Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
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.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The army is responsible for external security, and the president is the supreme commander of the army. The national police maintain internal security, including migration and border enforcement, and report to the Ministry of the Interior. Although still hampered by instances of corruption and political pressure, the Ministry of Interior made some progress in increasing its transparency and accountability.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the army and the Ministry of Interior, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The ombudsman believed police impunity continued to be a problem, however.
As of August 28, the Ombudsman’s Office received 11 complaints against police for unlawful or excessive use of force, compared with nine complaints in 2017. In one case, the office could not determine the facts, given the passage of time between when the incident occurred and when it was reported. In the second case, the office determined there was use of force not in line with the institution’s rulebook.
As of August 28, the ombudsman’s office reported having received a total of 163 complaints from prison inmates. In three complaints the inmates alleged torture by prison guards. One inquiry was pending; the other two did not result in concrete findings based on the evidence available to the ombudsman.
As of August 28, the Department for Enforcement of Sanctions received two notifications of the use of force against inmates by prison police, versus 14 in 2017.
On April 12, parliament adopted three laws: the Witness Protection Law, the law establishing the Operational Technical Agency (OTA) to be responsible for lawful intercepts in the country, and the Interception of Communications Law. The OTA is expected to be the technical facilitator of legal communications interception operations, operating with its own budget separately from the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Security and Counterintelligence Services (UBK). The OTA became operational in November.
On November 20, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet adopted the Proposed Model and Implementation Plan for Security-Intelligence System Reform. The Cabinet tasked the Ministry of Interior, in collaboration with the stakeholder institutions, to coordinate the implementation of the reform.
In addition to investigating any allegations of police mistreatment, the Ministry of Interior’s Professional Standards Unit (PSU) conducted all internal investigations into allegations of other forms of police misconduct. The unit has authority to impose administrative sanctions, such as temporary suspension from work, during its investigations. The unit may not take disciplinary measures, which require a ruling from a disciplinary commission, nor may it impose more serious criminal sanctions, which require court action.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires that a judge issue warrants for arrest and detention of suspects based on evidence, and police generally followed this requirement. The law states that prosecutors must arraign a detainee within 24 hours of arrest. A pretrial procedure judge, at the request of a prosecutor, may order detention of suspects for up to 72 hours before arraignment. Police generally adhered to these procedures. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Detention prior to indictment may last a maximum of 180 days. Following indictment, pretrial detention may last a maximum of two years.
During the first six months of the year, the Ministry of Interior PSU received four complaints alleging excessive use of force in interrogations of suspects and detainees. The PSU filed criminal charges against one police officer for inappropriate police treatment and dismissed the other three for lack of evidence.
There is an operating bail system. The law allows defendants to communicate with an attorney of their choice, but authorities did not always inform detainees properly of this right and did not always allow them to consult with an attorney prior to arraignment. Indigent detainees have the right to a state-provided attorney, and authorities generally respected this right. Judges usually granted permission for attorneys to visit their clients in detention. Authorities did not practice incommunicado detention.
Pretrial Detention: In the majority of cases, the courts adhered to the law for pretrial detention procedures. During the year, the number of court detention orders dropped significantly compared with previous years. In most cases both the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Special Prosecutor’s Office requested, and the court issued, preventive measures instead of detention orders for suspects and defendants to prevent flight risk of witnesses, evidence tampering, and repeating or committing new crimes.
The constitution provides for “autonomous and independent” courts, supported by an independent and autonomous Judicial Council. The government demonstrated greater respect for judicial independence and impartiality compared to previous years. Limited judicial independence, politicization of the judicial oversight body, and inadequate funding of the judiciary, however, continued to hamper court operations and effectiveness.
According to the EC’s April 17 report, the country’s judicial system made some progress in improving judicial independence. The country adopted a credible new judicial reform strategy, and key pieces of legislation were amended in line with recommendations from the Venice Commission and the EU’s “Urgent Reform Priorities.” The Special Prosecutor’s Office faced less obstruction from the courts. The EC report also concluded that sustained efforts would be required in order to address outstanding recommendations and to ensure the judiciary could function without undue influence.
On March 28, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev launched a new Judicial Reform Implementation Monitoring Council, which included the minister of justice, the chief public prosecutor, the special prosecutor, and other judges, government officials, private attorneys, and academics. The purpose of the Council is to monitor implementation of judicial reforms under the government reform plan.
According to the ombudsman’s annual report for 2017, the greatest number of citizen complaints (576 or 17 percent) concerned the judicial system. Almost half of the complaints related to the rights of citizens in enforcement procedures. Between January and August, the greatest number of complaints (432 or 19 percent) related to the judiciary. The report stated citizens complained about long trials, bias, selective justice, and undue pressure on judges. The report indicated court decisions were sometimes considerably delayed due to administrative deficiencies or judges exceeding the legally prescribed deadlines for issuing written judgments.
While there were strict rules regulating the assignment of cases to judges that were implemented through an electronic case management system, in September the Skopje Public Prosecution Office summoned several persons for interviews after a 2017 audit revealed that the system to assign judges to handle specific cases had been manipulated. Media outlets reported that prosecutors summoned former “presiding judge” of the Skopje Criminal Court, Vladimir Pancevski, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Jovo Vangelovski. On September 14, the Special Prosecutor’s Office submitted a Special Report on Judges Implicated in the 2008-2015 Unlawful Wiretaps. The report stated that, between 2011 and 2015, four judges were involved in “flagrant violation of integrity, independence, competence, and malpractice.” The report detailed alleged actions in 2011 and 2012 under the former government, specifically that Supreme Court Chief Justice Jovo Vangelovski shared key information regarding active cases with politicians and pressured peers during adjudication. In addition it stated that former Judicial Council president Aleksandra Zafirovska consulted senior government officials to select politically loyal or “favorable” judges, that criminal trial judge Sofija Lalichich followed senior UBK orders and severely violated the judges’ ethical code, and that administrative judge Svetlana Kostova simultaneously worked as a judge and as a UBK staffer.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.
