North Macedonia 2017/2018
Impunity for war crimes persisted. Asylum-seekers and migrants were unlawfully detained. A court’s judgment provided for legal gender recognition for transgender people.
Following elections in December 2016, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity gained over half the seats, but could not form a government. The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) agreed to form a coalition with ethnic Albanian parties and formed a government in May 2017 following a violent invasion of Parliament by former government supporters. In November, a former police chief and several MPs were arrested for their part in the disruption.
The election followed a political crisis triggered by the publication by SDSM in 2015 of audio recordings revealing unlawful surveillance and widespread corruption within the government.
The European Commission asked Macedonia to implement measures including ensuring the rule of law, the right to privacy, freedom of expression, an independent judiciary and an end to government corruption.
Freedom of expression
Until May, media freedom was seriously compromised by government interference in print and other media, including through the control of advertising and other revenues, resulting in widespread self-censorship and little investigative journalism. In March, 122 NGOs issued a statement protesting against the government’s apparent campaign to undermine their work.
The Special Prosecution Office, established to investigate crimes arising from the audio recordings, opened an investigation into the 2011 murder of Martin Neshkovski and the subsequent government cover-up. In June, the Office indicted 94 former government officials, including former Prime Minister Gruevski and the former head of Security and Counter Intelligence.
Impunity for war crimes, including enforced disappearances and abductions, persisted.
Following votes by the Council of Public Prosecutors and the Parliament, Public Prosecutor Marko Zvrlevski was removed from office in August for his lack of independence. In October, provisional Public Prosecutor Liljana Spasovska called for the retrial of six ethnic Albanians, convicted in June 2014 of the killing of five Macedonians at Easter 2012. The retrial was called on the grounds that the 2014 trial had not met international standards for fair trial.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
Asylum seekers and migrants, including unaccompanied children, were unlawfully detained at the Reception Centre for Foreigners as witnesses in criminal proceedings against smugglers, for an average of two weeks, after which they were released. Most applied for asylum, but left the country shortly afterwards.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) considered the case of eight refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who were among 1,500 refugees and migrants forcibly returned to Greece in March 2016 by the Macedonian authorities, who failed to examine their individual circumstances or provide an effective remedy.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
In September, the Administrative Court ruled that a transgender person could change their gender marker in the official registry, providing for the legal recognition of gender identity.
Sexual and reproductive rights
A court in Skopje, the capital, determined in July that the termination of a woman’s employment contract, because she was pregnant for a second time, constituted direct discrimination.
Also in July, a local antenatal clinic in Suto Orizari, a predominatly Roma suburb of Skopje, was reopened after eight years. In September, four newborn babies died within two days in the Clinic of Gynaecology and Obstetrics in Skopje. A subsequent inspection found a shortage of medical staff, babies sharing intensive care incubators, faulty ventilation and a leaking roof. Between January and October, 127 babies died.
Deaths in custody
In March, the European Roma Rights Centre highlighted the deaths in custody of young Romani men from overdoses of methadone only available to prison guards, and the death of a Romani woman, allegedly after she had been ill-treated. In October the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture raised concerns about the failure since 2006 to improve the management of, and conditions in, Idrizovo Prison in Skopje, where nine prisoners died in 2016.
Counter-terror and security
In December, the Committee of Ministers reviewed implementation of the judgment of the ECtHR in 2012 in the case of German national Khaled el-Masri, expressing concern at the failure to make a public apology and requesting information on any progress in implementing the judgment. The Court held Macedonia liable for Khaled el-Masri's detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment in 2003, and subsequent handover to the CIA which transferred him to a secret detention site in Afghanistan.
In November, 37 ethnic Albanian defendants were convicted of terrorism for their participation or assistance in a gun battle with police in Kumanovo in 2015, in which 18 people were killed.