Commissioner completes visit to “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, calls on country to couple law reform results with effective implementation

Strasbourg, 29 February 2008 – The Commissioner for Human Rights completed his 5 day high-level official visit to “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. In his preliminary findings at the press conference concluding the visit, the Commissioner noted the recent impressive legislative reform pace and called for increased efforts to secure effective implementation in practice.

Concluding his assessment visit, Thomas Hammarberg shared his delegation’s preliminary findings with President Crvenkovski and Prime Minister Gruevski as well as Speaker of Parliament Georgievski. Topical discussions on the country’s crucial human rights areas and on ways to secure effective implementation in practice were explored beforehand with the branch Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, Labour and Social Policy, Health, as well as Local Government. Further talks included the Ombudsman, members of parliament and the parliamentary human rights committee as well as with the National Anti-Trafficking Commission, the Constitutional Court, the Office of the Prosecutor General and the government’s Secretary General. Before and during the official visit, the Commissioner consulted widely with both international partners including the EU/EC delegation, the OSCE and the UN, resident Ambassadors as well as with leading international and national human rights NGOs and the country’s civil society opinion leaders.

The mission programme covered a wide range of current pertinent human rights concerns in the areas of the functioning of the judiciary and the prosecution, police conduct, conditions of detention and juvenile justice including the treatment of young law offenders; further central agenda points concerned minority rights with a focus on the situation of the Roma minority and the country’s record in fighting trafficking in human beings. The delegation also assessed the situation of the ca. 800 internally displaced persons from the 2001 conflict and the deplorable situation of the – mainly Roma – refugees from Kosovo. Particular emphasis was given to assessing the country’s non-discrimination policies and actions, in particular with regard to the treatment of persons with disabilities, the promotion of gender equality and LGBT rights.

Other than Skopje, the Commissioner conducted field visits to Demir Hisar, Tetovo, Demir Kapija, Negorci, Kumanovo, where he held talks with municipal authorities and visited institutions such as social care homes, police stations, detention places and psychiatric institutions. In a visit to the predominantly Roma-inhabited municipality of Suto Orizari on the outskirts of Skopje, the Commissioner met with Mr. Erduan Iseni to discuss a range of the municipality’s burning issues such as living conditions and infrastructure, schooling, healthcare, as well as the situation of the Roma refugees from Kosovo settled in the municipality. Both agreed on the need for reinforced Roma assistance by international and national actors and the further promotion of the single most relevant criterion of “zero tolerance on Roma discrimination”.

Acknowledging positive steps in the areas of law reform and the drafting of national strategies and action plans to increase the authorities’ capacities to tackle human rights problems in a number of areas both more swiftly and pro-actively, the Commissioner highlighted the need for coupling the positive steps in legislative reform with effective and efficient implementation to secure impact in the everyday life of citizens. The Commissioner was particularly concerned with the substandard conditions of detention of juvenile offenders in Skopje prison, as well as with the conditions in institutional mental health facilities. Welcoming initiatives to remedy shortcomings by improving the country’s self-monitoring capacity through the strengthening of the Ombudsman, he emphasised the benefit of external and independent oversight mechanisms for law enforcement structures to address allegations of police misconduct more credibly.

A full report on the Commissioner’s visit will be prepared and made public within the coming months.

Source: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights