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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Committee on the Elimination
  of Racial Discrimination

12 August 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined eighth to tenth periodic report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Elena Kuzmanovska, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that one of the major accomplishments in anti-discrimination was the adoption of the 2010 Law on the Prevention of and Protection against Discrimination which contained a non-exhaustive list of discriminatory grounds.  Continuous efforts were being made to improve the status of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and to address the challenge of the stark increase in the overall number of undocumented migrants.  The new Law on Foreigners, currently being drafted, would allow the detention of unaccompanied minors and families with minors only as a measure of last resort, and would ensure the implementation of several relevant European Union directives on the matter.  The position of Roma was rather vulnerable and major efforts were being made to remedy the situation, including the National Strategy for the Roma in the Republic of Macedonia and the 2005-2015 Decade of Roma Inclusion.

Committee Experts commended the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for the important developments in the legal and institutional infrastructure and the many positive steps it had taken to address the situation of Roma, and welcomed the inclusion in the Constitution of the principle of equitable representation of persons belonging to all communities in public bodies at all levels of public life.  A number of anti-discrimination initiatives and institutions were in place and Experts wondered about the cooperation and coordination between them and how they were coordinated and evaluated for effectiveness.  Experts recognized the challenges in dealing with the dramatic surge of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia and stressed the obligation of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to abide by its international responsibilities, in the form of non-refoulement, prohibition of illegal detention, protection against smugglers and assurances that they were treated with respect for human rights.  The delegation was asked to comment on the education of Roma, the status of Roma language, situation of Roma street children and the disproportionate use of force by the police against Roma.

In concluding remarks, Jose Lindgren Alves, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur, expressed hope that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia would continue on this positive track and become an example country in the Balkans.

Ms. Kuzmanovska expressed appreciation for the engagement of Committee Experts in the discussion and reiterated the dedication of the entire society to improving the situation.

Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, said that this had been a fruitful meeting and that the useful information provided by the delegation would feed into the Committee’s concluding observations.

The delegation of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was composed of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Secretariat for Implementation of the Framework Agreement, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Science, and the Permanent Mission of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin its review of the combined tenth and eleventh periodic report of the Czech Republic (CERD/C/CZE/10-11).  The country reviews can be watched via live webcast at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.

Report

The combined eighth to tenth periodic report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia can be read here: CERD/C/MKD/8-10.

Presentation of the Report

ELENA KUZMANOVSKA, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, outlined advances in the field of anti-discrimination and said a major accomplishment was the adoption of the 2010 Law on the Prevention of and Protection against Discrimination, whereby the list of discriminatory grounds became non-exhaustive.  A 2014 amendment to the Criminal Code had expanded protection to all grounds established by law or by ratified international treaties.  In January 2011, the Commission for the Protection against Discrimination had been established with the mandate to process application, raise awareness about the concepts of equality and non-discrimination, and increase visibility and understanding of protective mechanisms and legislation for the protection of citizens against discrimination.  During the period of May 2013 to July 2015, the Commission had received 202 complaints of discrimination, most of which were on the grounds of ethnic affiliation, personal or social status, mental or physical disability, sex, or health condition. 

The 2012 to 2015 National Strategy for Equality and Non-Discrimination on the Grounds of Ethnic Affiliation, Age, Mental and Physical Disability and Gender was currently under review, in preparation for the drafting of the new 2016 to 2020 National Strategy on Equality.  The mandate of the Ombudsman had been strengthened with the establishment of new departments, including for the protection of citizens against discrimination, and for equitable representation, while the new draft law proposed strengthening of the Ombudsman’s role as a national preventative mechanism.  The principal priorities in the country included fostering good inter-ethnic relations founded on equal treatment of all before the law and the institutions, the full implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, and a set of constitutional and institutional guarantees for the full protection of the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of all communities in the Republic of Macedonia had been established.   

Continuous efforts were being made to improve the status of non-citizens, including migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and to address the rising challenges of the stark increase in the overall number of undocumented migrants.  One such challenge was the capacity of the Reception Centre for Foreigners, which with the increased number of migrants, was unable to fulfil some of the standards of accommodation for that category of foreign nationals.  The new Law on Foreigners which was currently being drafted would allow detention of unaccompanied minors and families with minors only as a measure of last resort, and would ensure the implementation of several relevant European Union directives on the matter. 

The position of Roma was rather vulnerable and major efforts were being made to remedy the situation, including the National Strategy for the Roma in the Republic of Macedonia and the 2005 to 2015 Decade of Roma Inclusion.  Implementation activities were focused on national action plans in areas of education, housing, health care and employment.  In 2014, the Ministry of Interior had promoted the Human Rights Concept which defined its strategic commitment to respect and protect human rights, and was a reference document for policies and procedures to ensure the maximum level of protection and guarantees for fundamental human rights and freedoms.  In 2012, an inter-sector human rights body, chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had been established to advance coordination of human rights activities of all ministries and governmental bodies and the implementation of recommendations issued to Macedonia by human rights treaty bodies, the Council of Europe, the European Union and other international organizations.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

JOSE LINDGREN ALVES, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur, said that the most sensitive issue faced by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia involved disputes between two largest “majorities”, the ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, and not between them on one side and vulnerable minorities on the other.  The Ohrid Framework Agreement of 2001 had put an end to the inter-ethnic conflict between the two majorities and had devoted great attention to the equitable representation not only of Albanians and Macedonians, but to representation of persons belonging to all communities in public bodies at all levels of public life, a principle that had been incorporated in the Constitution. 

Instances of inter-ethnic violence still occurred, even if isolated and rare, he said, asking the delegation to comment on the incident in Kumanovo in May this year, the risks involved and whether the causes of that violence had been adequately addressed.  The last census took place in 2002, soon after the end of the war, and the Country Rapporteur wondered whether any political obstacles remained to holding a new census.  He said that disaggregated socio-economic statistics in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia would be important for a comparison between the situation of ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians.   

Mr. Lindgren Alves recognized the challenges in dealing with the dramatic surge of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia and stressed the need for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to abide by its international obligations in that regard, in the form of non-refoulement, prohibition of illegal detention, protection against smugglers and assurances that they would be treated with respect for human rights.  While welcoming the Government’s intention to upgrade the ill-famed Gazi Baba detention centre for foreigners to meet international standards, the Country Rapporteur expressed concern about irregularities that persisted in the treatment of transit migrants and asylum seekers, including long periods of administrative detention and detention of unaccompanied minors.  The delegation was asked to comment on the official languages used and discrimination against Roma street children, and to explain the difference between religious communities and religious groups.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked the delegation why the Office of the Ombudsman had not received “A status” and about its practice of documenting cases in electronic formats.  The status of the Roma language in the country and education of Roma children in their mother tongue was also raised by Experts.  The delegation was asked to explain rules concerning discrimination in the workplace and the corresponding sanctions.

An Expert said the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had made positive steps in addressing the situation of Roma by taking special measures in the area of housing, education and employment, which were already starting to bear fruit.  Other positive measures included efforts to tackle trafficking of persons from neighbouring countries. 

The school attendance rates of Roma children were decreasing, perhaps because of their lack of knowledge of the language of instruction or because of the lack of educational success, an Expert commented.  He also said that the disproportionate use of violence against Roma by the police was an issue that urgently needed to be addressed.  How was the issue of internally displaced persons being addressed and resolved?

Since the submission of its previous report in 2007, the State party had made important achievements, including tremendous developments in the legal and institutional infrastructure, noted an Expert and asked who were the vulnerable groups in the country, the main challenges they faced, and what forms of discrimination they suffered.   The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had in place a number of anti-discrimination initiatives and institutions, which often cut across each other and the delegation was asked to explain how they were coordinated and evaluated for effectiveness. 

An Expert noted that there were three institutions in the country which received complaints for discrimination, namely the Commission for the Protection against Discrimination, the Constitutional Court, and the Ombudsperson, and yet the number of complaints received was low, as was the number of inquiries into those complaints.

Concerning the work of the Office of the Ombudsperson, an Expert expressed concern about the lack of compliance with the decisions of the Ombudsperson and about the obstruction of the work of the Office by State bodies which failed to submit the necessary information, while the effectiveness of the Commission for the Protection against Discrimination was hampered by the lack of resources.  

An Expert commended the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for opening of at least four regional shelters for victims of violence and domestic violence.  He called on the State party to raise awareness about those shelters among Roma communities, and to open them to victims of domestic violence aged 18 years and younger, which often included Roma women and girls who married before the age of 18. 

