The Helsinki Committee for Human
Rights of the Republic of Macedonia (MHC) is a non-governmental
organization for human rights promotion and protection, without any
political and religious orientation. The reasons why the MHC exists are:
(i) to increase the awareness about the concept of human rights and
basic freedoms which is embedded in the Universal Declaration for Human
Rights, the two international covenants (on civil and political rights
and on social, economic and cultural rights), the European Convention
for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the
1975 Final Helsinki Act; (ii) to build democratic conditions in which
these rights and freedoms can be exercised; and (iii) to stimulate a
greater protection in the exercise of these rights and freedoms.
The MHC monitors the situation of the human rights, provides legal assistance & counseling to the citizens in cases of violation or restriction of the rights and freedoms, and cooperates with other organizations and state authorities in the direction of increasing the promotion, protection and respect for the human rights and freedoms.
The vision of the MHC is that all people should have a possibility to exercise their basic human rights and freedoms, and a possibility to protect them in cases of violation or restriction thereof. This represents a foundation for democratic development, and a guarantee for peace at national, regional and world level.
Objectives, programs and activities
The MHC endeavors to contribute to an increased respect for the human rights and freedoms, and to an improvement of the conditions for the exercise and protection thereof, thus contributing to the development of democracy and securing peace. In order to achieve this, of fundamental importance is to have a development based on the respect for the basic human rights and freedoms and directed towards further promotion and protection thereof, as well as to build such a state system that will be based on the rule of law and on the construction of a consistent system for control and sanctioning of the violations of human rights and freedoms. In order to fulfill our mission and vision, we have five general objectives that will determine our activities.
1. Protection against discrimination
Our starting point is that all people are equal before the law and have the right to equal protection by the law without any discrimination. In this sense, the law should prohibit any discrimination and guarantee equal and effective protection against discrimination on whatever grounds to all people. The general objective at national level is to introduce changes in the legislation that will enable full implementation of the international standards in this area. Strategic goal of the MHC is the further institutional strengthening of the State, and the creation of practical preconditions for identification of discrimination and for restricting and sanctioning the cases of discrimination.
1.1. Passing a Law on Non-Discrimination and adjusting the other laws and bylaws accordingly
Activities: Draft Law on Non-Discrimination is available at present, which passed the phase of broad public discussion and obtained support from a number of Members of Parliament. Pending: process of lobbying for its final adoption; passing the Law on the Commission for Non-Discrimination; analysis of the existing laws from the point of view of presence of discriminatory provisions; adjustment of the other laws and bylaws to the provisions of this Law. In the period after the enactment of the Law, there would be need for a serious work on the promotion thereof (presentation in the media, debates, analyses) and on the raising of the awareness of the population about the possibilities it is offering. We expect that the process of enactment of the Law and of the other legal changes may come across obstacles, for the overcoming of which both direct and indirect influence by representatives of international organizations inside and outside the country will most probably be required. Bilateral support in this process by the EU member-states will also be of particular importance.
1.2. Monitoring and representation
Among the general public, non-governmental organizations and even experts, there is still lack of adequate knowledge of the topic of discrimination and lack of recognition of both direct and indirect discrimination. In such conditions, the monitoring of discrimination and the representation of citizens in cases of discrimination has a multiple importance:
O Identifying cases of discrimination;
O Sensitizing different groups and structures to cases of discrimination;
O Encouraging reaction by those that have been discriminated as well as by the general public;
O Training and sensitizing the media;
O Promoting systemic and institutional solutions/arrangements that will enable reaction and sanctioning of cases of discrimination.
The monitoring and representation will especially focus on the marginalized and socially excluded groups that are subject of systematic discrimination. This involves, inter alia, work with governmental and non-governmental organizations and with the general public on extending their understanding as to which groups are marginalized and about the special forms of discrimination to which the representatives of each of these groups are exposed.
1.3. Support, training and education
The MHC will cooperate and participate in training in non-discrimination and in supporting activities aimed at restriction and sanctioning of discriminatory activities, which will be delivered by various non-governmental organizations working in the area of human rights.
The MHC will directly support the organizations that work with specific marginalized groups, and will take part in the strengthening thereof (both through training and direct participation in joint activities and events).
The dimension of non-discrimination will be incorporated within all projects dealing with education of different target groups (children, teachers, civil servants, lawyers), and special educational contents/topics on this area will be formulated.
