Thursday, March 19, 2009
Macedonia: Ethnic Discrimination still a Problem
Macedonia's progress in building a civil society and guaranteeing minority rights has not gone unnoticed by international organisations, whose reports in recent years have taken on a noticeably warmer tone. Most continue to warn, though, that substantial work remains to be done.
The US State Department's Human Rights Report for 2008, published last month by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, is the latest example.
It found that the Macedonian government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens" during 2008, but noted problems in some areas.
The report cited many positive trends. Despite some political pressure, the independent media were described as flourishing. The authors saw no restrictions on academic freedom and said the government generally respected the right of assembly. They also took note of a new law enshrining religious freedom and said the authorities had generally respected this right in practise.
Thousands of NGOs are operating freely in Macedonia, and increased co-operation is evident between the government and the ombudsman's office, the US State Department said.
At the same time, it said, the country still faces serious challenges. Two of the most important are judicial reform and interethnic relations.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, it remains a work in progress. The judicial branch is still swayed by corruption and political influence, according to the report.
Moreover, it said, the government "continued to delay the implementation of a number of judicial reform laws", thus lowering the efficiency of the system
As for interethnic relations, the State Department found they continued to be strained. "Tensions between the ethnic Macedonian and Albanian populations continued to impact areas including education, employment, and political participation," the report said.
Minority rights in the country enjoy guarantees under the Ohrid Agreement, and successive governments have taken concrete steps to make these rights a reality. Employment of minorities in civil and public administration has risen and is reaching 20% representation of ethnic Albanians in some sectors -- a doubling in the last eight years.
If a minority represents more than 20% of the population in a municipality, its language enjoys official status there. Some towns and cities in Macedonia thus have Albanian, Roma, Serbian, or Turkish as an official language. The law provides for primary and secondary education in Albanian, Turkish, and Serbian.
The popularity of Imer Selmani -- an ethnic Albanian running in the March 22nd presidential elections -- is seen as a bellwether of change. In some polls, he is ahead of the main opposition candidate, Ljubomir Frckovski.
Despite these trends, complaints were still heard from minority groups and, in some cases, from members of the ethnic Macedonian majority who alleged "reverse discrimination". Ethnic Turks said they still lacked representation in the government, the media and the school system, while Roma continued to suffer widespread discrimination.
Other problems cited by the State Department include "credible reports" of police abuse, as well as corruption at the interior ministry. Prison conditions in the country barely meet international standards, it said.
International criticism of the June 2008 elections also received mention, as did the scourge of human trafficking.
By Zoran Nikolovski for Southeast European Times
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