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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concludes review of the report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Rights review

14 June 2016

GENEVA (14 June 2016) - The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning concluded consideration of the combined second to fourth periodic report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Introducing the report, Ibrahim Ibrahimi, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, updated the Committee on the latest developments in the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights.  An important development in that respect was the establishment of a mechanism for protection against discrimination, namely the foundation of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination.  Another improvement was the Law Amending and Supplementing the Law on Social Protection introduced new types of pecuniary benefits, especially for vulnerable categories of persons with a view to their social inclusion. 
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts highlighted the issues of the lack of precise statistics on the number of Roma living in the country, the applicability of the Covenant by domestic courts, access to legal aid, improvements in the functioning and status of the Ombudsman, payment of bribes to access to health and social services, ways to improve the anti-discrimination framework in the country, and access to social and labour rights by asylum seekers and migrants. Questions were also asked about the high poverty among the Roma and the high unemployment rate in general, the salary gap between men and women, street children, eviction of Roma, and the application of the new law on abortion.  
In concluding remarks Olivier De Schutter, Committee Rapporteur for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, noted that the theory that countries in economic transition inevitably experience economic and social inequalities was a wrong one.  Growth could provide for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights only if it was equally distributed.  Investing into people was an ingredient of growth.  
In his closing remarks, Mr. Ibrahimi reminded that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was a country in transition, trying to fulfill membership requirements for the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  The State party would continue working hard on meeting the Committee’s expectations. 
Concluding the meeting, Waleed Sadi, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee understood the situation in the country much better after the delegation’s presentation.  He thanked the delegation for having introduced new elements into the dialogue, notably that of active and passive job seekers.
The Committee will next meet in public tomorrow at 3 p.m. to consider the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Angola (E/C.12/AGO/4-5).

The combined second to fourth periodic report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia can be found here: E/C.12/MKD/2-4.
Presentation of the Report
IBRAHIM IBRAHIMI, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that the Government was implementing intense activities to align its legislation with international human rights instruments.  In 2011, it had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.  In 2013, it had signed the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  A large number of strategic national documents had been adopted, defining short- and long-term priorities.  The fundamental principle of equality, that is, of non-discrimination, envisaged under the Constitution, guaranteed that all citizens of the country were equal in their freedoms and rights, regardless of sex, race, color of skin, national and social origin, political and religious beliefs, property and social status.  The new Law on Equal Opportunities of Men and Women, adopted in 2012, elaborated in detail the issue of gender equality and protection against gender-based discrimination.  The country also had a comprehensive legal framework against discrimination in all areas of social life through the Law on the Prevention of and Protection against Discrimination, adopted in April 2010.  An important development in that respect was the establishment of a mechanism for protection against discrimination, namely the foundation of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. 
Since 2007, the Government had continually been taking measures to reduce the unemployment rate, targeting specifically the young, the long-term unemployed, women, vulnerable groups and older persons.  Amendments to the Law on Employment and Insurance in Case of Unemployment, adopted in 2012, allowed unemployed persons to be registered as active and passive job seekers.  The Law on the Minimum Wage of 2012 applied to all workers in the country, including private sector workers.  It prescribed the amount of minimum wage as 39.6 per cent of the average monthly salary paid in the previous year.  The Law on Labour Relations purported that full working hours could not exceed 40 hours, allowing the possibility of working hours shorter than 40, but not shorter than 36 hours.  The working hours for those jobs carrying greater risks of injury or health damage could be shorter than 36.  Employers were obliged to ensure the safety and to protect the health on job for all employees in accordance with the Law on Job Health and Safety.  The Law on Social Protection of 2009 aimed at advancing the system of social protection by improving and standardizing the conditions, manner and procedure for exercise of social protection rights, designing an active social policy, promoting the principles of social inclusion of marginalized persons, decentralization and ensuring pluralism in service provision.  The Law Amending and Supplementing the Law on Social Protection introduced new types of pecuniary benefits, especially for vulnerable categories of persons with a view to their social inclusion.  The programme for subsidizing electricity bills, which was adopted once a year, had ensured subsidies for electricity bills paid by most vulnerable groups of beneficiaries.
