The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) have submitted a collective complaint against the Directorate for Keeping the Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths, a state organ within the Ministry of Justice of North Macedonia. The organisations are suing the Directorate for discrimination against Romani people who are at risk of statelessness in North Macedonia. The complaint was submitted before the Basic Civil Court in Skopje, on 11th November, on behalf of unregistered Roma who are denied access to their basic rights on account of their lack of civil registration.
ERRC Legal Director, Senada Sali, noted the importance of this complaint in solving the legal limbo in which many unregistered persons in North Macedonia find themselves: “Discrimination is at the core of this complaint. We are bringing it for all unregistered persons who are unable to enjoy basic rights, but the majority of these people in fact are of Romani ethnicity. For this reason, we have requested the court find two types of discrimination – on one hand, direct discrimination towards all unregistered people who applied for a special birth certificate and received it but still cannot access their rights; on the other hand, indirect discrimination based on ethnicity towards unregistered Roma who are disproportionally affected by this issue.”
The President of MYLA, Aleksandra Cvetanovska, underlined the need for taking decisive action by the authorities once and for all do develop and implement a system that will ensure that no child or adult is left without birth registration, legal identity, and access to basic rights and services: “MYLA has worked on providing legal aid for birth registration for over 12 years. We are facing the shortcomings of the current rules and framework for registration on a daily basis. In order to be proactive, we’ve produced and presented several legislative policy proposals that provided a roadmap for a sustainable resolution to the problem in line with the best comparative standards, unfortunately without any effect. That’s why we believe that this problem should be brought before the courts as key protectors of human rights.”
People without identification documents often cannot access basic rights for themselves or their families and are at risk of being stateless. The issue exists in several countries in former Yugoslavia but is particularly prevalent amongst Romani communities. Joint research carried out by the ERRC and others shows that Romani statelessness exists, not only as a by-product of wars in the region, but because of widespread institutional racism which denies Roma access to registration and therefore fundamental public services. In North Macedonia, Roma are over-represented amongst people who are not formally registered. Legally, they are not considered citizens because they have no birth certificates or other documents that could help them access their basic human rights in the country.
Aside from helping the affected Romani people access basic services, the ERRC and MYLA hope the litigation will help to achieve change in a new Law on Unregistered Persons in the Birth Registry that was adopted at the beginning of this year. The Law contains provision for the creation of temporary documents which people can use to access education, health care, social protection, and employment with mandatory social insurance. It is the responsibility of the authorities to provide regular identification documentation and birth registration 30 days after the person receives their temporary documents. In practice, authorities have not been fulfilling this obligation. In addition, the temporary documents which they provided are not recognised, meaning unregistered people cannot use them to access the services which they are intended for.
The Court has given the complaint a case number 6 П4 бр. 869/22 and assigned the case to judge Veronika Zhevairovska. The ERRC and MYLA invite any organisations (from anywhere in the world) with expertise on statelessness to submit an amicus curie in the case.
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