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25 September 2007

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, issued the following statement on her preliminary findings of her official visit to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, finished today her official visit to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The mission in this country concludes a visit to the region started in Belgrade on 17 September and continued in Kosovo on 20 and 21 September.

The visit to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a follow-up mission aimed at identifying progress and challenges in the situation of human rights defenders four years after the visit undertaken by the Special Representative in 2003.

The Special Representative thanks the Macedonian Government for extending to her the invitation to visit the country and the collaboration provided in the realization of the visit. She also thanks the UN Resident Coordinator and her Office, particularly the human rights advisor, for the support provided in organizing the visit. The report on the visit will be presented and discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2008.

During her mission in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Special Representative met with Government representatives, members of the judiciary and the Parliament, the Ombudsperson, the international community, and human rights defenders.

The Special Representative recognizes a considerable number of positive developments since 2003. She is particularly impressed by the increased level of capacity and professionalism of civil society organizations in terms of expertise on human rights methodologies, clarity about their objectives and strategies to achieve them. In addition, she notes:

? Legislation relevant for the work of human rights defenders has been adopted. This includes the law strengthening the inspection functions of the Ombudsperson; the law on free access to public information; the abolition of prison sentences for the offence of defamation; the law on an independent court budget, among others.
? An overall improvement of the interaction between civil society organizations and Government structures and other State institutions, including the Ombudsperson.
? There are several examples of consultation processes between the Government and NGOs related to draft laws and policies although this practice has not yet been institutionalized.
? The Government Strategy for Cooperation with the Civil Sector 2007-2011 can provide a good basis for the institutionalization of consultation processes with civil society if implemented properly and if extended to the local level.

While progress can be registered on the adoption of new laws, the implementation of these laws is often not satisfactory. Enforcing and monitoring mechanisms that defenders can use to report cases of non-compliance and protect affected victims are still lacking, are insufficient or do not function properly.

This has created an environment in which Government responsiveness is limited or absent. A major concern is in fact the overall lack or limited level of response of the Government to information, reports, cases, complaints of human rights violations and abuse documented by defenders and brought to the attention of the concerned authorities without a consequent action taken by the Government to investigate, respond, or even refute the alleged facts.

For instance, there are clear indications that the implementation of the law on free access to public information is deficient. There are several instances in which public authorities do not provide the information as requested. The Commission established to enforce compliance with the law does not seem to have been in a position to redress this deficient implementation yet.

Another problem is that human rights defenders do not have access to detention centres and police stations. This is a serious obstacle that prevents defenders to fully perform their monitoring and protection role.

The Professional Standards Unit within the Ministry of Interior is tasked with the investigation of abuses committed by the police. However, the Special Representative is concerned that an external oversight mechanism to investigate abuses committed by the police is still not in place. She is encouraged by the ongoing initiative coordinated by OSCE to set up such mechanism.

Coordination and networking among civil society organizations improved on some fronts, particularly around some thematic areas, such as women’s rights, disability, Roma’s rights, and lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and inter-sexual (LGBTI) rights. Initiatives like the Civic Platform of Macedonia or the nascent Human Rights House are positive attempts to have overarching coordinating mechanisms for civil society organizations. However, the Special Representative notes that human rights organizations still do not form a real human rights community that can voice positions of human rights defenders more forcefully and protect defenders. The Special Representative is encouraged by some examples of solidarity expressed by human rights organizations when defenders had been unfairly attacked by media or politicians. She hopes that these examples will gain consistency and pave the way to a solid human rights community in Macedonia.

The Special Representative recognizes that the international community has played an important role to strengthen human rights defenders in the country both in funding their projects and in building their capacity. Lobbying and advocacy efforts of human rights defenders have often been more successful when backed by international organizations.

The current trend of reducing funds for civil society organizations is a concern. The Special Representative firmly believes that support to civil society organizations by foreign donors is essential even if the Government’s capacity to extend grants to NGOs is increased. The Special Representative is concerned that the Government has not established transparent criteria and procedures to grant resources to civil society organizations.

The Special Representative wishes to make the following preliminary recommendations:

To the Government and relevant State actors:

? Institutionalize interaction and consultation processes with civil society in drafting legislation and policies, in reporting to international human rights mechanisms and in other relevant areas of Government action.
? Establish enforcement and monitoring mechanisms that defenders can use to report non-compliance with legislation and human rights abuses. Among those mechanisms, an external oversight mechanism to investigate abuses committed by the police should be established.
? Ensure that protection and monitoring mechanisms are set up and accessible not only at the central level but also at the local level.
? Remove the legal constraints that prevent human rights defenders from accessing detention centres and police stations and ensure that such access is given.
? Establish transparent criteria and procedures to grant funds to civil society organizations.
? Ensure tax exemption for voluntary organizations.

To the international community and donors:

? Accompany the transition process until the end and continue supporting human rights defenders, both in terms of funding and capacity building. This should be done respecting the independence of the defenders in determining their priorities and strategies and preserving their monitoring role of State institutions.

To human rights defenders:

? Develop and strengthen initiatives aimed at forming a human rights community able to voice positions of human rights defenders more forcefully and act as a protection network for defenders.
? Improve strategies to work with the media to increase media understanding of and reporting on human rights and the work of defenders.
For use of the information media; not an official record