In 2011, the Government had signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, and, as a result, it had adopted the Law on the Prevention of and Protection against Domestic Violence.  It defined measures for protection of victims that were to be undertaken by social work centers, such as shelters for victims, the provision of healthcare, psycho-social treatment, assistance for regular education of victims’ children, legal assistance and representation, and economic empowerment of victims through their active inclusion in the labour market.  The law also envisaged removal of the perpetrators of domestic violence from home and a restraining order prohibiting them to come close to the victim or home.  In 2010, the Government had adopted a National Strategy for Reduction of Poverty and Social Exclusion (2010-2020).  The implementation of measures had produced certain results, such as increase of the employment rate, number of social protection beneficiaries, type of social protection benefits, extent of coverage and greater child protection.  Free-of-charge textbooks, transport and accommodation for students in faraway schools were provided, whereas socially underprivileged children also received conditional pecuniary benefits.   
Questions by Experts
OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Member of the Committee and Rapporteur for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, drew attention to the discrepancy of the statistical data on the number of Roma living in the State party.  According to the official data, there were 53,000 Roma living in the country, whereas unofficial sources quoted a much larger figure.  Was the problem in the fact the some Roma did not want to register as Roma, or that some of them had difficulties obtaining identity documents?
As for the applicability of the Covenant by domestic courts, Mr. De Schutter underlined that no examples had been provided by the delegation.  What was the explanation for the failure to apply the Covenant in domestic legal proceedings?
Concerning the Ombudsman, a 2015 report showed that Ministries were not so keen to follow the recommendations of the Ombudsman.   What were the intentions of the Government to improve the Office of the Ombudsman in accordance with the Paris Principles?
There was evidence of payment of bribes to access to health and social services.  What was done to inform the public that the payment of bribes was not necessary and that it was, in fact, illegal?
The Expert said that the Committee needed more information from the delegation in order to assess how economic, social and cultural rights were implemented in the country.  It needed to understand how the percentage for social protection had evolved.  He expressed concern over low taxes for businesses and a high value added tax which had adverse effects on the general population. 
How would the State party improve the anti-discrimination framework in the country? Would it allow for the use of statistical data to highlight cases of discrimination?  Would it improve the definition of discrimination?  Same-sex couples did not have the same access to benefits as conventional couples.
As for the Roma population, their poverty rate stood at 41 per cent, whereas for the rest of the population it was 14 per cent.  Which specific measures were there to address the poverty suffered by the Roma?
Another Expert asked about the tightening of entry conditions for migrants in the region, and its effect on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  Would the current collective shelters remain in place and would conditions improve?  The same Expert noted that the right to family reunification could only be exercised three years after asylum had been granted.  Access to social and labour rights by asylum seekers was limited, especially to the labour market by women and Roma women.  Was the social protection given to migrants different than the social protection given to citizens? 
One Expert asked about the role and capacities of municipalities to guarantee economic, social and cultural rights, reminding that since 1999 there had been a process of decentralization in the delivery of State services.  There was a concern over disparities among municipalities.  What was the State party doing to reinforce financial capabilities of municipalities?  Was there some sort of monitoring to guarantee that social, economic and cultural rights were guaranteed?
The unemployment situation in the country was still  serious, with the 31.2 per cent unemployment rate, whereas youth unemployment stood at 54 per cent.  The unemployment rate among women had increased.  Did the Government intend to substantially overhaul its unemployment policies and programmes?  The Expert asked the Government to provide specific data on the situation of unemployment of the Roma and other vulnerable groups, and on the extent of informal economy.
