Date: Wed, 31 Dec 97 10:32:01 CST
On the conditions concerning the human rights in Republic of Macedonia in 1997
Annual Report of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, 31 December 1997
The firm determination of Republic of Macedonia for a respect of the human rights is quite obvious judging by its Constitution, adopted after becoming independent in 1991, and also by the laws that round off both the executive and judiciary authorities in the state. However, the positive trend of creating judicial system that will be based on the Rule of Law and the respect of the human rights and liberties, we had registered in our previous reports, has slowed down in this 1997. A significant part of the legislation still does not comply with the Constitution of the state and also with the international instruments ratified by the Parliament.
Nevertheless, some of the newly adopted laws are not being justly enforced in practice. In addition, many suitable legal acts, necessary for implementation of the newly adopted laws, failed to be pronounced. It is of significant importance to indicate that it is necessary to assure better transparency of the work of the executive authorities and more extensive social control over the same. This year's report brings out encroachments of the police functions, with a special review to the police activities in Gostivar, the judiciary, the education of the minorities, the right to freedom of religious confession, the freedom of printed and electronic media, the import and hand out of foreign publications and finally the right of the refugees of the Civil War in Greece.
Encroachments of police activities:
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia registered the following cases of encroachments of the police: - In the beginning of December 1996 the citizen H.J. had been arrested under a suspicion of shoplifting (it has not been verified if this suspicion was well founded or not). He was taken in, to the 1st Police Station in Skopje, without a warrant, and he was forced to sign a statement with an unknown content to him without a presence of a lawyer. As he refused to do so, he was threaten, beaten up with clubs and punches. All this stopped and he was released when he signed the statement. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has not denied this incident, although it was publicly revealed in the newspapers. - December 4, 1996, about 20 civil members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, answering an anonymous call, entered the premises of the firm "Ascon Trade" from Skopje oppressively breaking the doors and demanding employees to hand out the alleged weapon. When no arms were found, 15 employees, present there, were taken in to the 1st Police Station.
After more than 4 hours in the station they were released with the explanation that all that happened was a misunderstanding. Written protest was filled by a lawyer from Skopje, Mr. Ratko Georgievski and by the Bar Council. In this case the Police allegedly apologized to this company for the disturbance and the inconveniences. - January 28, 1997, early in the morning two police officers in uniforms, Borce Todorovski and Branko Dalceski, without a court summons and without an explanation for what reason requested the citizens, Gjuro Koloski and Saide Sabaete from Struga to come to the police station. Neither of them opposed and wanted to go with their cars, but the officers acted oppressively and did not allow this, so the two citizens were taken to the police station by police car. After several hours of waiting and interrogations by different police inspectors they were released as were not involved in nor connected to the stealing of a cow. In this case, it is obvious that the police acted upon groundless suspicion and unjustifiably treated the two citizens as persons who did not respond to a court summons. - The employees of the textile factory in the village Capari, near Bitola, were on strike for a longer period. May 27, 1997 they protested by blocking the entrance in the factory, intending to stop the transfer of the factory's property. These same persons are shareholders in this factory with 100 to 200 shares each, in a value of DEM 0,80 per share. At that time they were not receiving salary for whole 4 months. At noon, the same day, 30 to 40 police officers from Bitola arrived and without saying anything physically attacked the persons at the gate. As consequences, women had swollen ankles and wrists, bruises on their shoulders, hands and legs. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia has personally signed statements on this event by the following employees in this factory: Slavica Kapinkovska, Lena Vrcakovska, Suzana Geceva, Lence Spirovska and Paca Tancevska.
One of them says "how will I appear in front of my child..and what will he think of a police that treated his mother as she was a criminal.."; Another victim says that the police "..acted as payed and not as a Macedonian police..", "with blood on my knees and tears in my eyes, I witnessed the police action, children's cry , screaming ... terrible sight!". - As per the daily newspaper Dnevnik "Three participants in a protest of the clients of the savings bank TAT on May 27 in Bitola were imprisoned for stoning buildings. They claim that were brutally beaten up by the police and that they were forced to sign false statements. One of the victims, Kire Damjanovski, sentenced to 40 days in prison, stated "they were beating me all over, my back, sexual organs. I started screaming till I fainted...I requested them to show me any evidence, a video recording, but nothing...".
