Human rights of Roma and social cohesion should be strengthened, says Commissioner Muižnieks in Skopje

Country visit
Strasbourg 29/11/2012
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"The authorities of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" should address more vigorously the factors which continue to undermine social cohesion in this multiethnic country. Targeted initiatives should be developed to build trust and promote social interaction between the communities, as well as to combat discrimination and end social exclusion, in particular of Roma," said Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, at the end of a four-day visit to the country.

While the political representation of Roma is noteworthy and a law against discrimination has been enacted, problems of social exclusion, marginalisation and dire living conditions persist. The Commissioner was also struck by the disproportionate number of Roma children who are placed in "special-needs" schools for the learning-disabled, where they are reportedly 60% of the pupil population. "This is a major concern. Roma children must attend classes in mainstream schools. Policies which segregate the Roma must be immediately replaced with inclusive measures."

Statelessness and lack of personal identification documents still affect many Roma, including children, preventing their access to basic services. "Personal documents are needed for the enjoyment of many human rights. Further efforts should be pursued to provide Roma with identity documents". The Commissioner is also concerned about allegations of ethnic profiling by authorities which reportedly prevent many Roma from leaving the country under the visa-free travel regime instituted three years ago. "Such measures may run counter to certain international standards, such as freedom to leave one's country and the right to seek asylum, and result in another layer of discrimination against the Roma minority."

The Commissioner notes that several milestones have been reached since the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement which ended the 2001 conflict. More equitable representation has been achieved in the public sector, in particular the police and security forces. However, several conflict-related issues have yet to be fully resolved. "Measures to better ensure accountability for gross human rights violations must also be adopted and the fate of those who are still missing must be clarified. Durable solutions for the 90 people who remain accommodated in six collective centres are within reach and need to be found urgently".

Lastly, some serious concerns were brought to the Commissioner's attention about arbitrariness in the application of the lustration law. "The Constitutional Court's decision to seek expert opinion from the Venice Commission on this issue is a welcome development".