An Expert expressed concern about “positive discrimination” and “positive segregation” of Roma and asked what was being done to increase the integration of Roma children in local schools.  What plans were in place to ensure that the overall policy framework for Roma in the fields of education, housing, employment and treatment by the police were implemented by municipal and local authorities? 

With regard to the situation of women and in particular minority women, Experts asked what progress had been made in implementing recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in terms of increased allocation of resources to the fight against violence against women and what targets had been set for the period up to 2020.  

The problem of police violence towards persons belonging to ethnic minorities, and against Roma in particular, called for improvement in training and sensitization of the police.  It also called for sanctions, said the Expert.

There was a problem with the registration of migrants and refugees, preventing access to health, education and other social services. 

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions about education, a delegate said the national constitution safeguarded the right to education and guaranteed the right to primary education of everyone, while discrimination in education was prohibited on the grounds of gender, race, ethnicity and other grounds.  The Strategy for Integrated Process had been adopted with the goal of changing the educational process. 

Primary education was decentralized to the local level and the municipal authorities were in charge of providing it.  Children attended the closest school to where they lived, and that was why there were schools with a majority of Roma students, which might be interpreted as self-segregation of Roma.  Children with special needs were integrated in mainstream education and special education classes were provided in primary schools, the Committee was also informed.

Regarding languages of instruction in schools, a delegate said Albanian students learned Macedonian from fourth grade, and it was a compulsory subject.  Roma language had a written form and grammar, using Latin script, and it was being used in schools.  Roma and Vlach languages were optional languages in primary schools. 

One of the major achievements in the country was the expansion of grounds of discrimination in the Constitution and the law, and the adoption of the non-exhaustive list of discriminatory grounds.  The draft Law on the Office of the Ombudsmen was being prepared which would strengthen its mandate and ensure its role as the national preventive mechanism.  A number of measures had been undertaken to remedy the situation of the Roma population, particularly in the areas of health, education and employment.  The school system did not support segregation; primary school students were admitted to the closest schools, so there were schools with majority Roma students, but there were no schools exclusively catering for Roma pupils.  All schools were open to any student from any community.  The admission quota to secondary schools was a special measure put in place to support the enrolment of Roma students to more attractive schools. 

Roma were recognized as citizens and had the same rights and responsibilities as any other citizen.  Roma were very politically active, they had political parties, there was one Roma Minister, a member of Parliament, several directors of state institutions, etc.  The National Strategy for Roma had been adopted and was being implemented through several national action plans, for which resources had been allocated by each Ministry.  A number of programmes were in place to support the Roma population, including the programme on the integration of Roma children in preschool education in place since 2006, establishment of the Roma Information Centres in 14 municipalities with a greater number of Roma communities, free legal aid programmes for the Roma, scholarships for Roma high school students, and others. 

The problem of street children was a growing one, begging was often a problem of abuse and neglect of minors, including by parents.  The protocol on street children had been prepared and offered a unified way of helping children in the street achieve better inclusion in society.  In order to tackle the phenomenon of early marriages, particularly among Roma, programmes were in place to increase inclusion in education – particularly at compulsory primary and secondary level – such as the preschool and scholarship programmes for Roma, and the conditional cash transfers to parents of children who regularly attended secondary school.  All women and girls had access to shelters for victims of domestic violence, regardless of their age.

The Commission for the Protection against Discrimination had been created in 2011 in order to ensure the implementation of the Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination, and the National Strategy of Equality and Non-Discrimination had been put in place, which was being implemented through its operative plan and a number of projects. 

The activities aimed at improving the conditions for accommodation of illegal migrants and asylum seekers at the Reception Centre for Foreigners had been intensified since the second half of 2014, with the support by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross.  Irregular migrants received free health care in the country.  More than 30,000 foreign nationals had been issued with asylum certificates: 23,958 to nationals of Syria and others to nationals of Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia and others.  A certain number of individuals were prevented from leaving Macedonia because of a risk of abuse of the visa liberalization regime.  In order to address the disproportionate use of force by the police against Roma, the Ministry of Interior had put in place measures to improve the attitude of the police towards citizens regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, age, and a number of projects had been put in place in order to build trust and confidence between Roma communities and the police. 