Toni Mitrevski stated "although we made our statements, they planted other ones and forced us to sign them ... they accused me for physically attacking the police officer, Saso Gilevski, but when he came to testify he said that I did not attack him". - According the new Law of Criminal Procedure, that came into force on April 11, 1997, arresting citizens by Internal Affairs Authorities without courts warrant shall be considered illegal. However, several cases of detaining on "informative talks" without court warrant and a lawyer were registered even after the above law came into force. - In two cases, the strike of the enginedrivers and the strike of the truckdrivers in November, the police force was used against the civil right to strike.
- There is also the case of arresting the civil servants of the local administration in Stip (in fact the leadership of the opposition political party VMRO-DPMNE). - A concerning news, as per the press, is that police officers in uniforms are constantly present on the Pedagogical Faculty in Skopje, probably due to the past events. There is no objection by the university management. There are still open questions - does the police apologize to the victims in case of a misunderstanding - is it prepared to accept responsibilities that may eventually result from in such cases - does the police compensate the harm done to the victims and how, and what do the responsible people undertake against police officers violating the rights and freedoms of individuals, and against excessive use of force by these authorities. Most controversial question is what happens in cases where legal proceedings are initiated against police officers. The cases familiar to us, as the one of the police officer known as "Arkan" who without any reason at all beaten up a citizen from Dracevo, Skopje, or the case of Ismail Biljari and the criminal proceeding he initiated against the police officers Blage Apostolovski and Peco Pavlovski in 1988, are still in procedure and not over. These typical dragging out of the lawsuits are numerous, as in the case of Angelko Stojanovski from Skopje for beating up a child, or the case of one citizen against a police officer since 1989.
Police activities in Gostivar:
Regarding the events in Gostivar in June 1997, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia expresses, once again, its concern on the intensity of the clashes and the encroachments of the legal functions of the police which overcame all limits that can be considered acceptable both for the internal and the international law. The police used force on individuals that were not resisting at all or stopped resisting, and moreover they continued even when the fire ceased and nobody was in danger any more. Due to the above, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights considers that the excessive force used while the events in Gostivar cannot pass the proportionality test and as such it is considered as an inhumane and degrading act. The individuals detained, arrested, held up while the events in Gostivar, were not told their rights guaranteed by the internal and the international law. The constitutional Right for inviolability of ones domiciles, has been violated while these events as the police were breaking into some houses, searching them without court warrant. To stop further encroachments of police functions in Republic of Macedonia it is necessary to develop legal standards for police actions that significantly concern the freedoms and rights of the individual and the citizens (first of all the usage of firearms and force, housesearching, tapping, etc.).
The judiciary seems as if it is still in a state of confusion after its reorganization in accordance to the numerous laws adopted the Parliament till June 1997 and the re-election of Judges. It is inevitable to notice that there are many inconsistencies while appointing Judges, trials are lasting too long and though inefficient, and the number of unsolved cases is becoming significantly large. The quality of the trials and the verdicts is also very low, a fact being confirmed by the great number of annulling. Contrary to the internal regulations and the international standards, the detention is being used extensively (even in cases when it is absolutely unnecessary) and the reasons for detention are usually unknown, not subject of explanation, but just legislative provisions are paraphrased. The system of free legal aid for the poor is restrictive in laws and inefficient in practice. The impartiality of the criminal justice is doubtful due to the few trials against members of opposition political parties held in Gostivar, Tetovo and Krusevo this year. All these trials arose great public interest. The trials themselves, the way they were conducted, the atmosphere, the unnecessary detentions, the urgency of these trials (the priority they were given), numerous limitations of the rights of the defense and the unusual severity of the sentences. All this significantly shake up the confidence that courts in democratic society must instill in the public, the criminal proceedings and the defendants. The right of the so-called natural judge, according which the case must be assigned by previously determined objective criteria, is not being obeyed correctly. In this sense, cases with important political connotation are firstly viewed by the President of the Court and then is becoming a practice. Same as courts, the Public Prosecutor is still not inclined to sanctionize the irregularities of the police actions. From other side, judges, instead of seeing their role in the protection of the civil rights and freedoms, of legality and fairness of the proceedings, they are still acting as partners of the prosecution. Moreover, there are not enough efficient legal remedies for protection of civil rights and freedoms in courts.
