to reject the initiative.

His colleague, Natasa Gaber on the other hand, said that the initiative should not be rejected because Macedonia was a signatory to several international human rights conventions. However, she was outvoted by the majority of judges.

“War crimes cases do not have an expiry date. For me, the parliament’s move is legally invalid”, Gaber said.

In 2001, Macedonia suffered a short lived conflict between the former ethnic Albanian insurgents from the now disbanded National Liberation Army, NLA, and the security forces controlled by the Macedonian majority.

The clashes ended after the signing of the Ohrid Peace Accord that same year. An Amnesty Law was then passed as part of a deal to help re-integrate former rebels into society.

Ever since then, there have been different views on whether the law should apply to these four cases. The Albanian parties unanimously insisted on their scrapping as well.

One of the cases charged the leaders of the ethnic Albanian rebellion in Macedonia, a number of whom are now senior politicians, with command responsibility for the alleged atrocities of the rebels.

Although the case never came to court in Macedonia, among those charged was the head of the largest Albanian party in Macedonia, Ali Ahmeti, who at the time of the conflict was the NLA leader.

Apart from the NLA leadership case, another case accused former rebels of capturing and torturing several construction workers and another for cutting the water supply to the Macedonian town of Kumanovo for several months.

The so-called “Neprosteno” case accused former rebels of the alleged kidnapping and killing of 12 ethnic Macedonians and one ethnic Bulgarian. Only the last case ever reached a courtroom but this too was annulled.

The global human rights organization, Amnesty International, asked the Macedonian government in September last year to reverse their decision to abandon the four cases.

“The parliament’s decision is clearly inconsistent with international law and will leave the victims and their relatives without access to justice,” Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s researcher on the Western Balkans, said at the time.

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