The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) works to keep Americans safe at home by countering international crime, illegal drugs, and instability abroad. INL helps countries deliver justice and fairness by strengthening their police, courts, and corrections systems. These efforts reduce the amount of crime and illegal drugs reaching U.S. shores.
Challenges: Since the country’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the United States has supported North Macedonia’s goal to become a prosperous, stable, and inclusive multi-ethnic democracy. The U.S. government sees the country’s future firmly embedded in the West, and shares this strategic vision with the vast majority of North Macedonia’s leaders and citizens across all ethnic and political divides. In March 2020, North Macedonia officially joined NATO as the Alliance’s 30th ally, and the EU agreed to open accession negotiations. As allies, we seek to partner to promote regional security, democracy, rule of law, and economic prosperity. The United States is challenging and empowering North Macedonia to take responsibility for leading the reforms required for sustained stability and growth, while remaining resilient to malign influences that seek to pull the country in another direction.
Over the past 25 years, the country has faced significant challenges in reaching its aspirations of trans-Atlantic integration. These include: economic dislocation and war among neighboring countries in the 1990s; a 27-year dispute with Greece over its name, which had blocked entry into NATO and the EU but was resolved with the signing of the historic Prespa Agreement in June 2018; an armed inter-ethnic conflict in 2001; and a political crisis from 2015 to 2017—culminating in mass protests and, eventually, elections—that was fueled by corruption, weak democratic governance, and poor adherence to the rule of law. The United States, along with our European allies, has helped North Macedonia’s leaders and people respond to each crisis and maintain their strategic orientation. After assuming office in 2017, the new parliament passed legislation to address key democratic shortcomings, and citizens today are able to test these new measures and demand greater accountability and transparency from their government and their representatives, without fear of government reprisal.
Goals: INL programs seek to strengthen North Macedonia’s democratic governing institutions, support just governance through promotion of the rule of law, and strengthen the capacity of law enforcement, judicial, and correctional institutions to combat crime, while providing safeguards for due process and international legal standards.
- In March 2020, North Macedonia reached two momentous milestones, becoming NATO’s 30th member, and receiving the long-awaited approval to start accession talks with the EU. INL assistance facilitated institutional reform throughout North Macedonia’s criminal justice sector, helping the country satisfy the pre-conditions of both NATO membership and the opening of EU accession negotiations (a process that started in 2009).
- Through case-based mentoring, INL supported prosecutors in the Organized Crime and Corruption Office section of the Public Prosecution Office (PPO) on some of the country’s most difficult cases, to include:
- The Parliament Violence case(s) charging those responsible for organizing and executing a violent attack in North Macedonia’s Parliament in 2017;
- The prosecution and sentencing of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria; and
- The Racketeering case(s), charging the former Special Prosecutor with official corruption.
- Per INL advice, the Ministry of Justice drafted and parliament enacted in 2019 a new criminal offense on obstruction of justice that criminalizes obstructing investigations and the tampering of witnesses, prosecutors, judges, and lawyers. INL assisted the pertinent authorities in implementing the new law, offering programs for over 50 legal practitioners from all appellate districts.
- INL donated and installed audio recording equipment in 23 courtrooms in the busiest criminal basic court in Skopje that hears all high-profile corruption and organized crime cases. As a result, criminal trials are conducted more transparently and in line with the criminal procedure code.
- INL assisted in the improved U.S.-North Macedonian diplomatic relations pertaining to mutual legal assistance.
- INL fostered dialogue between the Ministry of Interior’s Digital Forensics Unit and the PPO on how to improve the quality of requests to the computer forensic lab, which improved prosecutors’ and judges’ knowledge and proficiency in addressing the admissibility of digital evidence.
- INL supported the development of best practices in special investigative measures (SIMs) by exposing local justice practitioners to the U.S. model for executing SIMs and fostering discourse.
- INL coordinated with international donors and the PPO to establish four pilot investigative centers that bring investigators and prosecutors together to work jointly on cases.
- INL invested in the next generation of local judges and prosecutors by establishing two U.S.-style legal clinics in the country’s two best-ranked law schools.
- INL initiated the process of international accreditation of the Police Training Center by establishing a working group within the Ministry of Interior’s Police Training Center.
- Following a successful 2016 pilot to equip Skopje’s Highway Police Unit with body-worn cameras, INL is equipping the countries’ remaining police regions with body-worn cameras, a project that will conclude in 2021.