As for the issue of discrimination between active and passive job seekers, was there any intention by the Government to change the current law?  It was regrettable that the law allowed discrimination in minimum wages. 
Regarding the right to strike, no action was taken by the Government.  The reforms of the social security system were underway.  An Expert asked the Government to provide relevant information in its next periodic report, whereas another one raised the issue of delayed payment pensions and asked for the percentage of persons receiving pecuniary benefits.  Why was there a need to establish a privately managed pension system? 
An Expert asked how the State party intended to address the increased engagement of women in the labour market.  Was the principle of equal wage for equal work with equal responsibility applied?
Did persons granted the status of refugees have access to employment?  Because of the lack of documentation, it seemed that they lacked it.  As for the right to social security, some amendments were made and retroactively applied to persons who received income through wires.  Was it true that wired funds counted as income?
Another Expert asked about measures undertaken to ensure that workers in rural areas, especially farmers, had access to social services.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the country was faced with the extraordinary situation with the mass influx of migrants and refugees, which affected the entire region.  No country was ready to deal with that problem.  However, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had very quickly risen to the challenge and made provisions for normal functioning of refugee camps.  Most of the financing for the refugee camps came from the national budget.  In coordination with the European Union, the Government would see how to proceed further. 
As for the number of Roma living in the country, the official data obtained after the 2012 census stated that 53,879 Roma lived in the country.  A number of undocumented Roma was limited and the Government sent door-to-door checks of households. 
International treaties were an integral part of the legal order of the country and they could not be amended.  Courts and judges were free to apply provisions of any international instruments ratified by the Parliament.  Regrettably, relevant statistics on the number of cases that applied the Covenant directly did not exist. 
As for access to free of charge legal aid, it was explained that persons who were not able to provide for their legal representation were eligible for legal aid.  The Ministry of Justice provided for such legal assistance and citizens who needed it could ask for it in any proceedings before courts and administrative disputes.  The recent analysis made by the Ministry of Justice in cooperation with the civil society concluded that a group of citizens was not able to access free of charge legal aid simply because they did not have information where to get it. 
Regarding bribery for accessing certain rights, the Government had made great efforts to establish mechanisms to fight corruption.  Individual cases of bribery did exist, but the phenomenon was not widespread. 
On the national budget allocated to education, health and other social services, the delegation said that there was a trend of increasing the budget of the Ministry of Health.  Since 2005 that budget had increased tenfold.  The budget of the Ministry of Education had increased to 13.36 per cent of the overall national budget, and especially the part allocated for the education of Roma.  The budget allocated for the development of culture had been continually growing.  About 1,800 housing units and 678 apartments had already been allocated to underprivileged persons across the country.  The budget of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in 2016 accounted for 19.9 per cent of the overall national budget.
The country had the lowest tax rates in order to attract investments.  The value added tax (VAT) ranged from five to 18 per cent.  It could not be said that the country had a high VAT rate.  The Government had reduced VAT by five percentage points. 
As for the fight against discrimination, it was underlined that the Government had continuously worked to promote the protection of human rights, including the fight against corruption.  The anti-discrimination sector at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had established a working group to improve the national anti-discrimination framework. 
Regarding the exclusion of Roma, several Ministries were working to implement national action plans adopted under the Roma Decade.  In 2009, the Ministry of Education exempted Roma from paying a fee for vaccination as a prerequisite for school enrollment.   It had implemented a programme on the importance of primary education, a project of tutors and scholarships for Roma students, which resulted in 89 per cent of Roma students continuing to the next level of education.  The goal was to provide good education to the Roma in order to give them a chance to find better jobs and thus lift themselves out of poverty.  The Ministry of Transport and Communication also worked to implement Roma-specific projects, notably reconstruction of homes of Roma families.  The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy coordinated all activities under the Roma Decade.  The country was a leader in the coverage of pre-school education, especially for Roma children.  Roma information centers employed Roma persons who served as a communication bridge between state institutions and Roma communities.  Roma also received free-of-charge legal aid and employment skills trainings.
Concerning the Law on the Equal Opportunities, a delegate said that it had been drafted based on comprehensive analysis and research of the previous law.  The measures envisaged by that law had produced expected results.  As for the economic empowerment of women, each year the Government provided separate funds for women through subsidized employment and self-employment on the basis of credits and grants.  The numbers of female managers and entrepreneurs were indeed not very high, but in four of the largest companies women held top managerial positions and were members of management boards.  The Government was also working to improve working conditions for women, such as through the opening of kindergartens, parental leave and flexible working hours. 
Questions by Experts
One Expert highlighted the issue of a large number of children without birth certificates and any other identity documents, and of street children.  What measures was the Government taking to address the problem?  As for the trafficking of children, there seemed to be a low number of identified victims.  As of 2008, a plan had been in place to fight sexual abuse of children and pedophilia.  What were the results of that plan?
Legislation on the protection against domestic violence was a step forward.  However, how did the State party plan to implement that law?  Were there any updated and disaggregated statistics available?
Another Expert asked about the outcomes of the National Strategy to Reduce Poverty and Social Exclusion.  A rather modest progress in that area had been noted.  Some 22.1 per cent of the population were still below the poverty line in 2014.  What were the reasons for those disappointing results and what was the strategy to deal with the situation?  As for the malnutrition in the country, did persons living below the poverty line had access to a healthy daily diet?
What measures were taken to ensure that Roma did not live in sub-standard housing and in segregation?  How many Roma applied for the legalization of their property?  Was there any legal framework for forced evictions?
There appeared to be serious shortfalls in the provision of basic medical services.  Holders of social benefits were assigned a limited number of health practitioners.  What measures were planned to remedy those deficiencies?  The budget allocation for health had increased almost tenfold since 2005.  What improvements in the provision of healthcare services had been observed?
As for drug use, what were the strategies for harm reduction and what were disaggregated statistics on the number of drug users?  Treatment and rehabilitation programmes in place were not adapted for children and Roma.  What were strategies to treat children and to provide rehabilitation programs in a decentralized manner and according to quality standards?  Was the policy to criminalize drug users a reasonable one?
OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Member of the Committee and Rapporteur for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, stated that the education on sexuality and reproductive health was not readily available.  What did the State party do to comply with the Committee’s expectations?  What did it do to align itself with the expectation that contraceptives be readily available?
The recently adopted law on determining pregnancy was perceived as an obstacle to women gaining access to abortion.  Healthcare providers may be kept away from performing abortion due to harsh fines.  What regulatory framework applied to private healthcare providers? 
Another Expert asked about campaigns raising awareness  about the dangers of smoking and cancer.
One Expert asked about the right to education and the State party’s efforts to give boost to education.  There continued to be a high level of illiteracy.  In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as a multiethnic country, there was a lack of multilingual education.  There was an issue of the integration of Roma children into education, as well as the high dropout rates in primary and secondary education, particularly among Roma children, children with disabilities and other disadvantaged children.  Segregation of Roma children in schools was a serious issue.  What measures were taken to tackle all those problems in the education system? 
Replies by the Delegation
IBRAHIM IBRAHIMI, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, corrected some of the unemployment information given by the Committee Experts, noting that the unemployment had, in fact, decreased in the past ten years.  The Government had been working to implement various employment projects.  Funds for the increase of active employment measures had been increased.  As for the employment of Roma, special measures were drawn up as part of the Roma Decade.  Every country struggles to reduce informal economy.  The Government was focused on addressing the existence of the informal sector. 
The delegation stressed that the Government was very responsible in following up recommendations from the Ombudsman.  A law guaranteeing “status A” to the Ombudsman had already been prepared and was waiting for adoption. 
The poverty rates in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had been reduced by some 20 per cent.  The unemployment rates and early school dropout were some of the most important reasons for poverty, whereas active employment measures were the most effective in reducing poverty.
