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North Macedonia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and laws prohibit such practices, but there were some reports that police abused detainees and prisoners and used excessive force. The government acted to investigate and prosecute legitimate claims. The Ministry of Interior Professional Standards Unit (PSU) reported that during the first six months of the year, it acted upon 23 complaints referring to use of excessive force by police officers. Seven of these complaints were deemed unfounded, while two complaints were upheld. In one case, criminal charges were filed against a police officer for excessive use of force, and disciplinary action was initiated to remove the individual from the position until the disciplinary procedure was completed. The disciplinary procedure continued at year’s end. In another case the Interior Ministry notified the Public Prosecutors Office and initiated disciplinary procedures against four police officers. The Interior Ministry stated there was no evidence for the other 14 complaints. In the same period, the PSU received four complaints on the use of excessive force against interrogated persons and detainees. The PSU investigations resulted in one criminal charge against a police officer for inappropriate treatment. The PSU determined there was insufficient evidence to proceed in the other three cases.

The PSU acted on a complaint from the Helsinki Committee on Human Rights for excessive use of chemicals and physical force and unlawful detention and deprivation of liberty of one journalist during a June 17 public protest in front of the parliament. The investigation found police officers followed Ministry of Interior procedures. The journalist was detained purportedly because he refused to identify himself. The investigation concluded no excessive force was used in this case.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The country’s prisons and detention centers failed to meet international standards and in some cases, according to the October 2017 Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) report based on a 2016 visit, conditions could be described as amounting to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Corruption, mistreatment by prison guards, interprisoner violence, unsafe and unhygienic conditions, insufficient staffing, and inadequate training of guards and personnel remained serious problems, particularly at Idrizovo Prison, which held more than three-fifths of the country’s prison population.

Physical Conditions: The country had 11 prisons and three juvenile correctional facilities; seven prisons also held pretrial detainees.

The prison system continued to suffer from lack of funding, inadequate training of officers, and corruption. A few recently released prisoners from high profile cases claimed they were abused while being held. On April 17, the European Commission (EC) released its 2018 report on North Macedonia, which noted that the low number of complaints regarding mistreatment received by the Directorate for Execution of Sanctions did not represent the true situation and demonstrated a lack of trust in the complaints procedures. In addition it called the situation in the prison system “critical” with underfunding, understaffing, mismanagement, and overcrowding.

According to the ombudsman, overcrowding had declined due to improvements to Idrizovo prison and an amnesty law implemented in January that alleviated overcrowding by releasing 800 prisoners with sentences of less than six months. It also gave a 30 percent sentence reduction to another 3,000 inmates. The law does not apply to persons convicted of more serious crimes including murder, rape, child sex crimes, or terrorism. As of September 19, the ombudsman believed significant improvement in prison conditions was still needed.

The ombudsman prepares an annual report that includes information on prison conditions. The most recent report was released March 29 and stated: “overcrowding and poor conditions in the punitive correctional institutions remained a burning problem. It violated the human dignity of persons deprived of their freedom. The prison health-care system remained dysfunctional and to the detriment of convicts and detainees who did not even have health insurance. This situation affected the dissatisfaction of convicted and detained persons, but it also gave rise to doubts regarding the effective treatment and other health services in the punitive institutions. The security sector, the Department for Resocialization, as well as the health service were neither staffed nor professionally equipped.”

In its 2016 assessment, the CPT observed sanitary annexes were in an “appalling state (filthy, foul-smelling, damaged, and leaking), many of the showers did not work and there was hardly any provision of hot water.” The CPT observed that heating was working only a few hours a day and that provision of health care at Idrizovo and Skopje Prisons was inadequate, with many prisoners suffering from insect bites and infections such as scabies.

Insufficient staffing and inadequate training of prison guards and other personnel continued to be problems at all facilities.

Administration: The ombudsman found that correctional authorities’ investigations into allegations of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners were generally ineffective.

The number of inmates without valid identification had decreased.

Independent Monitoring: The law allows physicians, diplomatic representatives, and representatives from the CPT and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to pretrial detainees with the approval of the investigative judge. The government previously granted independent humanitarian organizations, such as the country’s Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, access to convicted prisoners only upon the prisoners’ requests, but in November the committee signed a memorandum of understanding with the government to allow it unrestricted access.

The ombudsman regularly visited (once per month) the country’s prisons and investigated credible allegations of problematic conditions.

Improvements: The Ministry of Justice stated that the first phase of improvements to the Idrizovo Prison were finished in August, increasing the prison’s capacity by an additional 546 inmates, for a total of 1,346. The improvements included construction of three buildings, one with capacity for 294 inmates and two housing 252 inmates in semi-open detainment. Furniture, tea kitchens, laundry rooms, fitness equipment, as well as mattresses, linen, and security equipment were procured.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future