Groundbreaking Supreme Court Judgment for Romani Children Denied Education in Juvenile Detention in North Macedonia

The Supreme Court of North Macedonia has issued a groundbreaking ruling in favour of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) concerning discrimination against Romani children in the Tetovo Correctional Home (currently located in Volkovija) with regard to their right to education.

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The collective complaint covering a period from 14 September 2015 to 4 March 2020, accused North Macedonia’s juvenile correction system of failing to provide equal access to education for children placed in the correctional centre (direct discrimination by status). As most of the affected children were Romani, this also amounted to indirect discrimination based on ethnicity, violating the children’s right to equality. The Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeal to reassess the case and emphasised the need for a more detailed judgment. The decision included the first ever analysis of indirect discrimination by this court in a collective complaint (actio popularis), highlighting that the focus should be on unequal treatment and the differential impacts experienced by individuals in various positions.

The Supreme Court’s judgment, delivered on the 21 February 2024, marks a crucial step in North Macedonia towards justice for the Romani children, exposing the systemic discrimination they face. The ERRC’s Legal Director, Senada Sali, welcomed the decision and praised the diligence of the Court:

The Supreme Court’s commitment to justice for children in correctional centres is truly commendable in this case. Through their groundbreaking judgment and insistence on a detailed analysis in cases of discrimination, they not only uphold the law but also champion the rights of the most vulnerable among us. Their clarity on the concept of indirect discrimination adds a new dimension to the legal understanding of this concept in North Macedonia. Now the focus must return to the Court of Appeal to make sure that the judges there abide by the decision of the highest court in the country.”

The ERRC’s complaint was centred on a visit to the correctional facility in 2017, as well as two inspections by the Ombudsman, which showed that no formal education was provided to minors in the facility, disproportionately impacting Romani children. Consequently, these young Romani youth, upon release, start their adult lives not only facing a life of everyday racism, exclusion, and discrimination but also are hindered in their access to job opportunities due to lacking primary or secondary education certificates.

Background to the case

The ERRC began building a case against the Ministry for Justice and the Ministry of Education in 2017, accusing North Macedonia’s juvenile correction system of indirect discrimination, where Romani children are disproportionately represented and denied formal education. 

The ERRC had previously lodged an individual case on behalf of a Romani individual who had passed through the institution on 18 May 2018 at the Civil Court against the Macedonian Ministry for Justice—Directorate for Execution of Sanctions, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Penitentiary-Correctional Institution for Minors Tetovo. However, the Civil Court ruled against the ERRC on 16 September 2019. 

On 4 March 2020, the ERRC filed a collective complaint before the Basic Civil Court Skopje, alleging discrimination against children in the Tetovo Correctional Home regarding their right to education. The complaint stated that from 14 September 2015 to 4 March 2020 the defendants failed to provide primary and secondary education, violating the children’s right to equality. The ERRC requested that the defendants be obligated to provide formal education within three months and reimburse procedural expenses. The Court partially accepted this claim on 2 March 2021 and the defendants were ordered to provide formal education to the children and reimburse the procedural costs of the case. However, the defendants appealed the case and on 23 December 2021, the Court of Appeal revoked the previous judgment and ordered a retrial.

After a retrial on 18 March 2022, the Basic Civil Court again partially accepted the claim, ordering education provision and reimbursement of procedural costs. However, another appeal by the defendants was accepted on 1 September 2022, with the Court of Appeal completely rejected the claim, and ordering the ERRC to reimburse procedural expenses to the defendants.

Finally, on 26 October 2022, the ERRC submitted a revision to the Supreme Court arguing substantial violations of civil procedure and an incorrect application of substantive law. On 21 February 2024, the Supreme Court accepted the revision, ordering the Court of Appeal to rehear the case and deliver a detailed judgment. This is the first judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of North Macedonia in a case filed as an actio popularis. The Court’s judgment even provided an analysis of indirect discrimination stating that with indirect discrimination, the focus is not unequal treatment, but the effects of such treatment, which people in different positions feel differently, i.e. the difference in treatment can be in the form of disproportionate biased effects of a general policy or measure, expressed in a neutral way that discriminates against a specific group of people.

This press release is also available in Macedonian.

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