Education of minorities:
The education still represents a field where numerous violations of the rights of the national minorities have been registered. The Law of language usage on the Faculty of Pedagogy did not resulted with the expected change in the course of the situation on this faculty. The management is using all means to postpone and drag our the re-election of the teaching stuff in Albanian language. The management bears the immediate responsibility for the aggravation of the tension between the students and the teaching stuff, members of Macedonian and Albanian nationality. A protest as omitting lectures by the Albanian students resulted from this situation. From the same reasons, (Macedonian) students and high-school pupils organized demonstrations in February 1997 against the Law for languages to be used on the Faculty of Pedagogy. the demonstrations were supported by a significant part of the professors from the University "Sv. Kiril i Metodij" in Skopje, and also by high school throughout Macedonia. Although the ideological leaders and agitators were easily identifiable (mainly among the professors and their assistants on the Faculty of Pedagogy) nothing was undertaken even though a great doze of nationalism and xenophobia was manifested on the demonstrations. This all was a result of the improper education and should have provoked at least an attempt for analyzing the educational environment as of precaution and disagreement of such ideas in future. There is also the problem with the education in Turkish language in Zupa, near Debar. This year the Helsinki Committee for Human rights of Republic of Macedonia received 43 individual complaints and protests where parents persistently request their children to be taught in Turkish language. Some of the parents lodged an appeal procedure and received negative verdicts. They received negative replies on their requests addressed to the Ministry of Education. In their complaints they stressed the police action on December 23, 1996 when part of the pupils were repressed from their classes in Turkish language in the primary school "Nedjati Zekirija", village Kodzadzik. Now, it could be considered as a violation of the child, as per articles 14, 28, 29 and 30 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Republic of Macedonia is a signatory to this Convention. The question of the status and the future of the institution University of Tetovo, with not stipulated and unfamiliar standards, remains as an easy activating generator of inter-ethnic tensions. No dialog was restored that could enable eventual alternative access and finding solutions to this problem and not to this institution. In 1997 the Albanian nationality made a redimensioning of their requests and now their activities are aimed to legalizing of this institution as state institution and not a private one.
From the other side (which burdens things even more) the adoption of the new Law for the High Education is being delayed. This makes it impossible to define the legal parameters as a basis to value the existing and desired faculties, which should be the basic criteria for founding such institutions.
Freedom of Religious Confession:
The Parliament of Republic of Macedonian adopted the Law on Religious Communities and Groups on July 16, 1997. By religious communities it is understood "voluntary organized non-profitable communities of confessors of same religion" (art. 8, par. 1), and by religious groups it is understood "voluntary non-profitable association of confessors from same religion that do not belong to any registered religious community" (art. 9, par. 1). Article 8 also states that "One religion can have only one religious community". Law also provides that "citizens can freely and publicly establish religious groups in conformity with the Law". While the Law was still in a draft phase the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia organized a public hearing with representatives of many confessional groups and a representative from the Government. Many remarks were addressed to the legislator and the general conclusion was that the draft excessively restricts the freedom of religious confession. According them the Law favours the "traditional" and neglects the "new" religions, as it makes a difference between religious community and religious group although both have same activities, meaning religious service, religious instruction and so. It comes out that the historical religions as the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Islam are categorized as religious communities, and the non-traditional or "new" religions will be categorized as religious groups and their registration will be restricted. They also consider that the Law protects the bigger religious communities as par. 2, art. 8 lays down that "one religion can register one religious community only".
