Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of a person, regardless of gender, including spousal rape, is illegal but laws were poorly enforced. Penalties for rape range from one to 15 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is illegal but was a persistent issue. Penalties range from six months to five years’ imprisonment for lower-level offenses and one to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes resulting in grave or permanent bodily injury. Offenders could receive up to life imprisonment if their actions resulted in the death of their victim. Additionally, courts may impose fines. The law was enforced in cases where survivors pressed charges, but many did not. The ombudsman characterized the courts’ sentences against convicted offenders as “overly lenient” and said they did not contribute to a reduction and elimination of severe forms of domestic violence nor provide sufficient protection to survivors.
From January to June, the Ministry of Labor registered 662 survivors of domestic violence, of which 463 were women, and 83 children. In June the ministry launched an awareness campaign on gender-based violence.
As of August 31, the ombudsman had received three complaints regarding domestic violence and referred them to the Ministry of Interior for further inquiries. According to the ombudsman, in most instances police responded to domestic violence incidents in a timely manner; however, survivors’ frequent reluctance to report attacks to authorities enabled impunity.
Public prosecution offices received 625 criminal complaints related to gender-based violence, of which 222 were rejected. The Skopje Criminal Court ruled on 45 gender-based violence cases, of which 21 ended with final verdicts stipulating a conditional sentence.
Media and CSOs reported a woman and her father in Gostivar allegedly experienced repeated acts of domestic violence by the woman’s former partner, a police officer. Reportedly, there were six separate cases pending against the attacker, and the appellate court in at least two instances reversed the court of first instance verdicts citing various grounds and ordered retrials. Media broadcast video of an alleged violent incident against the woman and her father in a courthouse corridor, filmed by the court’s security cameras. For the latter, the court sentenced the attacker to a four-month prison sentence and his complicit father, a former police officer, to a suspended sentence, and the other cases remained pending before the court.
The government funded 12 regional centers for survivors of domestic violence. A CSO financed and managed an additional center. In cooperation with the civil society sector, the central government operated three of the centers, and a local government one center in cooperation with CSOs. The government, through the Ministry of Labor, also funded nine specialized counseling centers for survivors, but also for perpetrators of domestic violence. The government fully funded eight of those centers. A local government founded and cofunded another center, managed by a CSO. Additionally, an NGO operated a hotline in the Macedonian and Albanian languages and ran two crisis centers to provide temporary shelter for survivors of domestic violence.
The ministry’s national free SOS line for survivors of domestic violence continued to operate throughout the year. The SOS line and the campaign provided round-the-clock, accurate, timely, and confidential assistance, including information on survivor protection, available services, and telephone counseling to survivors of gender-based and domestic violence.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace of both men and women and provides a sentencing guideline of three months to three years in prison for violations. When victims pursued legal remedies, the government effectively enforced the law. Nonetheless, sexual harassment of women in the workplace remained a problem, and victims generally did not bring cases forward due to fear of publicity and possible loss of employment.
As of August 20, the Commission for Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination reviewed a total of 101 complaints and decided that 51 were legitimate and merited response. Of these, the commission found discrimination based on affiliation with marginalized groups, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, disability, family, marital status, and health condition.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Women from rural areas had limited access to family planning counseling and gynecological services. Romani women faced barriers to accessing family planning counseling and gynecological services due to discrimination, high poverty levels, as well as limited numbers of family doctors and gynecologists in their communities. In March less than a year after the opening of a primary care outpatient gynecological practice in the largest Romani community, Shuto Orizari, the only medical specialist retired, and the practice closed. Approximately 20,000 predominantly Romani women, of whom 8,000 were at reproductive age, struggled to access medical care and family planning services in other municipalities. Institutions lacked capacity to address this matter, but medical services providers also displayed a lack of interest to work with the Romani community due to stereotypes and prejudice. On November 10, the Ministry of Health reopened the outpatient gynecological practice in Shuto Orizari following the signing of a contract with a licensed medical provider and local CSO Romalitico, which funded a position for a nurse.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. State health centers accepted all persons who sought medical attention, including patients with complications from abortion. There were three centers for survivors of sexual violence, in Skopje, Kumanovo, and Tetovo; during the year, the centers were integrated with and funded by the state hospitals in each city. A shelter in Skopje for trafficking victims provided reproductive health care.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status as men under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, nationality, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property, but they experienced discrimination in the economy. The laws were effectively enforced. In certain communities, the practice of men directing the voting or voting on behalf of female disenfranchised women family members. Women are unable to work in the same industries as men, and there is no legal mandate stipulating equal pay for equal work.