On the protection of refugees, the delegation said that there were two transit centers in the country, at Gevgelija and Tabanovce.  Migrants could file for asylum in the country in those centers.  The total capacity of the two centers was 2,000 beds.  Food, clothes, blankets, and hygiene products were offered to migrants, as well as translation in Farsi and Arabic.  As of the closing of the Balkan route earlier in 2016, at the Gevgelija transit center there had been 87 persons, whereas there had been 32 persons at the Tabanovce center.  Migrants were profiled by relevant authorities at border crossings to determine whether they were possibly victims of trafficking.  At the transit centers migrants could contact the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Association of Young Lawyers.  Psycho-social and humanitarian assistance was distributed at both centers.
Regarding asylum seekers and their right to work, a delegate explained that if their application had not been dealt with within a year, they had the right to register with the Employment Agency.  A person granted asylum automatically accessed the labour market, and had the right to healthcare and education.  Persons benefiting from those services were mainly Roma from Kosovo.
As for the gap in salaries for women and men working in the same positions, it was stated that, according to the law, there was no difference.  The gap that existed was due to the fact that women frequently occupied lower level positions that were less paid.  In the private sector differences in salary levels for men and women did exist, which was why a relevant Government inspectorate studied the situation.
Speaking of the differences in the capacity of municipalities to provide social services, it was explained that the Government had funded some 400 projects with five million euros.  Municipalities themselves defined project priorities.  There were also development projects for villages and cross-border cooperation. 
Data on unemployment among vulnerable groups was disaggregated by ethnicity and the time persons were unemployed.  According to the latest data, there were 6,176  unemployed Roma men and 2,042 Roma women.  Regarding the elimination of the grey economy, the Government made an effort to register unregistered businesses.  Experts had prepared a report on unregistered workers.  Some 22.5 per cent of persons worked in informal businesses activities.  A law was adopted to prevent unregistered businesses, with a view to tax income coming from the informal sector.  As of 2012, a new type of registering unemployed persons had been in place.  Unemployed persons had to submit a statement saying whether they wanted to be registered as active or passive job seekers. 
Speaking of discrimination in certain economic sectors, it was established that it was necessary to set up a lower minimal wage in the textile and leather processing industry because there were problems with the payment of the minimum wage in those sectors. The minimum wage would be equalized with the national minimum wage.  The amount of the minimum wage was set up by the Government, trade unions and associations of employers.  The Government raised initiatives to increase the minimum wage, but that had to established through negotiations of all three social partners. 
The Law on Labour stipulated that an employer could fire a worker only as a response to a strike already underway.  A revision of that legal provision was expected to be conducted by the International Labour Organization.  All workers and farmers had the right to a pension, compensation in case of injury at work, and benefits for workers’ family members.  Healthcare insurance was provided for unemployed persons and persons with an income lower than the minimum wage.  Unemployment benefits were paid to all unemployed persons, whereas child supplements was paid to all citizens.  Pensions were adjusted to the cost of living once a year.  Some 9,811 persons were paid pecuniary social benefits. 
Women were the special focus of the active employment measures.  Some 50 per cent of all people covered by those measures were women.  New kindergartens were being constructed and flexible working hours were introduced for women.  In general, the Government sought ways to make women more employable.  Refugees and asylum seekers exercised the same labour rights as all other foreign nationals. 
The delegation clarified that the law that stipulated that people who received fast money transfer lost the right to receive pecuniary benefits had been changed. 
The State Labour Inspectorate was charged to oversee health and safety at work.  It conducted inspections in all businesses.
As for the large number of street children, the Government had pursued measures to get those children off the streets and return them to the education system.  There were four centers for street children.  In 2014 there had been 92 new registered cases, in 2015 126 new cases, and in 2016 18 new cases had been registered.  When parents did not exercise their parental duties, they lost their parental rights.  Children were placed with foster families and in institutions. 
