In an exclusive interview for IBNA, Executive Director at Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in FYR Macedonia, Uranija Pirovska talks about human rights, how much they’re respected, aspects concerning the functioning of cross ethnic relations and ethnic divisions and other issues relating to human rights and liberties
Interviewed by Naser pajaziti
IBNA: Based on your evaluations, the country has seen a fall in terms of the respect of human rights and freedom of speech. How do you assess this situation?
Pirovska: Unfortunately, in the recent years, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights has noticed that the country has made steps backward as far as human rights are concerned. In the past year, this marked another deterioration with the serious situation of the media and freedom of speech. In our 2013 report, we said that journalists were being subjected to censure, self censuring, pressure from the government, restriction of the rights of protests, etc. This culminated with the arrest of journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, following his publication of a research material which had allegedly unveiled the identity of a protected witness. His arrest was a signal for all journalists. This makes us a state with little freedom of speech.
All reports released by international organizations proved our positioning about a drop in the sphere of the freedom of speech. These reports also pointed out the fact that the number of political prisoners in Macedonia is seeing a rise. But, what concerns us the most is that in 2014, we don’t see any progress or change. Recently, we’ve had the arrest of a doctor who led an independent union of doctors, and who was arrested a week ago on alleged corruption charges. Another bad tarnish was the elections which showed that the country is in the wrong path. The presence of hatred is also a worrying fact for our multi ethnic society.
IBNA: According to Helsinki Committee, where’s the problem behind the negative image of the country?
Pirovska: The problem is systematic. The functioning of institutions depends and is influenced by politics. In order to have an efficient functioning of institutions, a democratic state must implement laws and have a proper legal and democratic state. We must have a functioning system of control and balance of institutions and also an efficiency of parliament, where the representatives of the people are. But at the moment, these things do not function in Macedonia, because all three powers are under the influence of the government.
IBNA: What are the domains in which human rights are violated the most?
Pirovska: We have a growing tendency of the violation of human rights among particular groups of people or individual cases. There’s not a single domain from which our committee has received complaints for violation of the rights of the citizens. The focus last year was the violation of the freedom of speech, discrimination, the bad situation in the prisons of the country. We also have an increase of cases that relate to cross ethnic and religious hatred. In the recent years, the Roma community is not allowed to move freely abroad, because allegedly, their aim is to seek asylum in EU member countries. But this consists on a violation of human rights and discrimination.
IBNA: According to you, how is the situation in the media, where you also claim that the situation is alarming?
Pirovska: Last year was a very bad year for journalists and their profession, for those who have worked by complying with the principle of objectivity and transparency in their reporting and those who have expressed their free opinion.
Unfortunately, now, we have fewer and fewer committed people in journalism. The profession of journalist here is associated with insults, defamation, propaganda. In 2013, many journalists were fired, some of them ended up on the road, some of them censured, but we also have imprisoned journalists. Pressures continue even in 2014 with criminal lawsuits against the media and journalists whose mission is the free speech. We have attacks against critical opinion makers, we’ve had the proposal and approval of several controversial laws, such as the law on audio-visial media services, where a watchdog agency penalizes the media through absurd decisions. Some private TV networks have been penalized because they did not broadcast sufficient Macedonian folk music.
IBNA: Tension in Gorce Petrov in Skopje associated by protests and violence from Macedonian ethnics, following the murder of a Macedonian young man have caused increasing concern for cross ethnic hatred and a deepening of divisions. How do you assess these developments?
Pitrovska: Tensions in Gorce Petrov were not unexpected and that was the reaction of young people, because they live in a society where cross ethnic hatred is not being addressed by the government or the judiciary system. This problem has been going on for 13 years, since the end of the 2001 conflict, because many issues remained unsolved. And nobody talks about them. In other words, our society didn’t go through a reconciliation process, but on the contrary, it saw more cross ethnic divisions. This is done by ethnic homogeneous parties which protect the interests of a given group.
Our committee has not identified any serious joint political engagement to overcome this situation. We have followed the situation and have registered cases, by appealing for the language of hatred to come to an end.
IBNA: What are the measures that must be taken in order to have a positive trend in all the domains of human rights in the country?
Pirovska: One of the most important segments is to convey better knowledge on human rights and liberties through the education system. We need transparency and general denouncement for all the cases that threaten human rights and liberties. Human rights must also be part of the political and institutional culture. We must have a functional society based on respect for human rights and liberties. The judiciary system also plays an important role, but unfortunately, very few judges want to respect the judicial practice which stems from the European Court for Human Rights. All tendencies for divisions between ethnic groups must be put to an end and no ethnic schools must be opened. This divides children and young people and they will not have the adequate space to socialize and exchange their ideas. This creates the current climate of hostility and division, without taking under consideration the common values that we share. Unfortunately, ethnic and political divisions in Macedonia are growing more and more. Large communities live in their ethnic and politically defined world, against the desire for a wide civil concept, a functional democracy and a life with equal rights. /ibna/