Annual report on human rights in 2019
The year that the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights marked the 25th anniversary of its founding, one of the highlights was the successful Pride Parade, as a major step forward in the fight for equal treatment of LGBTI people in our society. This community, as well as other marginalized groups and citizens, received a new Law on Protection against and Prevention of Discrimination in 2019, even though the adoption was preceded by a shameful process of procrastination and sabotage by certain political entities, both from the government and the opposition. The postponement of the new measures for legal protection continued when the forming of the new Commission for Protection against Discrimination failed.
In the meantime, the systemic discrimination against Roma has continued in almost all social spheres and they are still facing difficulties in exercising their rights. As for the people with disabilities, a new model of functional assessment for children with disabilities has been introduced. The positive steps taken by the state to include these children in regular education have become problematic in practice due to the lack of educational and personal assistants. The efforts to implement deinstitutionalization have been more successful – by transferring all children from large institutions to small group homes and foster families.
Despite the positive developments in certain areas, negative phenomena have intensified, such as hate speech, which culminated in polarizing news and events. Ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political beliefs predominate. Hate cases registered by the Committee are on the rise, but the institutions continue to fail to treat them as such, ignoring the elements of bias.
The Helsinki Committee, as part of the Blueprint Group for monitoring judicial reforms, was an active factor in the reform processes, although on one of the most important issues, resolving the SPO status, our proposals were not included in any version of the bill. The situation escalated with the arrest of the Special Prosecutor Janeva in August 2019, with which the SPO ceased to exist and the powers were taken over by the regular prosecutor’s office. Meanwhile, some of the cases filed by the SPO has become obsolete.
The European Commission in its 2019 report states that the country showed continued commitment in improving the judicial system and the implementation of the new legal framework is a solid foundation for continued progress, but that all judicial institutions should make additional efforts to restore public confidence in the judicial system. However, in terms of the reform process, the decision of the European Council made in October to return to the issue of expansion in May 2020 was demotivating, after which the country decided to call early parliamentary elections.
As far as workers ‘rights are concerned, we have noticed that the doubled number of cases and the significantly larger scope of workers in 2019 are a result of the active engagement of the Committee for raising workers’ awareness and informing them about exercising and protecting their rights. The State Labour Inspectorate lacks promptness and that remains a major problem, as it has not implemented yet the Committee’s recommendations based on regular monitoring of its work; hence, workers do not have adequate institutional protection against violations of their rights, and there is no progress in occupational health and safety. The Committee, as part of the working group for drafting the new Law on Labour Relations, managed to address the proposals and ideas of textile workers. By doing so, for the first time they were represented in adopting policies and laws.
The struggle for gender equality has continued as well. In May, the Law on Abortion was adopted, which eliminated the problem caused by the previous law, which significantly obstructed the access to abortion. This year, a working group has been set up to draft a new Law on Equal Opportunities for women and men. Significant progress has been made in meeting the set goals and activities of the National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Istanbul Convention 2018-2023 (NAP), especially in the establishment of three centres for victims of sexual violence.
However, one of the key acts, the Law on Prevention of and Protection against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, was not put to a vote in Parliament due to the scheduled early parliamentary elections. As one of the most problematic points, based on the personal testimonies of the victims, the Committee found a high degree of insensitivity of CSR and MIA officials, judges, prosecutors, etc., whose attitude further contributes to double victimization of victims. Regarding international representation, the Helsinki Committee submitted a complaint to the CEDAW Committee this year, which is the first communication from the Republic of North Macedonia submitted to CEDAW. Also, the year was marked by increased digital activism through the first feminist platform in Macedonian language, Medusa, especially through the campaign #ЗоштоНеПријавив (Why I did not report), whose goal was to break the silence on sexual violence.
Finally, after many years of pointing out the shortcomings in the Law on Free Legal Aid, a new law was passed in 2019 that includes a wider scope of citizens who meet the conditions for receiving free legal aid. The Helsinki Committee systematically monitors the process of application of the new Law and one of the main remarks is the necessity of professional training of all service providers that contribute to the realization of citizens’ rights.