On the National Strategy against Domestic Violence, the Government had been undertaking continuous measures to establish a legal framework to prevent such violence, as well as to establish institutions that could receive victims.  The Law against Domestic Violence had a number of provisions taken from the Istanbul Convention, including an article on stalking and an article on parental rights.  All provisions of the Law were applied in practice and there were institutional mechanisms that worked directly with the victims of violence.  Counseling centers had been established for the perpetrators of domestic violence.  In 2015, some 1,008 criminal charges for domestic violence had been filed, and 81 per cent of victims had been girlfriends and wives. 
National Commission for the Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings was in place, as well as a national mechanism for the referral of victims.  Specially designated social workers were trained to work with victims of trafficking.  The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had drafted a list of indicators for recognizing victims of trafficking. 
In 2015, a reduction in the number of crimes of sexual abuse of children and pedophilia had been registered.  The prosecution rate for such crimes stood at 89 per cent.  In 2015, social centers worked with 48 children who were victims of sexual abuse. 
In 2011, a research conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Ministry of Health revealed a 4.9 per cent rate of malnourishment among children.  Some 16.5 per cent of Roma children were undernourished.  At the same time, there was also a certain percentage of obesity among Roma children.  
The delegation explained that some two-thirds of the 600,000 families in the country had applied for legalization of their property.  There was no ethnic differentiation in dealing with legalization demands.  The small number of granted legalization requests was due to the fact that most applicants did not have enough means to pay for the legalization.  
As for the progress made in making up for the lack of medical practitioners, the Ministry of Health had established a mechanism for the recruitment of new doctors, as well as public competitions for co-financed medical specializations.  The rate of prenatal gynecologist exams in the country stood at 7.3 per cent, which was close to the recommended percentage.  On for the treatment of addiction illnesses, the Ministry of Health had a special programme for the treatment of drugs and alcohol abusers.  Sexual and reproductive health programmes were in place and would expand to the entire country.  There was a low demand for oral contraceptives.  Advice and information were provided to young people.  As for the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns,  a study of 2014 showed a low prevalence of starting smoking in elementary schools.  However, it was disconcerting that 38 per cent of secondary school students smoked.
The delegation explained that before June 2015 and June 2016 there had been 3,654 abortions.  
The safety and quality of food and water were assessed each year, especially for students and elderly persons.  There was a rule book for the food provided to children in schools and kindergarten.  In 2014 some 63.1 per cent of the population had access to water from the water supply systems managed by the public management companies.  There had been 2.9 per cent of unsafe water sources between 2002 to 2014, primarily due to the lack of chlorine. 
Sexual education in schools was included in the section “Life Skills.”  The level of pre-school education enrollment had increased, and obligatory secondary education was introduced, as well as scholarships for Roma.  An adult education centre had been established, as well as career centres at universities.  As for inclusive education, amendments to laws had been made and trainings had been continuously conducted in order to provide assistance to students with special needs.  Teams for multiethnic integration had been formed in all schools.  A special scholarship programme for vulnerable high school students was in place.  Law banned discrimination in education on any grounds, and there was a program of educational assistance for Roma students, including scholarships, mentorship and tutorship.  There was no segregation in schools even though there might be a majority of students belonging to a certain ethnic group in some schools, depending on the region they lived in.    
Questions by Experts
OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Member of the Committee and Rapporteur for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, asked for a clarification on the issue of State investment in the realization of Covenant rights.  Did the State party find the current tax scheme problematic for achieving Covenant rights?
Regarding the prevention and prevention of discrimination, the Commission for Protection against Discrimination was only effective to the extent of support and donations it received from civil society.  As for the fight against homophobia, gender identity was frequently stigmatized.  What kind of information were students in the country given on same-sex couples?
Mr. De Schutter noted that the delegation did not elaborate on the situation of equal remuneration for the work of equal value.  The minimum wage in the textile and leather industry was set lower than in other sectors, and it was exactly in those sectors that women were overwhelmingly employed.