2. Strengthening the rule of law
Our starting point is the position that the rule of law is not just a formal legality providing for the regularity and consistency in the democratic system, but it is justice based on recognition and total acceptance of the highest value of the human personality, guaranteed by the institutions that provide a framework for the total expression thereof. Important aspects of the rule of law include the restriction of the political power by the law, the equal application of the laws, the control mechanisms and the accessibility of the justice for all people. The general objective in this sense is the provision of access to justice for as many people as possible.
2.1. Increasing the awareness and recognizing human rights and rule of law
The MHC will disseminate information to the public about the international standards, about the rules of good administration and about the experiences of other countries in the area of rule of law. Each case that the MHC will work on, (which will be part of the reports or of the special analyses of the Committee) will be used to make the public familiar with inconsistencies in the application of the laws, with omissions of the administration or with mechanisms for protection that are available. Special attention will be paid to the implementation of the international standards in the national legislation and to the need for changes in the legislation with the purpose of harmonization with these standards.
The MHC will work on the development of educational materials for students, lawyers, attorneys-at-law and judges, which will help them to familiarize themselves with the international standards in this area, and will serve to them as tools in their future work. The MHC will also work on the development of brochures and guidelines for special target groups (youth, vulnerable groups), which will bring the law and the legislation closer to these groups and will provide them with an easier access to the mechanisms of protection in cases of violation of their rights.
The development of each of these materials will be followed by training in the application thereof.
2.2. Increasing the accountability and responsibility of the holders of power
The accountability and responsibility of the civil servants and of the holders of power in the Republic of Macedonia is at a very low level. The continued trend of the administration and all segments of power, being predominantly staffed by political party members (political appointees), leads to the establishment of channels of dependence on the political parties and of accountability to them, instead of rule of law and legislative changes. Some of the principal activities of the MHC will continue to be the identification of illegal actions by the state authorities, presentation of such cases to the public, analysis thereof and indication of the usable legal mechanisms with view of protecting the rights of the citizens and sanctioning the violations committed by the state authorities.
Special attention will be paid to the work of the new control mechanisms and institutions that are available to the citizens (the Constitutional Court, the Office of the Ombudsperson, the Permanent Survey Commission for Protection of Human Rights, the ad hoc committees working on concrete cases of violation of the rights of the citizens, the Sector for Internal Control under the Ministry of Interior, the Administration for Monitoring the Execution of Sanctions under the Ministry of Justice, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the inspectorates and the other bodies the task of which is to control and initiate procedures for holding representatives of the State authorities and of the administration accountable). The work of the MHC will include support for these institutions in their work, and identification and indication of the omissions in their work that could jeopardize the adequate execution of their basic functions.
2.3. Providing free legal assistance and consultations
The MHC will continue:
O to provide free legal assistance (referring the citizens addressing the Committee to the appropriate institutions and mechanisms available to them);
O Working with lawyers and providing assistance with regard to the application of the international agreements in the lawsuits, appeals, and other interventions before the relevant judicial and administrative authorities;
O Providing assistance to other non-governmental organizations or joint appearances in specific cases;
O Direct interventions with state and judicial authorities in relation to specific cases;
O Pro bono representation of clients before the courts and before the state authorities (in a selected number of cases of major violation of human rights, or in typical cases of repeated violation);
O Initiating procedures before the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Macedonia, the Permanent Survey Commission and the Ombudsperson;
O Initiating procedures before the European Human Rights Court, as well as providing assistance to clients to initiate procedures on their own.
3. Strengthening the economic and social rights
We are starting from the position that the big poverty is disabling or restricting the exercise of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, that discrimination is included in poverty as an essential element, and that poverty means absolute insecurity of the human being in all areas of life in the society. As a result, the work on the promotion and protection of the basic civil and political freedoms and rights is inextricably linked to the strengthening of the economic and social rights.
The elementary shortage of food, roof over one’s head, health and social protection etc. in the Republic of Macedonia represents a most open violation of the dignity and value of the human being, and for a large number of the population this makes any discussion about cultural, educational, minority, development, political and civil rights pointless. Certain part of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia have been brought to a situation of such poverty manifested as total dependence, helplessness, exposure to the self-will of politicians, and susceptibility to exploitation of worst kind. They have been brought to a situation of not complying with the law, feeding the corruption, enabling nepotism, accepting political party affiliation as the only means for survival, and contenting themselves with short outbursts of revolt usually ending in an even greater apathy.
3.1. Increasing the awareness and recognizing the dependence of the exercise and protection of the human rights on the level of poverty of the population
The MHC will continue with the development of special analyses and reports related to the relationship between the poverty and the exercise and protection of the human rights (especially about the accessibility of justice and of effective legal remedies).
Special attention will be paid to the annual analysis of the central Budget from the aspect of the fight against poverty and the allocation of the budgetary funds for increasing the employment rate, the standard of living, the social protection and the protection of children.
3.2. Monitoring of the implementation of the international standards in the legislation and in the practice
The MHC will carry out monitoring of the laws and bylaws from the aspect of implementation of the international standards related to the economic and social rights.
The MHC will also monitor the application of the legal provisions and protection mechanisms from the labor legislation in enterprises, State institutions, and private firms.
Special attention will be paid to raising the awareness of the citizens and of the holders of power about the obligations that the State has undertaken by means of ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Social Charter, and the other relevant international agreements.
In the forthcoming period, the MHC will start an organized campaign and lobbying for signing and ratification of the revised European Charter for Social and Economic Rights.
3.3. Free legal assistance for protection of the economic and social rights
The MHC will provide free legal assistance and provide direct representation in cases of violation and restriction of the working, economic and social rights (especially of women, elderly people, disabled people and children).
4. Promotion of the freedom of belief and religion
Our starting point is that everybody should have freedom of thought, belief and religion, including the right to change the belief and religion. The freedom of belief and religion is an extremely important element of democratization, especially in conditions of multi-cultural and traditionally multi-confessional societies such as the Republic of Macedonia. The general goal pursued at national level is that the State become totally non-secular, and the creation of conditions for free practice of the belief and religion (both individually and in a group), which should be guaranteed by appropriate legal framework and institutional actions.
4.1. Working on the implementation of the international standards in the national legislation
The MHC will work on the implementation of the international provisions related to the freedom of belief in the national legislation. It will particularly insist on involving all registered religious communities and religious groups in the development of the new legal framework.
In case of certain arrangements and articles that are contrary to the accepted international standards remaining in the new Law on Religious Communities and Religious Groups, the MHC will once again take them before the Constitutional Court or forward them to the European Human Rights Court.
The MHC will insist on amending Article 19 of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia where five religious communities are mentioned by name, which implies a discriminated position of the remaining religious communities and religious groups.
4.2. Monitoring of the practice and protection of the freedom of belief
The MHC will continue with the monitoring of the exercise of the freedom of belief (individually and within the religious communities and religious groups). Special attention will continue to pay to the role of the State in the creation of conditions for exercising this right, and to the functioning of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities and Religious Groups.
The MHC will intervene before the state authorities in the cases of restriction or violation of this right, and will provide legal assistance to the citizens and organizations with the purpose of protecting this right.
4.3. Increasing the awareness and recognizing the freedom of belief as a basic human right
The MHC will continue its work in terms of organizing round tables, debates and conferences related to the freedom of belief and religion, and will participate in the work in such gatherings organized by other non-governmental organizations or individual religious communities and religious groups.
The Committee will take part in all discussions concerning the relationship between education and religion, including the initiatives for introducing religious instruction in the formal education.
The MHC (through its reports and press releases) will signal violations of the freedom of belief and religion, and will indicate ways to overcome these practices.
5. Strengthening the freedom of expression
Our starting point is that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to communication and information. This right implies freedom of expressing an opinion and of receiving and giving information and ideas, without interference by the public authorities and regardless of the borders. This right may only be subject to restrictions stipulated by law and in line with the international standards. The general objective is to strengthen the right to express one’s own opinion, to impart and receive information and to increase the access to all necessary information for the people.
5.1. Increasing the awareness of the citizens about the importance of the freedom of expression and of the possibility to receive and give information
Through its reports, press releases and analyses, the MHC will disseminate as much information as possible that will help the citizens to exercise and protect their rights and freedoms. At the same time, the MHC will strongly react to any attempt to restrict the freedom of expression, particularly in cases where such restriction is not provided for in the law and is not necessary in a democratic society. The Committee will pay special attention to the observance of the new legislation on the access to information and protection of the freedom of expression.
The MHC will continue to work on the democratization of the media and on the promotion of the diversity and plurality of the media that are present in the Republic of Macedonia. This implies existence of media in the languages of the different ethnic communities, balanced presence of information about different ethnic communities, and access to relevant information for all citizens in the Republic of Macedonia.
5.2. Improving the professionalism in the journalist profession and the laws on the media
The MHC will participate in the training of journalists (especially in the issues of human rights and freedoms) organized by the specialized institutions and organizations, and will initiate its own training seminars related to specific rights or violation of rights of certain vulnerable groups.
The MHC will indicate every violation of the freedom of expression (related to court cases against certain journalists), but also the limits of this freedom (especially from the aspect of presumption of innocence and violation of the privacy of citizens).