The Ministry of Labor, with the support of the OSCE, developed e-modules for nondiscrimination and promotion of equality. The government launched a capacity-building program for nondiscrimination and equality that included 200 public sector employees.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The country has civil and criminal laws and affirmative action regulations to protect members of racial or ethnic groups from violence and discrimination. The constitution and laws refer to ethnic minorities as communities. The State Commission for Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination (Anti-Discrimination Commission) effectively enforced the civil antidiscrimination laws. The enforcement of the criminal law, however, was lax. In December Kumanovo Basic Court’s misdemeanor judge fined the Kumanovo Interior Department and three affiliated police officers for failing to comply with the commission’s corrective recommendation that the accused, in presence of their supervisor, apologize to the plaintiff for discriminating against him on political belief grounds.
Roma reported widespread societal discrimination. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, Roma remained underrepresented in the civil service and other state and public institutions, while other smaller ethnic communities remained underrepresented at the managerial level. NGOs and international experts reported employers often denied Romani applicants job opportunities, and some Roma complained of lack of access to public services and benefits. The Anti-Discrimination Commission reported at least three cases of discrimination against the Roma, of which two regarded access to potable water, and one regarded segregation of Roma students in a school. The commission issued public warnings and imposed corrective measures. The ombudsman received complaints from NGOs alleging discrimination against the Roma on various grounds. The ombudsman advised the relevant government institutions to take mitigation measures and prevent future discrimination. According to credible reports, there was also significant police mistreatment against the Roma community. Roma neighborhoods were often raided by police without observing required procedures. Instances of police brutality occurred frequently but remained unsanctioned due to ineffective investigations.
On May 30, the Skopje Criminal Court issued a one-year prison sentence against a police officer for “mistreatment in the conduct of duty” of a Roma person. Albeit seen as relatively lenient, the sentence was also viewed as significant progress in comparison to prior court precedent of issuing suspended sentences for comparable offenses.
On June 26, a swimming pool in Skopje allegedly discriminated against a young Roma girl by not allowing her access to the premises.
On October 27, in a case brought by the European Roma Rights Centre, the Basic Court in Skopje II ruled that the Ministry of Health discriminated against Romani minors with drug addiction problems by not providing them with treatment or rehabilitation. Access to adequate housing remained a systemic problem for the Roma. Even in instances where the government provided housing for the Roma, non-Roma residents refused to live in the same neighborhoods due to societal prejudice. In March residents of a neighborhood in Kichevo signed a petition against the construction of government-funded housing for indigenous Roma. The Kichevo mayor condemned the petition as racist behavior, but the construction of the housing remained halted.
Birth Registration: The law determines citizenship primarily by the citizenship of the parents. It also allows orphans found in the country to obtain citizenship, unless authorities discover before the orphan reaches the age of 18 that his or her parents were foreigners. The government automatically registers the births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions, and the law requires that parents register the births of all children born in other places, including those born at home, with magistrate offices within 15 days of birth. Some Romani families delayed the registration of newborns, making it difficult for them to access educational, medical, and other benefits later in life due to lack of proper identity documents.
Education: The law provides for primary education in the Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, and Bosnian languages, and for secondary education in Macedonian, Albanian, and Turkish. Romani and Vlach children in some primary education schools are offered an elective subject studying their native languages and cultures. The number of minority students who received secondary education in their native language continued to increase.
Discrimination against Roma school-age children via segregation continued. Credible reports stated that local school authorities and local communities, often at insistence of non-Roma students’ parents, resisted changing segregation practices, at Roma students’ disadvantage. CSOs reported practices of local authorities pressuring Roma students’ parents to enroll them in schools in areas with a predominant Romani population; when in same schools with other non-Roma, Roma students were often put in different classrooms. According to reports, some of those practices were also due to some Roma students being unable to speak languages other than Romani. According to the Balkan Barometer public opinion poll, 25 percent of the population was not comfortable with their children going to school with Romani children.
In December the European Court of Human Rights ruled against North Macedonia in two 2020 cases for segregation targeting young Roma students. According to the ruling, two public primary schools in Bitola and Shtip segregated Roma students by placing them in a Roma-only school and in Roma-only classes, respectively. The court ruling cited findings by the ombudsman and the Commission for Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination.
Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, and penalties for conviction include fines, imprisonment, and closure of businesses. Child abuse was a problem in certain areas. The government operated a hotline for domestic violence, including child abuse. The Ministry of Interior registered 83 street children who were forced by their parents or other adults to beg, wash cars, or sell small items. All 83 children were referred to day care centers for children at risk.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. A court may issue a marriage license to persons between the ages of 16 and 18 if it finds them mentally and physically fit for marriage. Early and forced marriage occurred in the Romani community and, to a much lesser extent, in some Albanian and other communities. The Ministry of Labor documented early marriages, in which one or both parties were ages 16 or 17. According to local CSOs, the early and forced marriages among the Romani community accounted for 15-20 percent of the total number of early and forced marriages in the country, showing progressive decline compared with previous years.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides penalties of 10 to 15 years in prison for violations. The law prohibits child pornography and provides penalties of five to 15 years in prison for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.
The country had an online registry, searchable by name and address, of convicted child traffickers and sex offenders listing photographs, conviction records, and residential addresses. Offenders could ask authorities to remove them from the register 10 years after they completed their sentence, provided they did not commit a new offense.
As of September 1, the registry listed a total of 299 offenders (13 women and 286 men), eight of whom were sentenced during the year. As of September 1, 172 had been released from prison and the rest were serving prison sentences of between two and 20 years.
Institutionalized Children: There were no children with disabilities in large institutions. All were housed in 35 small group homes with five to six children per home and 24-hour oversight by social workers and childcare providers.
The ombudsman reported some group homes for high school-age disabled children had inadequate living conditions and recommended authorities take remedial measures by improving conditions or transferring the children to other homes.
Orphans younger than three were placed in foster homes. The Ministry of Labor promoted child foster care by recruiting new and supporting existing foster families. The ministry opened three new centers for foster care support.
An educational correctional facility for juveniles operating since 2020 housed 16 juveniles during the year.
The Jewish community assessed that approximately 200 Jewish persons resided in the country. The community reported no violent acts against its members, but observers reported a significant increase in antisemitic speech and incidents compared with the previous year. Jewish children were reportedly bullied for their Jewish identity during the escalation of conflict in Gaza, or due to conspiracies related to the war in Ukraine.
In February approximately 30 traveling Lev Tahor Jewish Orthodox sect members were forced to move to Ohrid due to physical attacks, threats, and other forms of harassment. A group of protesters stoned the group’s temporary residence in Kumanovo, and another group of protesters in Ohrid gave the hotel owner a 24-hour ultimatum to evict the group. The Lev Tahor group eventually left North Macedonia for Greece, at the expiration of their 90-day temporary stay, in early May.
In an open letter on February 22, the Jewish community said it was shocked by the “incredible” and “unprecedented” antisemitism and xenophobia against the members of the Lev Tahor group, especially by calls to “set the hotel on fire along with the Jews in it,” which caused “fear and anxiety” among the members of the Jewish community. The Jewish community urged authorities to take measures against the instigators and for journalists to be “extremely cautious” with their reporting about the group. As of November 10, there were no reports authorities took any measures against the instigators.
Police in Ohrid announced criminal charges against a woman for hate speech on social media, which the Anti-Discrimination Commission deemed an antisemitic incident comprising elements of discrimination.
In March former national public service MRTV journalist Emilija Geleva spread antisemitic and anti-West conspiracy theories on portals and social media by claiming the “Nazis” that Russian President Putin was fighting in Ukraine were American Jews in the sitting U.S. administration, including Secretary Blinken.
In late February a Skopje-based imam accused Ukrainian President Zelenskyy of colluding with the Jews against the Palestinians, possibly due to Zelenskyy’s Jewish origins. The IRC took disciplinary action against the imam.
The Jewish community and the Holocaust Fund of the Jews from North Macedonia issued a joint press release condemning the naming of a Bulgarian Cultural Center in Bitola after Vancho Mihailov, a known fascist and Nazi collaborator. They said the center’s opening on April 16 – Shabbat and the first day of Passover – was an act of insult and Holocaust denial. In October citizens protested in response to the continued naming of businesses for Nazi collaborators like Mihailov or Tsar Boris III, including the opening of a “Tsar Boris III” club in Ohrid. In November parliament adopted amendments to the laws on political parties and citizens’ associations to ban the registration and operation of those that carry the names and symbols or espouse, encourage, or approve intolerance, hate, fascist ideology, Nazism, National Socialism, and the Third Reich.