There were allegations that refugees faced obstacles in requiring documentation in order to gain the right to work. 
Could the fines of 15,000 euros for unlawful abortions could have a chilling effect on medical doctors to perform them in medical emergencies?  Another Expert raised the question of primary healthcare, notably gynecology, for Roma women.  Was there any discrimination in gynecological care for Roma women? 
One Expert wondered what social benefits were accessible to people working in the informal sector.  What portion of unemployed persons actually received pecuniary benefits?
Was the criminalization of drug users being maintained?  What kind of assistance would be provided to underage drug users?
An Expert observed increasing inequality due to the value added tax system in the State party, while another one reiterated the question about progress in poverty reduction. 
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had achieved a great progress in increasing its gross domestic product since 2006.  When it came to taxes, the Government could perhaps assess its taxation system in future, but that was not planned for the moment.  Addressing the alleged inequalities arising from the value added tax, the delegation reminded that the previous tax system had been ineffective and prone to tax evasion.  As for the progress in reducing poverty, each Ministry undertook activities to work towards poverty reduction.  Education was the primary precondition to overcome poverty.  Some 20 per cent poverty reduction had been achieved.
Regarding the fight against homophobia, a working group had been set up to improve the Law against Discrimination.  That law did not explicitly mention sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination.  More funds were needed to strengthen the capacity of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination.  The working group would find out what relevant changes had to be made.  Homophobia was present in the country, but relevant State institutions had worked to increase the capacities of professionals working at the central and local level to encourage and respect the rights of all discriminated groups.  Namely, trainings were organized for police officers, lawyers and judges. 
With regard to the equal pay for equal work, the delegation reiterated that there was no difference between the salaries between men and women for the same work.  Unfortunately, there were still stereotypes about the role of women, and many women still chose stereotyped professions which were not well paid.  The minimum wage was set up by three social partners: the Government, employers and workers’ unions.  The intention was to protect the textile and leather industry, which was why the minimum wage in those sectors would be lower than the national average.  It would gradually rise.
A person with a recognized refugee status, or under subsidiary protection, had the right to access employment, healthcare and educational rights.  Persons who had filed an asylum request and had not received a reply within a year could immediately be registered at the National Employment Agency.
Responding to the question on whether the new abortion law had a chilling effect on medical doctors to perform abortion in emergency cases, the delegation explained that in fact doctors now felt safer.  same gynecology protection was provided to Roma women as to all other women.  There were no problems in providing treatment to minors using drugs. 
With the adoption of the Law against Unregistered Economic Activity, the Government aimed to register informal businesses and once that was done employees would receive all social benefits.  In January 2016 some 1,570 unemployed persons had received pecuniary benefits and in February 2016 1,456 had received such benefits. 
The Fund for Equitable Regional Development granted money to municipalities for various local development projects, but there was another municipal association that could also fund such projects. 
Concluding Remarks
OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Member of the Committee and Rapporteur for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, noted that the country was in a transition and that in the context of fast economic growth, some claimed that inequalities were the necessary outcome of such changes.  However, that was a wrong theory.  Growth could provide for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights only if it was equally distributed.  Investing into people was an ingredient of growth.  He said that the State party should follow that logic.
IBRAHIM IBRAHIMI, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, explained that refugees waiting for their status to be regulated were not left outside the system, but were taken care of within transition centers.  Mr. Ibrahimi noted that the country had made certain progress in fulfilling commitments under the Covenant.  However, no situation was ideal and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was a country in transition, trying to fulfill membership requirements for the European Union and NATO.  Since 2006, great efforts had been made and the State party would continue working hard in meeting the Committee’s expectations. 
WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee understood the situation in the country much better after the delegation’s presentation.  He thanked the dfelegation for having introduced new elements into the dialogue, notably that of active and passive job seekers.


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