The Law lays down a rigorous control over the function of the confession organizations that in fact is a restriction of the freedom of confession. Especially in the field of religious education of juveniles (with parents consent only). Further, a religious group can be composed of minimum 50 adults, all citizen of Republic of Macedonia and with permanent stay in the state. The registration application must contain the names of all 50 founders, the addresses of meeting places, who will organize the meetings. Religious groups that are not registered shall be considered illegal. The Law restricts entry of foreign preachers and missionaries on the territory of Republic of Macedonia. For a violation of this Law a penalty of 50.000 DEN (1.700 DEM) is provided, which in today circumstances means an average salary for six months. Foreign citizens are subject of penalties in case of practicing religious activities without permission, out of the objects intended for this purposes, for organizing a religious lectures to children under the age of 10 without the consent of their parents. Minor penalties are stipulated for 9 other cases, as attraction of believers, concealing, giving money, also for activities done out of places intended for that. The Law grants too big authorities to the Commission for Religious Issues in the Government, which according to the representatives of the religious communities and groups is undefined control and has no legal title. The Macedonian Orthodox Church is also dissatisfied by this Law as it is not distinguished as "national" religion that preserves the ethnic and cultural identity of the Macedonian people. Macedonia continues to deny Serbian Orthodox Church (as a response to the Serbian denying of the Macedonian Orthodox Church), Serbian priests are not allowed to hold services for the Serbian minority in Macedonia, which is considered not just a religious, but ethnical discrimination too.
Freedom of the press and the other media for information:
Report on the media in 1997: This year the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights registered significant positive changes in the domain of pluralisation of the press in the country. In March this year, the independent daily newspaper Dnevnik took a brave, but risky step reducing the price 4 times and in this way increased the sale and the daily circulation for 10 times. Pro-government oriented NIP Nova Makedonija followed this move and significantly reduced the prices of its dailies: Vecer, Nova Makedonija, Flaka, Birlik. The weeklies were cheaper as well (except for Fokus), so the circulation was increased too. As an illustration: if before this step the total daily circulation of all daily newspapers was up to 30.000 copies, today it is more than 100.000 copies.
It came out that it is not the vicious thesis that Macedonian people do not have the habit and the tradition of buying and reading newspapers, but it is the price. So 1997 can be marked as blooming in the printed media.
Some other factors confirm this, too. First of all, will mark the emerging of the independent weekly publication Denes this fall. This newspaper is edited by experienced editors and journalist from Nova Makedonija, who left this house due to the discontent from the managing policy and formed own political magazine. Facing economical difficulties the weekly publication Delo changed the format. This fall the price became more popular too. Till end of this year we are awaiting a new independent political magazine in Skopje. Contrary to the trend of more and more important and irrepressible pluralisation of the printed media and the general increase of the circulation, the pro-government NIP Nova Makedonija still keeps the monopoly, and this gives advantage to all its publications on the market. The independent papers increased their circulation creating alternative and primitive distribution network (streetsale) under constant pressure by the police. It was this year that police stopped threatening to remove the street sellers.
However, the Government still ignores the requests of the independent media for approving locations where they could place newsstands that will enable them to for stabile distribution network. The Government hasn't got convincing reply why they keep rejecting these requests. NIP Nova Makedonija owns distribution network of more than 500 booths throughout Macedonia. Beside this, the Government continued the arbitrary distribution of modest budget funds intended as aid to the printed media. Moreover, in terms of non-existing criteria or procedures for application and distribution of those funds the Government continues to favour the publications of NIP Nova Makedonija.
The electronic media spent 1997 awaiting the Law of Radiodiffusion, and since it has been adopted awaiting again to experiences its functioning. Contrary to the assurance that the state has to establish order in this area, many consider that the Law is restrictive, because only a small number of private radio and TV stations will be able to pay amounts for an annual rent of frequencies (according some estimations made by local experts, the annual rent could amount 20.000 DEM). More than 200 private radio and TV stations operate in Macedonia (most of them do not broadcast informative programs), but since the new Law envisages new solutions to be applied in practice, it is expected a greater part of them to collapse. Besides, some private radio and TV station continue to complain (and it seems rightfully) against the fact that the new Law will also allow the state radio and TV station, MRTV to collect monthly tax (this year we were paying this tax together with the electricity bill), and will not restrict the sell of space in commercial purposes, for advertising and marketing. MRTV will be in much better position compared to the other private stations, and could impose dumping prices on marketing and advertising, and literally ruin the competition in the private sector. In 1997 the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia did not get credible information of attempts to censuring of other ways of retaining the freedom of speech. Contrary to this, in context of the incidents in Gostivar in July, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia noticed one-sided information and Hate Speech that defended and favourized the police action and supported the charges against Osmani and Demiri.
