Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Macedonian judiciary plagued by backlogs: Council of Europe rights commissioner

Council of Europe (COE) Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg released his report on the status of human rights in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Friday, praising ongoing efforts by the FYROM government to improve human rights, but also highlighting shortfalls in the judiciary, law enforcement, and the penitentiary system. Hammarberg wrote:

The country’s judiciary was frequently described by both national and international stakeholders as weak and inefficient, with widespread perceptions of political influence and corruption...

A main problem remains the backlog of over one million cases. In 2007, the trend shifted. The improved implementation of the judicial reform strategy coupled with other measures tackling the inefficiency of the judiciary resulted in an increase of solved cases by 8% in the first half of 20079. The Minister of Justice informed the Commissioner that the backlog of cases has decreased. However, lengthy administrative and judicial proceedings remain a problem and constitute the bulk of cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Government is addressing this problem with a series of legislative and organisational measures, such as the adoption of the Law on Civil Proceedings limiting the courts’ ‘investigative role’ in civil proceedings and the parties’ possibilities to delay the procedures. A (domestic) legal remedy against lengthy proceedings has been introduced...

These reforms are important steps to diminish political influence in the appointment of judges and to ensure an independent and efficient judicial system. However, public confidence in the judiciary remains very low. Several international organisations and NGOs have reported on widespread and repetitive postponements of hearings, low quality of judicial decisions and poor standard of court facilities without separate waiting rooms for witnesses and victims, and sometimes even resulting in in camera hearings because of lack of space. The Commissioner is of the opinion that more efforts need to be invested to enable effective follow through of the judicial reform process and to consolidate the improvements provided for in reform legislation. Such measures should include continuing legal education for legal professionals including judges and other legal court staff, as well as training on improving case management and handling. More resources need to be invested in court buildings and equipment.

The Commissioner also found that "police violence remains a problem," and recommended the creation of a more representative police force which would include more women and minorities.

Hammarberg's report reiterated his concern for the rights and status of the Roma ethnic minority across Europe. In July, he urged Italy to change policies which he said marginalize the Roma, and he described seeing harsh conditions in Roma camps and hearing accounts of police mistreating the Roma people. He said that in addition to the harm caused by the policies themselves, openly anti-Roma governmental statements reinforced existing xenophobic sentiment.

War Crimes Trials Undermine Macedonia Coalition

The main Albanian party in Macedonia's government voiced anger with the announced trial procedures of ethnic Albanians accused of war crimes.

The cases of the four men have been returned from The Hague war crimes tribunal, ICTY, to Macedonia's courts, and one of the trials is set to start later this month.

The Democratic Union of Albanians, DUI, wants the cases dropped. "We believe the cases should subside under the amnesty law, so there would be be no court proceedings," a party source was quoted as telling the local Spic daily.

"But we still lack guaranties [of this] from our coalition partner", the source added, referring to the main party in government, the centre-right VMRO DPMNE.

The cases concern senior party officials, including the DUI president, Ali Ahmeti, charged with committing war crimes during the armed conflict in 2001, which pitted Albanian guerrillas from the now disbanded National Liberation Army, NLA, against Macedonia’s security forces. Ahmeti at the time headed the NLA.

The source also accused VMRO DPMNE's head, the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, of mounting a "policy of isolation" towards the EU and NATO. The source complained that Gruevski's tough rhetoric in the unresolved "name" row between Athens and Skopje was diminishing the chances of a solution.

A quick resolution of the dispute is needed if the country wishes enter NATO and subsequently the EU. In April, Greece blocked Macedonia’s NATO bid, arguing that the use of the name Macedonia implied a territorial claim to the Greek northern province of the same name.

"If the country stays out of NATO and EU for a longer period, this could shake the coalition," the DUI source warned.

The formation of a VMRO DPMNE-DUI coalition after June general elections was heralded as a political breakthrough, because in 2001 VMRO DPMNE headed a government at war with the NLA.

Silvio Berlusconi: Macedonia is a destination for Italian business

Macedonia has been a destination for Italian business, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in the frames of the traditional exhibition in Italian town of Bari at which Macedonia had been presented by Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Macedonian Kirilitsa newspaper reports. The most powerful business leaders from the European and Mediterranean region have attended the exhibition.

Macedonia President’s Popularity ‘Doubles’

The popularity of Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski has doubled in the past three months, an opinion poll by the local Institute for Democracy suggests.

Asked which politicians they trust the most, 9.5 percent of those polled chose Crvenkovski in August. This is double from June when he got less then 5 percent.

In recent months Crvenkovski has announced his return as the head of the opposition Social Democrats and was increasingly present in public opposing the Government’s policy in the so-called “name” dispute with neighbouring Greece.

However, his ratings are still not enough to beat those of Macedonia’s Premier and ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party chief, Nikola Gruevski whose popularity has generally stayed high at 32 percent.

Next on the list is the head of the ruling ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, Ali Ahmeti who got 10.6 percent of votes. This is much higher than the leader of the ethnic Albanian opposition, Menduh Thaci from the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, who got only 1.4 percent in support.

The leader of the main opposition party, Radmila Sekerinska from the Social Democrats also scored low at 0.3 percent, research shows.

More than one third said they do not have confidence in either politician.

As for party ratings, VMRO DPMNE secured support from 28 percent of those surveyed; the Social Democrats got slightly less than 10 percent while the DUI got 9 percent. The DPA got less than 3 percent.

13 percent said they would not vote while around one third of the surveyed said they are not sure.

Regarding the ongoing Athens-Skopje name row which is now Macedonia’s sole obstacle in joining NATO and could yet stall the country’s European Union accession, only 13.2 percent of the surveyed said they expect a quick resolution. 54 percent of people said were pessimistic about a swift deal.

32.6 percent gave no answer to this question.

The survey was conducted via telephone based on a representative sample of the population, the Institute said.

Macedonia should recognise same-sex couples says rights commissioner

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights has published a report into the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in Macedonia.
Thomas Hammarberg said that the "atmosphere and attitude towards LGBT persons" in the former Yugoslav Republic has improved.

However, he concluded that certain persisting discriminatory attitudes exist at all levels, and legal safeguards are insufficient.

"Legal protections against discrimination remain particularly weak," he said.

"Currently, there are limited specific legal protection provisions available for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but not on the basis of gender identity.

"The Law on Military Service was amended and took out the prohibition for homosexuals to serve. Moreover, a recent amendment to the Law on Work Relations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a welcome positive legislative change albeit with a narrow scope of application."

Mr Hammarberg said that the lack of a law against homophobic and transphobic hate crimes should be considered, along with Constitutional protection on the grounds of sexual orientation.

"The Commissioner has been made aware of instances of apparent discriminatory attitudes towards the LGBT community by local authorities," the report stated.

"Education is the key to informing and developing a culture of tolerance and inclusiveness. Human rights education programmes should be developed and expanded for Governmental officials including police officers and judicial officials at all levels, and also for school-going students.

"There should be a possibility of legal recognition of same sex partnership."
Thomas Hammarberg was elected to the post of Commissioner for Human Rights in 2005 by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.
The 47-member Council predates the European Union.

It promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.