ERRC Letter of Concern to Macedonian Prime Minister Concerning Recent Roma Rights Abuses in Macedonia
06 March 2003
On March 6, 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter to Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia Mr Branko Crvenkovski expressing concern at the recent violations of the human rights of Roma in Macedonia, including instances of police violence against Roma and an outbreak of anti-Romani expression in the Macedonian media.
The text of the ERRC's March 6 letter follows:
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is alarmed about recent reports of the violations of human rights of Roma in Macedonia, as well as instances of anti-Romani expression in the media.
The ERRC has received information from the Romani non-governmental organisations Arka and Drom in Kumanovo, and from the Stip-based Association for Human Rights Protection of Roma (Zdruzenie za pravata na Romite), an ERRC local partner in Macedonia, concerning two cases of police abuse of Roma in Macedonia. In one of the incidents, unidentified police officers reportedly physically abused and otherwise humiliated three Romani men at the police station in Prilep, south-western Macedonia, on February 8, 2003. According to the information received by the ERRC, Mr Jasar Ramadan, a 28-year-old Romani man from Bitola, Mr Senad Ristemovski, a 21-year-old Romani man from Prilep, and Mr Ejvaz Serifovski, a 19-year-old Romani man from Prilep, were walking in the centre of Prilep around noon on February 8, when they were stopped by two police officers who asked them to show their identification documents. After the Roma replied that they did not have their identification documents with them, the officers brought them to the Prilep police station, and took them to an office where the men were joined by a second group of police officers, altogether totalling 15 persons. Without any explanation, the officers present "reportedly with the exception of two officers of supposed ethnic Albanian origin" took turns in beating the Romani youngsters. For at least five minutes, the officers beat the Roma with rubber truncheons on their hands. One of the officers occasionally hit them on their bodies with a wooden club. After this, the officers interrogated the Roma in relation to the whereabouts of an elderly man whom the Roma had allegedly had beaten up. As the Roma denied knowing about this, the physical abuse continued. After some time, the officers questioned the Roma about an elderly woman and some money that had allegedly been stolen from her, and when this crime was also denied more violence followed. As the officers also searched the young men, they found the mobile phone of Mr Ristemovski, which he stated had been given to him by his sister. However, the officers did not accept this explanation, and tried to coerce Mr Ristemovski to confess that he had stolen the telephone. Reportedly, at this point the beating made the young men feel so weak that they could no longer stand on their feet. When one of the officers asked the detainees what they studied, Mr Ristemovski replied that they were Muslims and that they studied the Quran. After this, one of the officers ordered the Roma to pray in the Muslim way. Initially, the Romani men refused to obey, after which the police officers reportedly physically abused them again, and forced the Roma to pray. The officers then told the Roma to sing a Muslim prayer song, an order which was also enforced by violence. The three men were released from the police station at around 16:30 PM. Reportedly, the officers made the men sign a statement that the latter had no complaints regarding the treatment they had undergone at the police station. Following their release, they were diagnosed by medical practitioners as having sustained light bodily injuries. According to the parents of the young men, they were invited to the police station and threatened that their children would not be released before the parents signed statements that they would not press charges in relation to the case, and they eventually did so. The Association for Human Rights Protection of Roma, the ERRC's local partner in monitoring Roma rights in Macedonia, is in possession of comprehensive documentation on the case, including photographs of injuries and medical protocols documenting injuries.
