Human Rights Watch Declines to Denounce Name Negotiations as Attack on Macedonia’s Most Basic of Rights
January 21, 2017
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Despite requests by Macedonian Human Rights Movement International that Human Rights Watch (HRW) – as one of the world’s most influential human rights organizations – denounce the UN-sponsored name negotiations aimed at changing Macedonia’s name, HRW has declined. The reason given by Benjamin Ward, Deputy Director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division, “I understand your concern about the name issue but while the name issue, which is an inter-state dispute, may be related to human rights consequences affecting Macedonian minorities in Greece (or elsewhere), it is not in our view in itself a human rights issue since states do not have human rights.”
The name of a country has a direct correlation to the name of its people. As MHRMI President, Bill Nicholov, explained, “The reason that Greece objects to Macedonia's name is to deny the existence of the Macedonian people as a whole, and the persecution and existence of the Macedonian minority in Greece. They do not want people to be known as Macedonians, so the name of the country directly affects the basic human rights – and name – of all Macedonian people. The point that states don't have human rights is not applicable, as we are talking about the people in this state, and beyond, whose ethnic identity is being denied.”
Human Rights Watch has had a tremendous impact in the past on Macedonian human rights issues, as its ground-breaking 1994 report “Denying Ethnic Identity – The Macedonians of Greece”, helped publicize the plight of the, still-unrecognized and persecuted, Macedonian minority in Greece. However, Macedonians were not mentioned in HRW’s 2017 World Report entry on Greece, and other ethnic minorities in Greece only received a minor reference. Macedonians in HRW’s Serbia/Kosovo report were also omitted, and Human Rights Watch did not report on Albania or Bulgaria.
By choosing not to denounce the name negotiations, Nicholov pointed out to Human Rights Watch that “Greece relies on positions like these in its pursuit of denying the existence of Macedonia and Macedonians.”
Greece has used arguments such as these as a basis for denying Macedonians, and other ethnic minorities, human rights. Greece's official policy is that the Macedonian minority in Greece "does not exist, but if they did..." that "human rights cannot be applied collectively, but only individually". Greece has the audacity to make the blatantly false claim that, therefore, everybody in Greece enjoys "equal human rights", a claim that has been debunked for decades by the United Nations, European Court of Human Rights, and any organization that undertakes human rights work in that country. Unfortunately, HRW's current position on the name issue, while inadvertent, falls into the category of using semantics as a foundation for denying Macedonians their human rights.
As Human Rights Watch did with its 1994 report, MHRMI hopes that HRW will reconsider, and take a prominent role in standing up for basic human rights, as is their mandate, and immediately denounce the name negotiations. We call on all international human rights organizations to do the same. We reiterate our call that the international community, the vast majority of which has recognized Macedonia using its proper name, take the next logical step and demand an end to the name negotiations. These steps would spell the end of the UN-sponsored attack on Macedonia and Macedonians’ self-determination, self-identification, and most basic of human rights.
Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) has been active on human and national rights issues for Macedonians and other oppressed peoples since 1986. For more information: 1-416-850-7125, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.mhrmi.org, twitter.com/mhrmi, facebook.com/mhrmi, mhrmi.org/OurNameIsMacedonia.
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