The Jewish community complained that its 2017 initiative for an amendment to the criminal code that would criminalize antisemitism, Holocaust denial and distortion, or the glorification of the Nazi and fascist symbols had yet to be adopted.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: Violence against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community remained a problem. CSOs reported authorities continued to fail to adequately investigate and prosecute instances of violence against community members.
The Skopje Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office reported 12 criminal complaints involving LGBTQI+ victims. As of August 31, it rejected two on procedural grounds or for lack of evidence, with the remaining cases pending preliminary review outcome. According to the PPO, only one other prosecution office reported having received a criminal report involving an LGBTQI+ victim. The case was pending. CSOs noted at least two physical assaults against activists, which were reported to police.
An LGBTQI+ person, who was also president of a local LGBTQI+ CSO, said they were the subject of hate-based, physical attacks on three separate occasions. They filed three criminal complaints to the authorities, supported with evidence of physical injuries and video of at least one of the attackers. CSOs joined the individual’s appeal to authorities to fully investigate the attacks and punish the perpetrators in line with the law. The Helsinki Human Rights Committee requested the Strumica Basic Prosecutor’s Office duly investigate the attack, which occurred in its jurisdiction.
On November 30, the Skopje Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office announced it had filed an indictment against a man from Skopje on charges of hate-motivated violence against a member of the LGBTQI+ community. The charges stemmed from a 2019 incident that resulted in serious bodily injury of the LGBTQI+ activist. The trial was pending before Skopje Criminal Court as of December 20.
On November 28, the Strumica Basic Court sentenced one person to six months in prison for a hate-motivated physical assault against the activist. The assault left the victim with multiple injuries in the neck, chest, stomach, and left arm. CSO Subversive Front reported it submitted 65 criminal complaints for hate speech and inciting violence against LGBTQI+ persons. The CSO said prosecution offices were slow to respond to complaints. As of September 5, the authorities dismissed 20 of those complaints, and the review of the remaining 45 was pending.
Subversive Front submitted 15 criminal complaints for hate speech before the Ministry of Interior for further inquiry, including one complaint against a local police officer who harassed an LGBTQI+ person.
According to CSOs, nine LGBTQI+ persons had received safe house shelter as of September 5. The majority were forced to leave their homes by their families due to their sexual orientation, with some subject to physical violence. The prolonged COVID-19 pandemic forced LGBTQI+ persons to return to homophobic and unsafe homes, resulting in increased family violence and risk of homelessness.
Discrimination: The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When victims filed complaints, the government generally enforced the law, but prosecution of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals was slowly gaining pace. The antidiscrimination law explicitly provides for protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, and health care; the criminal code sanctions serious cases of hate speech and induced coercion, harassment, public mockery, or violence based on sex, gender identity, affiliation with a marginalized group “and other types of belief.” The statute envisions minimum of one and maximum of five-year prison sentences, with harsher penalties for offenders acting in official capacity or causing large-scale violence against individuals or damage to property.
CSOs reported an increased in transphobic and homophobic speech during the year. The LGBTQI+ community remained marginalized, and activists supporting LGBTQI+ rights reported numerous incidents of societal prejudice. The Commission for Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination reported LGBTQI+ persons and their supporters were the most frequent victims of discrimination, especially in traditional and social media. As of June 30, the commission found discrimination based on sexual orientation in 15 cases and on gender identity in 14 cases.
The Helsinki Human Rights Committee reported a surge in derogatory and violent speech against the LGBTQI+ community in social and traditional media before and after the Skopje Pride Parade. The committee filed three criminal complaints for hate speech based on sexual orientation and gender identity, all pending as of August 31.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: Coalition Margini reported that 20 persons requested alteration of sex/gender markers in personal documents, of which at least 13 successfully completed the procedure, reportedly enabled by the administrative services’ affirmative application of the existing laws. In March the government withdrew from parliament proposed draft amendments to the Law on Civil Registry, which included provisions regulating legal gender recognition. The intention of the proposed amendments was to introduce a streamlined procedure for legal gender recognition aligned with the ECHR ruling in the case X v. North Macedonia. The ECHR said the country lacked a law explicitly allowing alteration of a person’s sex/gender marker status in the civil status register.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There were no reports of involuntary or coercive medical or psychological practices specifically targeting LGBTQI+ individuals. There were allegations that so-called conversion therapy was practiced, and activists confirmed there were such cases, but they explained that information regarding specific cases rarely reached them. Activists reported psychologists and other educational professionals in schools often asked LGBTQI+ students to conform to heteronormative standards and to act in accordance with the roles expected of the gender they were assigned at birth.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: The country did not have any formal restrictions on those speaking out on LGBTQI+ issues nor the ability of LGBTQI+ organizations to legally register or convene events, such as Pride festivities.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis. The constitution and law protect the rights of persons with disabilities (physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities), including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services, but these legal requirements were not enforced effectively. A separate law governs the employment of persons with disabilities and supplements the labor law. The law requires persons with physical or mental disabilities to obtain approval from a government medical commission to serve in supervisory positions in the private and public sectors. Disability experts maintained this requirement violated the right to equal treatment and employment based on merit.