A second documented case pertains to an incident of physical abuse by police of two Romani men in Kumanovo, 26-year-old Mr Skender Sadikovic, and 25-year-old Mr Memet Dalipovski, February 7, 2003. According to information provided to the ERRC by local Romani organisations, in the early afternoon of February 7, two police officers arrived to the house of Mr Dalipovski, and searched his house without a warrant, reportedly looking for a safe stolen from a local church, purportedly containing around 500,000 Macedonian denars (around 8300 EUR). The officers then took Mr Dalipovski with them and continued to the house of Mr Sadikovic, in another Romani settlement of Kumanovo. The officers searched the house of Mr Sadikovic, with the same explanation, and again without an appropriate warrant. According to the statements of the victim and eyewitnesses, the officers also beat Mr Sadikovic with their hands, in the view of his family and neighbours. After both the men were taken together to the Kumanovo police station around 1PM, they were taken to separate offices. In the course of the physical abuse that ensued, a group of five police officers, including two officers who brought him to the police station, put Mr Sadikovic in a chair and handcuffed him. The officers then beat him with instruments including the handles of axes, and particularly on the lower part of his back. Under coercion, Mr Sadikovic confessed that the safe was at his home. This was not, however, true, and Mr Sadikovic later reportedly told representatives of local non-governmental organisations that the sole reason for his confession had been to secure release from the duress to which he was subjected by police officers. Separately, two police officers beat Mr Dalipovski by punching him in the head, until he fell to the floor; at that point the officers were joined by three other colleagues, and they all continued kicking Mr Dalipovski with their feet as he lay on the floor, particularly on his ribs. In the course of the physical abuse, the officers also cursed the Romani men's ethnic origins. It is reported that at a later point the police officers brought the Romani men together and forced them to fight each other, apparently to make it seem as if the injuries caused by the officers were caused by the men themselves. Mr Sadikovic was held at the police station for around six hours, after which the police officers told him that the real culprits had been identified, and they reportedly apologised to him. Mr Dalipovski was held at the police station for approximately 26 hours, during which time officers again physically abused him. He was then released with the same explanation. Officers reportedly warned him not to report his physical abuse.
With the assistance of the Kumanovo-based organisation Arka, both Romani men underwent medical examinations, during which their injuries were documented. The doctors emphasised the need of further hospital treatment, which Mr Sadikovic and Mr Dalipovski could not do as they do not have medical insurance and could not afford the hospital expenses. Reportedly, several days after the abuse took place, the officers contacted the Romani men and offered to cover the medical expenses in exchange for an agreement whereby the men would not pursue complaints, and when the Romani men refused the offer, the officers reportedly made unspecified threats. The ERRC has received information that, as of February 21, 2003, the officers had been disciplined with fines amounting to the Macedonian dinar equivalent of a mere 15 EUR per person. The fines were not, however, levied on grounds of physical abuse, but rather reportedly for the inadequate conduct of the investigation. Officials at the Macedonian Ministry of Interior have reportedly stated that the Ministry is conducting an investigation into the case.
In addition to the instances of physical abuse by law enforcement officials described above, the ERRC is concerned at an apparent recent rise in the number of cases in which the Romani ethnicity of alleged perpetrators of crimes has been emphasised by the Macedonian media, in a manner that creates a link between Roma and crime. For example, in the recent case of a violent conflict between a group of teenagers in Skopje on February 22, 2003 in which a young non-Romani man was killed and three injured, the subsequent coverage of the incident in the Skopje dailies Dnevnik and Vesti also included the information that two alleged minor perpetrators were Romani. In another case, the daily newspaper Vesti of February 25, 2003, published an article on the attack on the keeper of a mill in the village of Topolcani, reportedly committed by "Two Romani persons". The same daily wrote on January 21, 2003, on "Romani drug dealers caught with marijuana". Also, in an article of December 21, 2002, Vesti informed their readers in a headline that"Roma sell their children for 50 euro and force them into prostitution".
Additionally, in a case of alleged child abuse in Stip, on February 13, 2003, the daily Vesti published full names of both the two-year-old victim and her mother, both Romani. The newspaper thus violated the privacy of the persons involved, and also violated the right to the presumption of innocence, guaranteed inter alia by the Macedonian Constitution. The daily Utrinski vesnik of February 20, 2003, ventured a step further by publishing a lengthy opinion piece on the"Gypsy child-killer" and "Gypsy children abused by their parents".
Honourable Prime Minister Crvenkovski, the ERRC is concerned that the reactions of the Macedonian authorities with the regards to recent reported cases of police abuse of Roma have been deeply inadequate. We would respectfully request that your office undertake urgent measures to ensure that these reports of police abuse against Roma are thoroughly and impartially investigated, and that any and all persons guilty of crimes in connection with the cases are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Any and all harmed parties should receive due just remedy, including all relevant damages. Furthermore, the ERRC is concerned that media in Macedonia are currently fostering an atmosphere of anti-Romani hostility. In light of Macedonia's obligations under international human rights law to combat racial discrimination, we would also urge you to speak out against anti-Romani hate speech and the unnecessary provision in the media of the ethnic background of alleged perpetrators of crimes, as well as instances of racist incitement in the media. We request to be informed of any actions taken by your office with respect to the concerns raised above.
Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:
Mr Branko Crvenkovski
Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia
Republic of Macedonia
Fax: +389 2 112 561