North Macedonia’s Repeal of Anti-Discrimination Law Poses Major Setback to Human Rights Protection
Last Thursday (May 14), North Macedonia’s Constitutional Court ruled to repeal the Law on Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination. The legislation represents the cornerstone of a decade-long struggle by civil society to ensure the protection of the country’s most vulnerable and marginalised communities, and its reversal now spells a major setback to democratic reforms.
The Law on Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination prohibits any discrimination based on race, origin, nationality or ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, and crucially, sexual orientation and gender identity. It was developed and drafted in a transparent and cooperative process and generally commended by local and international civil society organisations. Further, such robust legislation for the prevention of discrimination and functional institutions to enforce them were widely recognised as a pre-condition for North Macedonia’s opening of accession talks with the EU, which began in late March this year.
After an initial refusal by the former President to approve the bill, upon a second reading, the National Assembly adopted the law with a 55 vote out of 120; falling short, though, of the 61 votes required to reach a constitutional majority. Despite equality being among the ruling party’s key campaign pledges, over the past 12 months the government has shown a lack of will to enforce the legislation – for instance, by failing to conduct a transparent and merit-based selection of commissioners – instead, leaving it vulnerable to be repealed.
Thus, responsibility for the omissions in the procedure lies above all with the National Assembly, but also the President of the National Assembly and the President of the Republic of North Macedonia, who were well aware that the law lacked a constitutional majority, yet left it exposed.
Our Director for Europe, Goran Miletic said, “the realisation of fundamental rights and freedoms cannot be achieved in North Macedonia while principles of equality and the protection against discrimination are not enshrined in law and respected in practice.”
The move has also widened distrust in the ruling coalition by civil society, which for the past 10 years actively pushed for such legislation through local campaigns, protests, advocacy meetings with political parties and EU representatives and expert reports and recommendations. Civil Rights Defenders has been a close ally in this journey and stand in solidarity with local activists and organisation whose struggle continues on.
As political parties prepare for fresh parliamentary elections, we remind all actors, regardless of political affiliation, of their responsibility to ensure equality and protection from discrimination. Finally, we pledge to closely monitor further developments and join partners in demanding that the Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination be among the first items on the agenda once a new Assembly is constituted.