The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against North Macedonia in a landmark judgment which condemns racial profiling of Roma at the border. The judgment, Memedova & Others v North Macedonia, encompasses three separate applications and was successful despite a number of similar previous applications being settled through friendly settlements with the Government in recent years. The judgment pertains to five Romani applicants who were represented by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and lawyers affiliated with the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA).
On 24th October 2023, the Court found that four of the Romani individuals had been subjected to discrimination and that their freedom of movement had been violated. North Macedonia is required to compensate them within three months of the decision with varying amounts of non-pecuniary damages totaling €13,000 collectively.
Nazmi Abazov, one of the applicants named in the judgment, said: “When we heard about the judgment, we were so happy because we had been awaiting this for years. What we can say is that finally justice reached us. When our lawsuit before the domestic court failed, we lost our hope to get justice, but then the ERRC told us that we could seek justice in front of the European Court, and here you go, we got it. We would also like to thank the ERRC for their commitment and hard work in helping us in this matter. The ERRC is very well known here in Kriva Palanka because many Roma have benefited from the ERRC’s work in this matter, in fact ERRC succeeded in preventing this practice of returning Roma from the border from continuing. After they started litigation, we never faced the same issue when travelling abroad.”
The ERRC’s Legal Director, Senada Sali, welcomed the judgment as a break-through step in the right direction: “The importance of this judgment cannot be overstated. Racial profiling at the border has affected Roma for nearly a decade in North Macedonia. Many had begun to question whether the European Court would ever deliver a judgment on this critical issue. Our previous cases had been bought off through monetary settlements with the Government, which meant the deep-seated problems that continue to afflict our Romani communities were not being addressed. This judgment signifies for the first time that the European Court judges are taking a decisive stance on an issue that had long been ignored. It also serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of the Romani community in North Macedonia, who have refused to be silenced or denied justice any longer ” she said.
The judgment relates to three separate applications: Memedova v. North Macedonia 42429/16, Kurtishova v. North Macedonia 8934/18, and Abazov and Others v. North Macedonia 9886/18. These cases were submitted on behalf of five Romani individuals: Demirana Memedova (first applicant), Emran Kurtishova (second applicant), a Romani couple Nazmi Abazov and Afrodita Abazova (third and fourth applicant), and Omer Memedovski (fifth applicant). The first and second applicants were represented before the European Court by private attorneys-in-law Zharko Hadji-Zafirov and Bojan Gjurovski while the remaining three applicants were represented directly by the ERRC.
Background to the cases:
Almost ten years ago, North Macedonian citizens were granted ”visa liberalization,” allowing them to travel to the European Union without prior visas. However, this led to a concerning practice of racial profiling at North Macedonia’s borders, explicitly targeting Romani individuals who are citizens of North Macedonia.
In the recent judgment, the applicants were among those who fell victim to racial profiling at the border in 2014. The first applicant was arbitrarily prevented from leaving the country to visit her adult children in Germany at Skopje Airport. The border official told her that because she was Romani, he thought that she would try to seek asylum in Germany. The second applicant was also denied travel at Skopje airport to Germany where she wanted to visit her brother-in-law. The third, fourth, and fifth applicants were together prevented from leaving the country to attend a wedding celebration in Kosovo. North Macedonian border guards at the Tabanovce border crossing cited their ethnicity as a reason to distrust them and claimed they would likely seek asylum in the EU.
The applicants pursued civil cases against the Ministry of Interior in North Macedonia, alleging discrimination and a violation of their constitutional rights to leave the country. Whilst the courts in North Macedonia acknowledged a violation of some of their rights to leave the country, they did not find sufficient evidence of discrimination. As a result, the applicants sought justice before the European Court of Human Rights.
The Court examined the three complaints under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 (protecting the right to leave one’s own country).
The Court found that North Macedonia had violated these rights for the first four applicants but dismissed the case for the final applicant. The Court considered that there is no indication that the domestic authorities prevented the fifth applicant from leaving the country and decided not to question the domestic courts’ finding of the fact that he had not been prevented from crossing the border. This was despite the evidence of the Ministry of Interior’s official note of 14 March 2014, which listed the fifth applicant among the passengers who were denied travel, indicating that there had been an alert for him in the Border Control Sector system.
“The ERRC is deeply disappointed and confused that such a finding was delivered by the Court after five years of our litigant awaiting justice” said ERRC Legal Director Senada Sali. “By declaring his case inadmissible with such a delay, the Court left the applicant with no other options for applying to other legal venues or any possibility for re-examination of his case. In contrast with the Courts finding, the ERRC pays full faith to the applicant’s version of events explaining that he had been refused permission to cross the border together with the other passengers in the same vehicle, and that his passport had been stamped by the domestic authorities and then crossed with two lines, as is visible from the evidence provided.”
This ruling highlights the importance of combating racial profiling and ensuring equal rights for all individuals, regardless of ethnicity. The ERRC urges North Macedonia to take necessary steps to prevent the reoccurrence of such discriminatory practices in future.
The cases brought before domestic courts were brought with the joint support of the European Roma Rights Centre and the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association.
This press release is also available in Macedonian.
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