In addition to Macedonian language, official languages were all those spoken by more than 20 per cent of the population.  The implementation of the principle of equitable representation in public administration had resulted in the increase of representation of minorities, and their participation in the creation and development of policies, strengthening institutions and building of trust and confidence.  The police was composed of Macedonians (76 per cent) and Albanians (19) per cent, and others.  In the Ministry of Defence, including the army, Macedonians represented 73 per cent of the staff, Albanians 19 per cent, and Turks two per cent.

The law amending the Law on the Ombudsman had been prepared, which would bring the institution in line with the requirements of Status A and increase the mandate to act as the national preventive mechanism for the prevention of torture.  The Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination allowed positive discrimination and the use of affirmative measures until full factual equality was achieved; this provision ensured the exercise of equal opportunities of certain groups in society and ensured effective exercise of their right to equality of opportunities.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had not yet ratified the amendment on the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which dealt with the functioning of the Committee and the delegation was asked to clarify the position in this regard and to further explain situations in which different treatment was allowed, including the use of the term “positive segregation”. 

Some asylum seekers were being detained at the border as their testimony was needed against people smugglers and Experts hoped that the procedure did not involve prolonged detention of migrants.  In 2015, only one person had been granted refugee status.  What health services were available to Roma children addicted to drugs, as there were reports of children as young as eight being addicted to heroin?  Profiling of Roma at border crossings remained a problem and the Ombudsman’s report indicated that none of his recommendation in this regard had been accepted.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said there was positive discrimination but no positive segregation in the education system, and confirmed that Roma students could access any secondary school in the country.  Health care of Roma children was provided regardless of whether they had identity documents; the number of Roma children addicted to drugs was very small, but the problem was being taken seriously and a Protocol for Treatment of Children Users of Psychotropic Substances and the Clinical Guidelines had been prepared.  Concerning profiling at border crossings, the delegation said that the Sector for Internal Control and Professional Standards of the Ministry of Interior acted upon complains received from citizens, non-governmental organizations and lawyers and it conducted internal controls on respect of human rights at border crossings in order to prevent abuses by employees.

JOSE LINDGREN ALVES, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur, took positive note of the participation of Roma and other ethnic groups in public life and said that it was an indication of successful implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement.  Was there a law that established a minimum age of marriage? 

Responding, the delegation said that “Macedonia” was improving at all levels of government and was striving to ensure equality for all ethnic groups, and for women.  Roma in “Macedonia” were not nomads, they were citizens; there were no Sinti in the country.  Approximately 1,500 Roma were working in State institutions at the national and local levels.  The age of marriage was 18 years, and marriage was allowed at age of 16 with parental approval.  Roma girls who did not attend school were pressured by the culture to marry early, but because of programmes promoting schooling of Roma, particularly girls, the number of early marriages was decreasing. 
 
Questions by the Committee Experts

In a further series of comments and questions, a Committee Expert reiterated the need to progress economic, social and cultural rights so that women could make up their mind as to when they wanted to marry.  The Committee was concerned with de facto segregation, and in this regard it was important to start early with education and to increase awareness on respect of each other appropriately among the students.  The Expert commended the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for the translation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe guidelines and asked how they were being used in practice.

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the information concerning street children and human trafficking and asked about
the causes of vulnerability of Roma.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation reiterated the commitment to upgrading the Office of the Ombudsman to A Status through the currently drafted amendment on the Law on Ombudsman.  Combatting segregation in education started from preschool, and therefore Roma children attended preschool education together with other children.  Macedonia was the only country which had a strategy and national plan of Roma women and would organize the Fifth International Romani Women Conference in Skopje in October 2015.  

Roma were the most vulnerable populations in the country; in 2005, the Decade and Strategy for Roma had been initiated which had seen specific action plans and resources allocated specifically for Roma, and the results were now being visible with an increased number of Roma graduating from high school, studying in university, and taking strides in employment.  The efforts to improve the participation of Roma in the society would not stop here.

Concluding Remarks

JOSE LINDGREN ALVES, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that the concluding observations would recognize the positive developments in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and expressed hope that it would continue on this positive track and become an example country in the Balkans.

ELENA KUZMANOVSKA, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed appreciation for the engagement of Committee Experts in the discussion, and welcomed the recognition that the Committee’s concluding observations had been addressed with greater precision than before.  This, together with the information provided during this dialogue, was an evidence of the dedication of the entire society to improving the situation.

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Chairperson, said that this had been a fruitful meeting and that the useful information provided by the delegation would feed into the Committee’s concluding observations.
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