The MHC will continue with the analysis of the legislation on the freedom of expression, and of the laws regulating the restriction and the sanctioning of the freedom of expression, when practiced in a manner in which the rights and the freedoms of other people are violated. Particular attention will continue to pay to the presence of hate speech and to the violation of the human dignity by media, journalists or other individuals in a different capacity expressing their opinions and ideas through the media.
Methodology of work
The MHC will be working based on the existing Statute and within the existing organizational structure. In order to fulfil the strategic tasks, it will be necessary to increase the number of Board members who are to be actively involved in the conduct of specific project activities. Concerning the Secretariat of the Committee, attorneys-at-law and lawyers on permanent or temporary basis, as well as staff working on the preparation of projects should be engaged.
In the course of the following years, one will work on the idea of membership/being a member of the Committee. This idea is inspired by the wishes and interests expressed by a significant number of experts in the area of human rights and in other closely related areas for joining the Committee. That coincides with the issue of building sustainability of the Committee. Therefore, a system of membership, and a group of people that will support the activities and the actions of the Committee should be established.
In the forthcoming period, attention will be paid to the development of the Youth Club of the Committee, as well as to training in voluntary work.
Moreover, there will be a need to rehabilitate the monitoring network and to start a new cycle of training and retraining of the monitors in the other towns in the country.
Cooperation and partnership
At international level, we will maintain and deepen the joint work with the IHF, with the neighbouring Helsinki Committees, within the existing and new networks of non-governmental organizations working in the area of human rights (like BHRN), as well as with representatives of the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the OSCE mission in the Republic of Macedonia.
The MHC will try to increase the cooperation with:
O Non-governmental organizations in the Republic of Macedonia (by providing assistance to them, direct cooperation and joint work on projects);
O Academic institutions (Law Faculties, Police Academy, research institutes);
O Other structures and associations (trade union organizations, expert associations, development agencies);
O State authorities with control function (Ombudsman, Permanent Survey Commission, Sector for Internal Control within the Ministry of Interior, Administration for Monitoring the Execution of Sanctions);
O Institutions providing specific services in the area of social security (Centres for Social Work).
At this moment, the two basic program lines (monitoring and legal assistance) are being implemented with the support of the Norwegian and the Swedish Helsinki Committees, and these committees appear as basic strategic partners of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for the future period as well.
The MHC also includes the following among its strategic partners: SIDA (Swedish development agency), UNICEF, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Macedonia.
The work on projects supported on a long-term basis and the building of joint strategic objectives with the abovementioned organizations should provide for the sustainability of the MHC. It should also help the MHC to develop as an independent organization capable of offering alternative solutions in the development of the democratic institutions/mechanisms in the country, and to carry out its function of a watchdog monitoring the fulfilment of the obligations by the State in the area of human rights and freedoms.
The MHC will work on pluralizing the financing sources with view of providing funds for the different programs arising from the objectives of the Committee.
The MHC will focus on seeking long-term financing sources, which should provide for continuous capacity building and creation of a solid nucleus of experts who will make sure that the work of the Committee is adequate.
One cannot expect over the following years any support from internal financing sources (be it the Government or some other structures of the State, or the private sector in the Republic of Macedonia). The influence of the political parties on the overall public arena implies connections with political parties of the organizations receiving support from the State in whatever way, and the inappropriate legal framework leaves no room for donations and financing by private firms and organizations.
A unique characteristic of the MHC within the Republic of Macedonia’s civil society is its role of a watchdog. The MHC will be able to continue to carry out this function provided it retains its financial independence from the State and from any of the political parties or structures in the Republic of Macedonia.
The uniqueness in this sense has already been perceived by a large number of political structures and especially by the citizens and the media. The opinion of the MHC is used as a control benchmark with regard to the developments related to human rights and freedoms.
This position of the MHC enables both direct and indirect support for smaller non-governmental organizations (especially organizations working with vulnerable and marginalized groups and with groups exposed to a hostile attitude by the State and/or by the public).
Monitoring and evaluation
The MHC will work on improving the external monitoring and evaluation both of individual projects and of the overall operations of the Committee. In this sense, separate funds will need to be found for regular external audits, which will increase the credibility of the organization in the eyes of a large variety of donors.
Within the Committee special procedures for internal evaluation and self appraisement will be developed. These procedures will be applied on the activities connected with specific projects as well as on the general functioning of the Committee (work and relations with the Board members, experts -consultants, lawyers - collaborators, monitors).
For the purpose of obtaining information from the clients, a box for complaints, compliments and suggestions will be mounted, so every client will be able to express his/her opinion for the manner in which he/she was admitted, the problems that he/she faced and suggestions about the possible changes.