US human rights report singles out lack of judicial independence, torture, corruption in Macedonia


The US Department of State released its reports on human rights practices for 2017 with the report on Macedonia noting that the most significant human rights issues included reports of torture by prison guards, interference with privacy, violence against journalists, lack of judicial independence, corruption, and violence against LGBTI persons.

"The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, including police officials guilty of excessive force, but impunity continued to be a widespread problem. Between April 15 and September 15, the Special Prosecutor’s Office, investigating allegations of corruption between 2008 and 2015, filed 18 indictments against 120 defendants, charged 168 criminal offenses, and opened seven investigations against 25 suspects. It also initiated 142 preliminary investigations into apparent criminal behavior relating to or arising from the content of illegally intercepted communications, reads the report.

It notes that on 31 May 2017 'the Parliament elected a new government led by a previous opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), thereby ending a months-long government formation process.'

"On April 27, after a majority of parliament members elected Talat Xhaferi as speaker, protesters stormed the parliament, resulting in injuries to seven members. Media reported members of the Ministry of Interior aided the protesters and failed to uphold their duty to protect parliament members. The ministry punished officers for failing to carry out their duties, including by dismissing eight officers."

The US report concludes that the working group tasked with investigating the Ministry of Interior’s role in the April 27 attack on the parliament found legal and operational shortcomings within the ministry stemming from improper political and criminal influence over officials, including police officers. "In response to the election of the new speaker of the parliament on April 27, approximately 200 demonstrators broke through a police cordon, entered the parliament building, and attacked journalists and parliament members. A Ministry of Interior investigation into the events of April 27 concluded that certain employees usurped their official position and failed to adequately protect members of the parliament and journalists. As a result of the investigation, 180 police officers were questioned, eight were dismissed, 43 were suspended, and 70 disciplinary procedures remained in progress."

In addition to investigating alleged police mistreatment, it adds, the Ministry of Interior’s Professional Standards Unit conducted all internal investigations into allegations of other forms of police misconduct. "During the first half of the year, the unit initiated disciplinary action against 175 police personnel and filed six criminal charges against ministry employees for criminal acts, including “abuse of official position,” “deceit,” and “mistreatment in performing a duty.”"

In its annual global human rights reports released on Friday, the State Department says that in the majority of cases, the courts adhered to the law for pretrial detention procedures. "The selectivity and lack of transparency courts used when evaluating requests for pretrial detention or detention during trials were problematic. Government statistics indicated that prosecutors requested detention orders in 5 percent of all cases. The Skopje Criminal Court granted 80 percent of pretrial detention requests by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. At the same time, the courts denied 89 percent of similar requests for detention and other precautionary measures submitted by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Over the previous year, courts also rejected additional requests from the Special Prosecutor’s Office for precautionary measures, including house arrest and passport seizure. In some cases the court’s denials allowed high-profile suspects to evade prosecution, according to the report, which notes the defendants in the “Target” and “Fortress II” cases, Goran Grujevski and Nikola Boshkovski, who are now awaiting extradition in Greece, as well as the Sead Kocan case - the businessman who managed to escape the country while an order for his detention was being transported to the Interior Ministry.

The report said that the courts sometimes failed to provide appropriate justification for prolonging, substituting, or terminating pretrial detention.

Assessing the judiciary system, the report said it 'failed to demonstrate independence and impartiality', and judges were subject to 'political influence and corruption.' "The outcomes of many judicial actions appeared predetermined, particularly in cases where the defendants held views or took actions in opposition to the government. Inadequate funding of the judiciary continued to hamper court operations and effectiveness. A number of judicial officials accused the government of using its budgetary authority to exert control over the judiciary."

The State Department's report cited the ombudsman’s annual report for 2016, according to which the second greatest number of citizen complaints (577 or 15 percent) received by the ombudsman concerned the judicial system. 

As regards freedom of expression, the report said that the constitution of Macedonia provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. "But, government pressure on the media, impunity for perpetrators of violence against journalists and other members of media, and a media market divided along political party lines continued to be a problem," it was noted. 

Involving freedom of movement, the human rights report said that the law in Macedonia provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

"The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, stateless persons, and other persons of concern," it noted.

Although laws in Macedonia provided criminal penalties for corruption by officials, there were reports that officials engaged in corruption with impunity. Relying on data from NGOs, the report said that the government’s dominant role in the economy created opportunities for corruption. "The government was the country’s largest employer; some analysts estimated it employed as many as 180,000 persons, despite official statistics showing public sector employment of approximately 128,000."

The US report noted the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption saying it 'had lost the confidence of citizens and failed to fulfill its monitoring and control responsibilities.' According to local surveys from 2016, corruption had increased since 2014 and acceptance of corruption remained high among the public. 

"Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often willing to listen to these groups but were also sometimes unresponsive to their views," said the US report adding that during the year a number of ministries established working groups that included members of civil society, and civil society representatives were invited to participate in parliamentary debates.

To read the report in full, click the link

Comments

Most Read

Academics Take Issue With Prespa Agreement - Letter to the Editor

Macedonian police stopped 43 illegal migrants

U.S. company "Telamon" to invest in Macedonia

Macedonia: Twenty percent more Dutch tourists during the summer season

Vlach’s National Day marked in Skopje

Evergreens

City of Skopje subsidizes pellet heating

New evidence: in the 70’s Greece had no problem with our country’s name Macedonia

More than 30000 Macedonians in Sydney

Macedonia Marks 10 Years of Tose Proeski's Death

Czech Republic to keep assisting Macedonia in guarding of its southern border