In an event organized last October in Toronto, Canada, by the extremist organization of the Skopjian diaspora under the name UMD, the founder and executive director of the Greek Helsinki Monitor Panayote Dimitras was honored. The bulletin on the event informed us that “The Greek state during the government of former Prime Minister Karamanalis cut all funding of the Greek Helsinki Monitor, thus reducing his position (Mr Dimitras’) to an all-volunteer basis.”.
This observation expressed in an accusatory tone, spontaneously makes someone wonder on which is -on the other hand- the situation regarding the state funding of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
The answer to this and other questions, is given by the President of the Helsinki Committee of the former Yugoslav State, Iso Rusi, in an interview about the policy followed by the different governments of Skopje versus the Committee, since the first day of its establishment until nowadays.
An interview revealing that the human rights debate in the former Yugoslav State is only a question of electoral confronation among the political parties of the country. Striking is the statement regarding the reforms in the State of Skopje: “Everyone goes ahead, while we are going backwards.”
Iso Rusi, President of the Helsinki Committee
Mr. Rusi, how do you feel about the continuous governmental reactions and criticism about the reports of the Helsinki Committee?
I would say normally. Whenever they are in opposition, the political parties have one opinion about us, but when they win the power their opinion is different and I do not make any distinctions here, except in the level of reaction of those in power. Unfortunately, the latest government reacts a little bit clumsily, harshly, I would say on a lower level than the previous one. We were honoured with the decision of the Standing Committee on Human Rights to invite us to participate in its work and to review our monthly reports. Because the reports are published on a monthly basis and the sessions of the Committee are not that frequent, the last time the Committee was in session, several reports have piled and our reports were the only item on the agenda.
The representatives of the majority refused to discuss i.e. to adopt the agenda with an explanation that our intention was to increase the rating of the opposition right before the elections. We could not understand the accusation that 4-5 months before the elections, even earlier than the party’s headquarters, we have started to think about the rating of the opposition and how to help it, which puts us in partisan waters. I maintain that this change is drastic, because when the same party was in opposition, it took segments from our monthly reports and published them with the party logo on it in the daily newspapers. Without adding any comment. For them it was sufficient what we have already said.
Do you mind or do you like these reactions, because they prove that you have touched on sensitive spot?
We neither mind, nor like. There is a general misunderstanding between the politicians and our activists in this non-governmental sector. It is most evident in the fact that all these years since our independence the state has not established an efficient mechanism for providing support to the non-governmental sector. Generally, there is a misunderstanding from the government, which does not understand the role of the civil sector. They believe we have nothing in common, because they are governmental and we are non-governmental. They do not understand that we both exist for the citizens. The citizens allocate money for financing the state institutions, but some of this money should be reallocated to the non-governmental organizations, which are important part of the system and exist everywhere in the world. There is certain amount in the budget that is continually abused every year. These funds are given to programmes and institutions that have nothing to do with their primary activity.
Has this relationship any effect on the work of the Helsinki Committee?
Well, it has an effect as it takes a lot of time and energy. It does not solve the problem of long-term financing of non-governmental sector. Since our establishment, 15 years ago, we have not taken a penny from the state, nor has the state allocated a penny to us. In the current situation as a candidate country, and if tomorrow we get a date for starting the negotiations, then most of the income from the donors, particularly from the EU member states, will automatically stop. So, tomorrow I would be put in a situation to cooperate with a Ministry in order to get European money. And how am I supposed to cooperate with a Ministry, whose government tells me I am its enemy.
In our latest report we have stated the violations of the democratic principles and all four cases open problems in the field of judiciary and its reforms. The government interferes into something that it is not its business. In one case, it even gives an opinion on the Judicial Council, although it is not supposed to do that. The judiciary failed in the dispute between ELEM and EVN, while the legal state is also undermined in the case of the wife of the Minister of Justice…
But, the government claims it respects the autonomy of each of the three powers.
How can you interpret the fact when the Minister of Justice comes out with a threat, or if you prefer a warning for the judges, saying that the Judicial Council will review all cases of the judges that have backlogged cases? Manevski is a member of the Judicial Council by his function. So, the Council neither represents nor takes obligations of the Government. How come then he gives tasks to the Judicial Council!? He is only a member of the Government, part of the executive power. Why should he give his opinion? There is a body in the system that should have a say. If the president of the Judicial Council comes out and says the same then this would be acceptable, but not the Minister of Justice. Or to publish advertisements teaching the people about their rights, while in fact he is sending message to the prosecutors and judges that someone may prosecute them. All these measures are obvious interference and threat to the judiciary. And what about the fact that the Judicial Council and the Council of Governors are established in such way that in a situation when the President and the majority are from the same political option then six out of 11 members of the Judicial Council are politically selected or are ex-officio members, which means the majority is either politician or under political influence. So what kind of reform do we want?
In your report, you mainly focus on the violation of rights in the judiciary. What is the situation in the other segments?
It may seem like that, but we monitor the developments and depending on the intensity of the events in certain areas, we react. An year ago we were accused of dealing only with the police because we were dealing with the torture programme of the police and the new Police Law, which did not reform the police not even closely because of the fact that all internal control reports were airbrushed and only few numbers on suspended and dismissed police officers were publicly revealed from time to time.
In my personal opinion, the police are the same as in the socialist times. They are a tool in the hands of the party in power and there are no changes. This segment was not reformed and it remained the same with the help of the daily politics. What changes is the focus, so now the situation in the judiciary is in the centre of attention, as a result of the numerous politically fixed court procedures and political revanchism. Increasing number of cases indicate that the tendency of having political court procedures and political convicts returns. ..Everyone goes ahead, while we are going backwards.
Does this mean that the respect of human rights is in much worse situation than before?
Very often, the international authorities tell me and the other representatives of the Committee that it is good that non-governmental organizations such as the Helsinki Committee exist because we can sense and detect the malformations. I reply to these comments that in fact we are not happy at all.
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