“I am deeply concerned by serious challenges to the rule of law and the shrinking of the democratic space in the country,” Mr. Simonovic said in a press statement issued yesterday at the end of a two-day visit to the country.“Far-reaching improvements are needed in areas such as judicial independence, media freedom and the separation of state institutions from party influence, as different UN human rights mechanisms have previously highlighted,” he added.The release of wiretapped conversations and the political crisis that developed around them had brought many human rights issues clearly into focus, he noted.The Assistant Secretary-General also urged prompt, comprehensive and impartial investigations into both the recent clashes in Kumanovo and the wire-tapping case.“Despite these significant challenges, there are some grounds for optimism,” said Mr. Šimonović. “I welcome the opening of a dialogue between the Government and the opposition to defuse tensions and address the current crisis. In addition, it is crucial to broaden this dialogue to include civil society. This is vital to build trust and engage the public in resolving the crisis.”In addition, continued the senior official, “there is consensus among political actors, civil society and the public that the best hope for the country’s future lies in practical reforms to foster a diverse and multi-ethnic society in which human rights are equally respected for all. I am encouraged by the inter-ethnic solidarity demonstrated by the public in recent weeks.”“There is a lot of homework that remains to be done here,” continued Mr. Šimonović. “It is a shared responsibility among all actors of this country. Furthermore, implementing the reforms related to European Union accession and within the international human rights framework would help to move forward and overcome these challenges. The United Nations supports the country and its people and stands ready to assist wherever it can,” Simonovic concluded.During his visit, Mr. Šimonović held high-level discussions with authorities and other stakeholders on the current political situation as it relates to relevant human rights considerations.