Moreover, there are the suspicions that some reporters and cameramen were advised in advance on the planned police action in Gostivar by the police itself, and that they were brought there with an intention to "immortalize" the success of the police. If this suspicions come out true, it will be a proof for a scandalous abuse of the media in political purposes and a proof of violation of the basic ethic rules of the journalism. Towards the end of 1997, the Association of the Journalists of Macedonia announced a strike of the journalists because of the small salaries. The strike never held and probably never will. In the independent and commercial media there is still no promising initiative to form independent association of journalists, although there is a disposition for it. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights thinks that such initiative should be encouraged.
Import and distribution of foreign publications:
During 1996 and 1997 the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia registered certain number of bans on import of books by individuals from Republic of Macedonia and here will mention some: 1. In June 1996 on the border crossing Tasmarunista on Macedonian-Albanian border a group of representatives of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Albania were crossing the border with certain number of books with international documents on human rights published by the United Nations, Council of Europe and CSCE: "Human Rights in the International Law", "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" , "Human Rights - Permanent Challenge of the Council of Europe," "Independence of Judges and Lawyers" , 'Alphabet on Human Rights," the Constitutions of USA, Canada, France, Germany and other states, in total 226 copies.
2. The individual Vlado Kocev, citizen of Republic of Macedonia, member of the Christian religious community "Jehovah's Witnesses", working in FR Yugoslavia since 1989. He was crossing the Macedonian-Yugolsav border at the border crossing Tabanovce on December 15, 1996 when he had to pay customs duty in amount of DEM 800,00 for carrying personal belongings. Among the personal thing he was carrying his personal library of 255 biblical books (some of them are very old and very rare books). All these books were seizured by customs authorities as "a literature that was not approved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs". Unfortunately, no document was issued for the seizured books. After numerous futile requests for restoring this books by the customs authorities and the District Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kumanovo, Mr. Kocev made a written request to the Department of Foreign Publications at the Ministry of Internal Affairs on February 1, 1997. Till now he did not receive a reply from them. Then he complained to the competent commission at the Government, he received an answer that the case is returned to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the last reply was that he should obtain a document from the customs that his 255 books were seizured at the border. So, the story became quite abstract. Finally, he lodged a complaint to the Public Prosecutor of Republic of Macedonia, Mr. Branko Naumovski, and he is still waiting for the reply.
3. Several times during 1996 and 1997 the Christian religious community of Jehovah's Witnesses addressed the Ministry of Internal Affairs for a license to import various books and publications with a religious content in Serbian, Croatian and Macedonian languages for the needs of the community. It is interesting that the competent department in the Ministry was always issuing this license but always reducing the quantities by ten times. So, if their requirement was 8000 copies, 800 were approved, or 500 of 4000 copies and so on. There is no explanation why is the import licensed "but in a reduced number than the required" because, according the opinion of the Ministry of Internal Affairs "The required number exceeds the needs". The religious community lodged a complaint to the Complaint Commission at the Government, but the reply on October 25, 1997 was negative. Against this decision the community lodged a complaint to the Supreme Court and still has not answer. The worse this is and even if this Law of Import and Distribution of Foreign Publications is abolished, this matter will be subject of review to the Law of Religious Communities.
4. According to the information we received from the Greek Helsinki Monitor, based, as they claim, on a personal statement from the individual Pepi Krastanov from Ohrid. On July 11, 1997 he was cruelly beaten up by the police for possession of Bulgarian literature and his connections in Bulgaria. Such behavior of the police, the obstinacy of the officials is based on the Law for Import and Distribution of Foreign Means for Mass Communication and for Foreign Informative activities in Yugoslavia, inherited from former Yugoslavia. This Law is one of the typical laws of the former regime where the freedom and free were degraded to nonexistance. So according to art. 6 from this Law "Import of foreign publications in Republic of Macedonia is free ..." however, the exceptions explained further in the text, completely negate the previous. In accordance to this Law the police could seizure every piece of paper with a foreign printed text on it. The Helsinki Committee informed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the Government agreed that it is necessary to prepare a new Law to regulate these matters, and the Secretariat for Information in the Government is in charge of this. In the meantime, our opinion is that, all seizured belongings should be returned to their owners. The Helsinki Committee fro Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia expects that the law in preparation will be compatible with international standards (especially to the ratified documents) that promote free exchange of ideas.
Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
chairman, Meto Jovanovski
Greek Helsinki Monitor &
Minority Rights Group - Greece