July 10, 2013

 July 10, 2013

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski
Government of the Republic of Macedonia
Blvd. Ilinden No.2
1000 Skopje
Republic of Macedonia

Dear Prime Minister Gruevski,

I write to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch out of concern over several recent violent attacks on members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community in Skopje. As you are aware, Human Rights Watch is an independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.

The attacks I refer to were triggered by the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of the victims.

On June 22 Skopje’s Pride Week was opened in Skopje’s LGBTI Support Center. Eyewitnesses informed Human Rights Watch that about 40 LGBT people attended the screening of several short LGBTI themed films as well as a discussion on the right to health in relation to transgender individuals. Shortly after the event started, at around 6:30 PM, a mob of about 30 people gathered in front of the Center and started shouting derogatory and homophobic slogans and threatened the people inside. The attackers threw stones, bottles, and bricks at the Center. Inside, according to the reports we received, the people in the audience were scared and feared for their safety. The police came and the mob dispersed, leaving one policeman wounded after he was hit by one of the objects thrown from the mob.

On June 25 at 10:50 PM a mob gathered around the house of openly gay actor Petar Stojkovikj, in Skopje. He was inside with his partner. The mob shouted homophobic language and threatened his physical integrity. The aggressors threw stones at the house. Stojkovikj reported the incident to the police. Police officers came to investigate the scene after the mob had left.

One of the leaders of the organization LGBT United Macedonia (name known to Human Rights Watch, but withheld because of security reasons) who took part in the organization of the Skopje Pride Week, received several death threats following the attack on the LGBTI Support Center. On his Facebook page he received messages saying “We will cut your head” and “We will shoot you.” Out of fear of being killed he left his house and sought shelter with friends. He does not dare to leave their house and is basically a prisoner in Skopje.

On July 5, unidentified person(s) tried to burn down the LGBTI Support Centre. According to a written note prepared by the police, one of the fire departments in Skopje received a phone call around 4:20 AM. An unknown person reported that fire had broken out in the house in which the LGBTI Support Centre operates. The fire brigade acted quickly, localizing and extinguishing the fire. At 8:30 AM two representatives of the Skopje Police Inspection Department arrived at the scene. Their preliminary findings are that someone climbed onto the roof of the Centre, removed a dozen roof tiles, spilled gasoline on the roof planks, and set them on fire.

The police were notified about all the above mentioned incidents except the death threats towards the LGBTI activist. When Human Rights Watch asked him why he had not notified the police, he answered that he had lost all faith in the police.

At the moment of writing this letter, it is unknown if the police are investigating the other above mentioned incidents. After reporting these crimes the victims have not heard anything back from the authorities.

Of great concern to Human Rights Watch is the fact that neither you nor anyone else from your government condemned these attacks publicly or urged Macedonian society to refrain from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Macedonia is a small country with about 2 million inhabitants. The lack of a government response adds to the vulnerability of LGBTI people in Macedonia and brings into question your government’s commitment to the principles of non-discrimination and equality.

The principles of non-discrimination and equality are at the foundation of the international human rights system, under which Macedonia has made clear and obligatory commitments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) establishes that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (art. 1) and “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind” (art. 2(1)). These principles are reiterated throughout the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other major treaties to which Macedonia is a party.

The principle of non- discrimination is thus a core treaty obligation and a non-derogable norm. The enjoyment of all the rights guaranteed under the core treaties without discrimination is not subject to progressive realization; it has been defined as an immediate obligation.

International law and standards prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination is therefore part of Macedonia’s duty-bound obligations. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which your country acceded in 1994, affirms the equality of all people in articles 2 and 26. In the 1994 case of Nicholas Toonen v Australia, the Human Rights Committee, the international body of experts that monitors compliance with the ICCPR, found that both these provisions should be understood to include sexual orientation as a status protected against discrimination. Specifically it held that “reference to ‘sex’ in article 2, para.1 and article 26 is to be taken as including sexual orientation.”

