Thursday, August 21, 2008

Human rights violations persist in Macedonia

In the first half of 2008, NGOs report that most human rights complaints in Macedonia cite brutal beatings by urban intervention units -- Macedonia's Alfa and the Special Rapid Deployment Unit of the interior ministry.

A high number of police human rights abuses go unreported. Reasons vary, reflecting the public's lack of confidence in the police and judicial system.

Most discouraging is the low number of cases that go to court and an even lower number of rulings in favour of the plaintiff. Many victims are reluctant to sue because of personal or family fears or the threat of harassment. Notorious judicial inefficiency and massive bureaucracy also discourage individuals from seeking justice.

However, the All for Fair Trials Coalition, Citizens' Initiative Centre, Democratic Development and Election Centre and the Roma Women's Rights Forum – Arka, in co-operation with the UN's Anti-Torture Committee, are some of the NGOs implementing a project to support human rights.

Since 2004, they have provided free legal assistance to victims. Assistance in filing complaints with the Internal Control Division of the interior ministry, meetings with the public ombudsman, filing of lawsuits, presentation of the necessary medical documentation in court and other activities are how NGOs assist victims.

"In 2006, 62 complainants reported bodily harm by the police, along with rude and unprofessional behaviour. In 2007, there were 51 cases of police abuse, and in the first half of this year, there were 27 new cases. Although we see a downward trend, it is still a long way from elimination," said Anica Tomic Stojkovska of the All for Fair Trials Coalition.

A meeting of Macedonia and France's ombudsmen, Idjet Memeti and Jean-Paul Delevoye, and the EU representative in Macedonia, Erwan Fouere, generated some statements that could serve as future guidelines for protecting human rights.

"Transparency is the most efficient tool against torture. When one is arrested, it shouldn't mean the loss of human rights. For example, in France, the ombudsman appoints citizens who inspect prisons and penal institutions weekly," said Delevoye.

"In this country, many reforms in justice, freedom and security are under way, but in order for real changes to occur, a shift must take place in the attitude of police officers, administration and prison personnel. An appropriate legal framework is of crucial importance, but real improvement will happen only when laws are upheld and when personnel practices and customs change," said Fouere.

The Internal Control Division of the interior ministry refused several opportunities to provide its view of the human rights situation.

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