The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary). Trials were generally open to the public. The ombudsman’s 2017 annual report noted continuing problems regarding the right to trial in a reasonable time. According to the report, protracted civil and administrative court cases, as well as insufficient civil enforcement practices, resulted in violations of citizens’ rights. In high-profile cases, it was common for defense attorneys to request a “strategic delay” to proceedings.
For certain criminal and civil cases, judicial panels of three to five individuals, led by a professional judge, are used. Authorities did not always grant defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. In particular, Special Prosecution Office (SPO) defendants have complained that the court did not always grant adequate time to prepare a sufficient defense. Free assistance of an interpreter is provided. Defendants may communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense for those who are indigent. Defendants may question witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. Authorities may not compel defendants to testify or confess guilt. Both the prosecution and defendants have the right to appeal verdicts.
On August 22, The Skopje Criminal Court began the trial of 33 persons charged with “terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order” for their actions in the April 2017 violent attacks in parliament. Four opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) party members of parliament, one Socialist Party member, and the former interior minister were among those charged. In opening arguments the prosecution stated the criminal attacks were well organized and that one of the defendants was tasked with assassinating Zoran Zaev, who became prime minister a month after the attacks. The trial continued at year’s end. On December 18, parliament adopted an Amnesty Law that provides amnesty for some participants in the attacks but not for those who committed violence, carried weapons, or organized the incident.
On November 16, the Constitutional Court declared a 2015 law on sentencing guidelines designed to address inconsistent sentencing among different courts unconstitutional. Legal analysts had expressed concern the law seriously hampered judicial discretion to decide sentences according to the facts in individual cases and provided too much power to prosecutors to influence sentences.
On January 11, parliament abolished the Council for Determining Facts and amended the Law on Judicial Council to restore the Judicial Council’s responsibilities regarding discipline and dismissal of judges, in line with the 2015 Venice Commission opinion. On May 2, parliament amended the Law on Courts and the Law on the Judicial Council to introduce harsher disciplinary grounds, limit Judicial Council members’ eligibility for more senior judicial positions while serving on the Council, and allow for the removal of a Judicial Council member indicted for a crime. On May 15, the Judges’ Association stated that the amendments to the Laws on Courts and the Judicial Council failed to meet judges’ expectations for effective reform, including disciplinary liability and removal grounds. The association’s board concluded the amendments were not in line with the government’s 2017-22 Judicial Reform Strategy and called on the government and opposition to make changes that would provide judicial independence.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There was one report of political detainees. The opposition party VMRO-DPMNE claimed that the charges brought against 33 defendants, including five members of parliament, in the April 2017 parliamentary violence case were politically motivated and inflated (see Trial Procedures, above). There was no evidence the government denied access to these detainees by human rights or humanitarian organizations. The trial continued as of November 21.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens had access to courts to submit lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals may file human rights cases in the criminal, civil, or administrative courts, and the Constitutional Court, depending upon the type of human rights violation in question and its alleged perpetrator. Individuals also may appeal adverse decisions. The law provides the right to timely adjudication of cases and a legal basis for appealing excessive judicial delays to the Supreme Court. The government generally complied with civil decisions of domestic courts. Individuals may appeal cases involving alleged state violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after exhausting all domestic legal options.
The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, for citizens of the country. The government has no laws or mechanisms in place related to the resolution of Holocaust-era claims by foreign citizens. Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue in the country, particularly after the 2000 Denationalization Law and 2007 compensation agreement.
The 2000 Denationalization Law accorded the right to denationalization of property seized after August 1944 to former owners and their successors, in accordance with the provisions related to the right to inherit. It required claimants to have citizenship of the country at the time of the law entering force.
The 2007 Compensation Agreement among the government, the Holocaust Fund, and the Jewish Community allowed for the payment of 21.1 million euros ($24.2 million) between June 2009 and June. One of the agreement’s major results was the construction of the Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from Macedonia, which officially opened in 2011. In June the government paid the last installment of 5.6 million euros ($6.4 million) to the fund, completing the process of denationalizing of Jewish properties.
Advocacy groups reported that some foreign citizens, not covered by the 2000 law, still sought restitution. Foreign citizens may apply for restitution in civil proceedings. The country is party to the 2009 Terezin Declaration.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions during the year. On April 12, parliament established the Operational Technical Agency (OTA) to be responsible for lawful intercepts in the country (see section 1.d., Role of the Police and Security Apparatus).
During the year the government continued to deal with the repercussions of revelations of a widespread, illegal wiretapping campaign, allegedly carried out during multiple years inside the UBK headquarters under the previous VMRO-DPMNE-led government. The campaign was first reported by the then opposition SDSM party in 2015.
In late 2016 the Directorate for Personal Data Protection, the agency responsible for overseeing the government’s handling of personal information, performed four inspections of the UBK and initiated a control inspection in July 2017 to measure implementation of the 11 recommendations it made during 2016 inspections. A compliance report published by the directorate in November 2017 stated that the Ministry of Interior fully complied with the recommendations.
In 2016 parliament amended the Law on the Protection of Privacy to prohibit the possession, processing, and publishing of any content, including wiretapped conversations, which violate the right to privacy with regard to personal or family life. The amendments, which entered into force in July, also prohibit the use of such materials in election campaigns or for other political purposes.