Macedonia is a party to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In art. 14, the Convention prohibits discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention. Macedonia was also one of the first countries in Europe to ratify protocol 12 of the Convention, which prohibits discrimination in all rights “set forth by law.” The European Court of Human Rights, which authoritatively interprets and enforces the Convention, has recognized that sexual orientation is covered by article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In its recent first ruling on protocol 12 it said the grounds for discrimination prohibited under that protocol would be the same as under article 14, i.e. including sexual orientation.

Since 2005 your country has been involved in a “stabilization and association” process with the European Union as a candidate for future membership. Article 21 of the Charter, which entered into force in December 2009, prohibits discrimination, specifically including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The European Commission noticed in their 2009 progress report on your country:

“Little progress has been made in the area of anti-discrimination policy. Mechanisms to identify, pursue and criminalize all forms of discrimination by State and non-State bodies against individuals or groups do not yet exist. A framework law on anti-discrimination remains to be adopted. Discrimination based on sex, ethnic origin, disability and sexual orientation persists…. Neither the Constitution nor the existing legislation identifies sexual orientation as a basis of discrimination. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are not protected against direct or indirect discrimination and are stigmatized, particularly in rural areas.”

Unfortunately not much progress has been made in this respect.

The European Commission writes in its progress report on Macedonia 2012 (dated October 10, 2012 SWD (2012) 332 final on page 16 under social and economic rights: “The Anti-Discrimination Law is still not fully in line with the acquis; discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is still omitted. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community continues to suffer from discrimination and stigmatisation.” And on page 46: “The framework law on anti-discrimination does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in employment and occupation and is therefore not fully in line with the acquis. A structured and systematic data analysis on discrimination has not been established. Awareness raising activities on equity and non-discrimination need to be intensified.”

 The government of Macedonia publicly committed itself to combating discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by signing a joint statement on human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity presented by 66 States at the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 18, 2008.

The statement calls upon “all States and relevant international human rights mechanisms to commit to promote and protect the human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” It also “urges States to ensure adequate protection of human rights defenders, and remove obstacles which prevent them from carrying out their work on issues of human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity.”

On March 31, 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe unanimously adopted recommendations on combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Macedonia is a member of the Council of Europe and its Minister of Foreign Affairs agreed to the recommendations. The Appendix forms an integral part of the Recommendations.

Under I. Right to life, security and protection from violence, A “Hate crimes” and other hate-motivated incidents it is agreed that member states should ensure effective, prompt and impartial investigations into alleged cases of crimes and other incidents, where the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim is reasonably suspected to have constituted a motive for the perpetrator;… and that those responsible for such acts are effectively brought to justice and, where appropriate, punished in order to avoid impunity.

Under B. “Hate speech” # 6, member states agreed that they should take appropriate measures to combat all forms of expression, including in the media and on the Internet, which may be reasonably understood as likely to produce the effect of inciting, spreading or promoting hatred or other forms of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Such “hate speech” should be prohibited and publicly disavowed whenever it occurs.

 Under # 8, states agreed that public officials and other state representatives should be encouraged to promote tolerance and respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons whenever they engage in a dialogue with key representatives of civil society, including media and sports organizations, political organizations and religious communities.

Under III. Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly under # 17, states agreed that public authorities at all levels should be encouraged to publicly condemn, notably in the media, any unlawful interferences with the right of individuals and groups of individuals to exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, notably when related to the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

In keeping with those recommendations, you, as prime minister, and other members of your government should take prompt and effective action to publicly denounce the acts of violence and hate speech against LGBT people in Macedonia, and you should ensure that the incidents are thoroughly investigated, the perpetrators are brought to justice, and all necessary measures are taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.

We urge you and your government not to turn away from international human rights standards and to actively protect the safety of LGBTI people in Macedonia. A vital component of such protection is to publicly—in the media and beyond—and unconditionally reject any form of violence or discrimination against LGBTI people and call upon Macedonian society to be tolerant and inclusive.  Furthermore, we urge you and your government to explicitly include “sexual orientation and gender identity” as grounds for non-discrimination in Macedonian legislation.

We are looking forward to receiving your response.

Sincerely,

Boris O. Dittrich
Advocacy director
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch

Cc:
Mr. Gjorge Ivanov, President of Macedonia
Mr. Blerim Bexheti, Minister of Justice