There were no reports of violence, harassment, or intimidation targeted at persons with disabilities.
The government does not have a strategic framework regarding the rights of persons with disabilities nor an action plan for effective implementation of the comprehensive strategy on deinstitutionalization. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation due to entrenched prejudice and lack of information.
As of September 15, two weeks after the start of the academic year, high school students with disabilities did not have access to government-paid education assistants. In early September parents and CSOs called on authorities to adopt pending legislation as soon as possible to enable the Ministry of Labor to provide this service, especially as secondary education is mandatory under the law.
The ombudsman conducted periodic visits to group and foster homes for children with disabilities. As of August 31, the ombudsman reviewed 15 complaints alleging violations of disabled persons’ rights, of which eight concerned children. Most of the complaints alleged violations of the right to education due to lack of access to public education or education assistants. The ombudsman recommended the Ministry of Labor and other relevant authorities take remedial action.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities continued to be marginalized and their needs were not addressed, according to NGOs and the ombudsman. COVID-19 information and vaccine application web sites were not provided in formats accessible to persons with sensory disabilities, and most COVID-19 testing facilities were inaccessible for persons with physical disabilities.
The Helsinki Human Rights Committee reported that in September, the Skopje Civil Court ruled the government and the State Election Commission had directly discriminated against persons with disabilities by failing to provide them with access to some polling stations, effectively denying them the right to vote. The court ordered the authorities to make the necessary changes before the next elections.
The law establishes accessibility standards for new buildings; existing public structures should have been made accessible for persons with disabilities by the end of 2015. NGOs reported many public and government buildings and other structures, including shelters for victims of violence, did not comply with the law. NGOs also reported companies were able to skirt the law by paying bribes to avoid the excess costs of including accessibility features in new construction.
Although all buses purchased since 2013 by the government for Skopje should have been accessible to persons with physical disabilities, in practice many buses remained inaccessible due to insufficient maintenance, a lack of training, and the failure to sanction drivers who refused to extend ramps. Public transportation remained largely inaccessible outside of Skopje.
The Ministry of Education and Science made efforts to provide suitable support to enable children with disabilities to attend mainstream schools, but a lack of funding and qualified education assistants negatively affected students. The law mandates inclusion of children with disabilities in regular/mainstreamed schools and envisions transforming “special” schools into resource centers for teachers, parents, and students. Nonetheless, most schools remained unprepared to implement the law and continued to struggle to provide appropriate support to children with disabilities. Most schools remained inaccessible for persons with physical disabilities and lacked wheelchair accessibility ramps, accessible toilets, and elevators. Many students with disabilities continued to attend separate schools.
Advocates reported improvements for children with autism, as there was more mainstream acceptance of their presence in schools, where they were often accompanied by teaching assistants.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Social stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS remained a problem.
The Ministry of Health did not prioritize persons living with HIV for COVID-19 vaccination, despite CSOs’ written request. The prolonged pandemic exacerbated systemic problems of social exclusion, limited access to public services and justice, and inadequate protection from discrimination and violence against persons with HIV. CSOs supporting persons with HIV, in cooperation with the Clinic for Infectious Diseases, provided free distribution of antiretroviral therapy to all HIV patients in need, and particularly to those living outside Skopje.
In late March 14 CSOs working on HIV prevention programs raised concerns regarding a 40 percent cut to the Ministry of Health’s budget for HIV prevention programs. According to CSO HERA, the drastic funding cut increased the risk of HIV infection and death. According to credible sources, one-third of persons with HIV in North Macedonia were unaware they had the virus.