Citizens discouraged to fight for justice in court
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Citizens have submitted most complaints to the Ombudsman about the judiciary – 780 complaints have been received this year. However, criticism of NGOs says that under the law the Ombudsman is an independent institution, but elected by the Assembly by prior agreement of the parties in power. The Commission for Prevention and Protection against Discrimination has almost the same position.
Regarding free access to public information, Inbox7 received a response from the Ombudsman that in 2014 according to the number of submitted complaints, citizens most often complain about judiciary, that is over 780 complaints have been submitted. And then the number of complaints or violations of consumer rights rapidly decreases, there have been over 420, 155 for exceeding police powers, 78 for violated voting rights.
The Ombudsman’s records mark only 59 cases of discrimination, and at the bottom of the table there are 10 cases of violation of the rights of persons with disabilities.
Commission’s chairman Dusko Minovski is State Secretary of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, where full budget for functioning of the body is provided from. In such institutional setting the battle of citizens to protect their rights more often ends before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Political discrimination – 90% of the cases destructive to the victims
According to the Ombudsman’s reports, political discrimination is particularly evident before and after election processes. As located by the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, 90% of the cases end negatively for victims of this discrimination, which the Ombudsman calls the cruelest.
“For example in a court dispute between ordinary citizens and a senior official close to the government, the case usually ends up negative for the citizen. It has been observed not only in the political discrimination, but in cases of police brutality and in all cases in which the country needs to reply why it let violation of human rights happen”, says Uranija Pirovska, director of the Helsinki Committee.
With support of the Helsinki Committee journalists Ljubisa Arsic and Zarko Nastoski have made a 30-minute documentary entitled “Towards Justice”. As the authors of the story of political discrimination they have faced reality in which citizens are seriously scared to speak publicly about injustice.
Of eight citizens that should have appeared in the film, only half of them stood in front of the camera.
“Even for those who were encouraged to speak it took a few days their lawyers to make them do it and to explain that they would not have any consequences because anyway they had nothing to lose. We focused on finding people who had been political victims, but who filed legal complaints, only such persons”, explain the authors for Inbox7.
Their field observations result in frightening data.
“In Macedonia, where party affiliation is before all the skills and experience, where a party card is replacement for diploma, there have been only 20 trials raised by politically discriminated citizens. Even worse, for these four years, as long as the Law on protection against discrimination has been existing, no citizen has managed to prove that he has been discriminated in the workplace on the basis of political affiliation, although every day we hear that people lose their jobs because they do not belong to the ruling parties“, says journalist Ljubisa Arsic.
First, just few are encouraged to bring a lawsuit and to fight for justice in court. Then, instead of the courts to stand beside citizens – victims, they choose to defend state authorities that discriminate. Somehow it is easier for the courts to decide against citizens than to argue with the institutions, say Arsic and Nastoski. Then, the Commission for Protection against Discrimination rarely determines political discrimination because the members of the commission are employed in public administration and practically brought in a situation to decide against their colleagues, or even worse, superiors. The film shows that the Constitutional Court has limited powers in cases such as this, and not even the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has a lot of work with such Macedonian cases.
“At the moment, if a citizen is fired, or fails at a job competition or cannot progress in the career in the workplace, and if all of this is due to political affiliation, then it would be hard to succeed through institutions to prove it. Not to mention how much time, nerves and money is needed. So for the political victims it is much easier to remain silent, wait for a new competition or new government, than to go to a journey that has a certain end in advance – that the state is right, and not the citizen”, journalist Ljubisa Arsic shares his experience.
Pirovska: Even the Ombudsman is not independent
“In the RM we are not facing inefficiency of an institution; we are facing a systemic problem. We can no longer talk about independence of any institution, when we know that there is full politicization of the system. We can no longer talk about any division of power, when there is a dominant role of the executive power. The judiciary is not at all in power and it can be characterized as a relevant factor in the realization and protection of human rights for the simple reason that every day we witness that judiciary is influenced by the executive power. The moment you break the rule of presumption of innocence, when there is spectacular arrest by the Interior Ministry, the executive power sends a clear message to the court what decision should be taken”, says Uranija Pirovska, director of the Helsinki Committee.
According to her, neither the Ombudsman nor the Commission for Prevention and Protection against Discrimination are independent institutions.
