Highest Court in Macedonia Upholds Freedom of Movement for all Macedonians, Including Roma
15 July 2014
Budapest, Skopje, 15 July 2014: The Constitutional Court of Macedonia recently declared some sections of the controversial Law on Travel Documents unconstitutional. The Court’s 25 June 2014 ruling was made public yesterday. According to the Court, which is the highest judicial body in Macedonia, articles of the Law which allowed the authorities to impose severe restrictions on freedom of movement of Macedonian citizens are incompatible with the constitutional right to freedom of movement.
The ERRC and others complained to the Court that the Law granted the authorities excessive powers to revoke the passports of citizens who have been forcibly returned or expelled from another country for having violated that country’s rules on entry and stay. Citizens affected by this measure were prevented not only from travelling to the country from which they were previously expelled, but also to any other country. This includes countries in the region which Macedonian nationals can normally enter just by showing their ID cards. These restrictions prevented people from visiting and maintaining close relations with family members; many Roma, like other Macedonian citizens, have relatives in Serbia for example. The ERRC argued that these restrictions were in conflict with the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia as well as with international instruments for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Government argued that the passport revocation measure was necessary to prevent or minimise the risk of individuals violating the immigration laws of other countries, thus damaging the country’s reputation.
The Constitutional Court concluded that these reasons were not legitimate. The Constitution sets out an exhaustive list of the grounds for restricting the right to leave the country: national security, public health and the conduct of criminal proceedings. Protecting the country’s reputation or the immigration laws of another country does not fall within any of these categories. In addition, the Court stated that such a blanket measure was not proportionate because it imposed excessive limitations on the freedom of movement. Therefore the Court concluded that Article 37 paragraph 1 point 6, and Article 38 paragraph 4 of the Law were unconstitutional and in violation of Article 27 of the Constitution.
The ERRC’s Chair of the Board, Rob Kushen, said that, “With this decision the Constitutional Court has struck down a law that evoked some of the worst excesses of the Cold War, when communist-bloc countries routinely prevented their citizens from leaving. While the law imposed a disproportionate burden on Roma, who were especially affected, the Court’s ruling will expand the freedom of all Macedonians to come and go as they please.”
Citizens of Macedonia have enjoyed the right to visa-free travel to the Schengen Zone since 19 December 2009, and enjoy the right to visa-free travel to other neighbouring countries. Citizens of Macedonia also enjoy a fundamental human right to leave their own country and to return. However, ERRC research has established that many Romani individuals face discrimination by border officials when they try to leave the country, in addition to frequently having their passports revoked under the provisions the Court declared unconstitutional.
For more information, contact:
Media and Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre