Despite the implementation of reforms identified by the European Commission (EC), concerns remained about impunity, hate speech, discrimination against women, Roma, and LGBTI people. Unlawful detention and pushbacks of refugees and migrants continued.
The EC approved the start of accession talks in March, recognizing progress in judicial, policing and security service reform and in addressing organized crime and corruption. In September, the government announced a media reform programme, which included addressing the proliferation of “fake news”.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, states of emergency were declared from mid-March and lifted in mid-June to enable campaigning for parliamentary elections in July. The police were selective in enforcing compliance with curfews and the ban on religious or public gatherings.
In April, the government cut NGO funding by €525,000, compromising their ability to deliver essential services. Courts barely functioned, making slow progress in prosecuting individuals charged with violating COVID-19 restrictions.
Legislation in March closed the Special Prosecution Office, created in 2015 with jurisdiction over alleged serious crimes, including human rights violations, by former government ministers and officials. Over 20 unprosecuted cases were transferred to the Public Prosecutor. The trial of the former secret police chief and Interior Minister for their involvement in unlawful surveillance continued. In June, former Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for abuse of office.
North Macedonia had not yet ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, signed in February 2007.
Discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation persisted, often fuelled by the pandemic. Hate speech and misinformation on social media often targeted Albanian citizens. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights reported an 80% increase in anti-Islamic hate speech before the elections, and in July filed five criminal charges for spreading hatred.
Roma suffered discrimination in accessing COVID-19-related financial benefits. Instead of government support, vulnerable families received occasional humanitarian packages from NGOs and some municipalities. The National Roma Centrum also assisted Roma families required to self-isolate.
In March, nine Roma musicians who had travelled through Italy in a 200-person convoy were quarantined for five days at an army barracks on entering North Macedonia, then released; non-Roma travellers were told to self-isolate at home.
In May, the Constitutional Court struck out the 2019 Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination, which recognized discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, for procedural reasons. In October, Parliament reinstated the law, but failed to ensure the independence of the Discrimination Commission. In August, the president of the Tetovo-based NGO LGBT-United was assaulted, receiving head and eye injuries.
Employers failed to implement COVID-19-related measures to assist working parents, disproportionately affecting women, some of whom had their wages unlawfully reduced if they took time off. In the textile industry, women were threatened with lay-offs, non-renewal of contracts, or – as in Štip, in June – required to work through a weekend curfew.
The government failed to fully implement recommendations from NGOs to protect women and children fleeing domestic violence.
During the pandemic, state clinics could not provide routine sexual health and reproductive services; the NGO HERA prioritized services for Roma and other vulnerable women.
In March, the CEDAW Committee ordered North Macedonia to provide reparation to six pregnant Roma women unlawfully evicted from their homes in the capital, Skopje, in August 2016.
According to the NGO European Roma Rights Centre, a Roma woman died in March during a procedure to remove her dead baby. She was twice refused admittance at Ohrid hospital, despite presenting with pain, then an infection and fever. When she was finally taken to Skopje hospital, she had to wait six hours for her COVID-19 test result before admission. By then, the baby had died.
Almost half of the 172 asylum claims lodged by the end of June were made by individuals unlawfully detained as witnesses in proceedings against smugglers; one applicant was granted temporary protection. The NGO Macedonian Young Lawyers Association reported that by 30 September 24,153 refugees and migrants had been prevented from entering the country or were unlawfully pushed back to Greece.