“The Ombudsman is elected by prior agreement of the parties in power. He has no financial independence, which is very important. In countries with a long European tradition they say: “An Ombudsman that is not criticized by the government is a bad Ombudsman, an Ombudsman who is loved by the government is a bad Ombudsman”. As he does not fulfill his role, although he should be corrector of power”, says Pirovska.
Decision in favor of the Minister
The petition for the former Minister Spiro Ristovski, submitted to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, following his statement that children can be cared for and educated positively only in complete families, that is mother and father, was resolved in favor of the Minister.
“It dragged a lot, because apart from the recording, we had no other evidence, we should have taken a statement from the Minister who was too busy. We as a Commission said that there was no discrimination in the statement of the then Minister, in which he said that children could be cared for and educated positively only in complete families. In his mandate he was committed to children’s rights. Ristovski just said that the best environment is the one with mother and father. It is not discrimination against children who grow up in dysfunctional families”, explains committee chairman Dusko Minovski for Inbox7.
She noted that in making the Law on Protection against Discrimination four years ago, subversion was made in the text of the law, in which there is no part on basic sexual orientation, especially important if we take into account the pressures LGBT community in Macedonia is facing.
Amendments to the Law on Protection against Discrimination
Commission for Protection against Discrimination has been operating for four years with seven commissioners elected by the Parliament, who receive a monthly allowance of 40,000 denars, and have a budget of 3.5 million denars. The President of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, Dusko Minovski, is at the same time state secretary to the Minister of Labor and Social Policy, under whose patronage the commission acts. NGOs reacted that a piano professor without previous knowledge of discrimination of human rights has been appointed as a member of the commission. Roma community reacted as they have no representative in the commission.
Minovski announces that changes are necessary in the existing Law on Protection against Discrimination, especially in the part of burden of proving so that it is not burden to the plaintiff. Minovski points out that the Commission will propose amendments to the law regarding the formation of the so-called Secretariat or professional service of commissioners, because under existing legal decision, commissioners, despite having other duties, sit once a week according to the rules, but also publish professional, technical and administrative matters.
“We have to employ people, especially lawyers, who will go on the ground to obtain evidence and who know the regulations. The budget is quite small and there is discrimination not only in Skopje, we have to be present at the local level”, says Minovski.
In the Commission for Protection against Discrimination most complaints have been reviewed for discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, politics and in terms of gender. It is evaluated that there is a problem with animation of the public, because citizens are not well informed.
“In public administration they might know their rights more, which is not the case with the private sector. Discrimination is a specific violation of human rights, three appropriate elements are to be respected, to have a basis in law, to have unfavorable treatment and comparator”, said Minovski.
Macedonia was an example, now it is at the bottom
Roma community reacts that in the Commission for Protection against Discrimination there is no permanent member of their ethnicity. Asked by Inbox7 whether Macedonia has a reason to celebrate World Human Rights Day, Ashmet Elezovski says that is a very difficult question given the poverty, unemployment, and education, which is a process that is carried out, but young professionals unfortunately leave to live abroad in search of a better future.
“It is painful that at the moment Macedonia is forced by the EU to implement selective discrimination against Roma in respect of the right to freedom of movement, even though the country is a signatory to the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for freedom of movement. But the practice of returning the Roma from borders continues only on the basis of color. Unless we see each other as citizens of Macedonia that want to help, we will continuously have situations where some people will show their “affinities” for discrimination against certain people”, says Elezovski, who is representative of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) in Strasbourg.
According to him, there are many violations of Roma rights. There are situations where a person is sentenced to 12 years in prison for participation in fighting, there are situations when for a small theft a person is sentenced to 6 years, as well as cases when Roma employment in the private sector is impossible.
“Commission for Protection against Discrimination is familiar with cases when there is abuse of people with disabilities by certain private companies that use benefits from the state. In the end, none of them can realize their rights, and none of the competent authorities takes action, because it is a process of protecting the interests of a particular group of people“, says Elezovski.
This great fighter for human rights says that a few years ago Macedonia could be proud of the first primer, first media and many other things that were a revolution for Roma movement in the world. Now, he says, we are somewhere at the bottom, respecting the rights of Roma in Macedonia we even lag behind Bulgaria and many other countries that were behind us.
Editor: Stojanka Mitreska