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North Macedonia

Improving Access to Justice for Marginalized Groups of Citizens (MK0137)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: North Macedonia Action Plan 2018-2020

Action Plan Cycle: 2018

Status: Active

Institutions

Lead Institution: Ministry of Labor and Social Policy of RM

Support Institution(s): Municipalities Prilep, Shuto Orizari, Tetovo and Delchevo A network for legal strengthening, consisting of 19 civil society organizations (CSOs), coordinated by the Foundation Open Society - Macedonia (FOSM) Ivona Stalevska, FOSM ivona.stalevska@fosm.mk Hristina Vasilevska Dimchevska, FOSM hristina.vasilevska@fosm.mk

Policy Areas

Access to Justice, Capacity Building, Inclusion, Justice, People with Disabilities, Public Participation, Sustainable Development Goals

IRM Review

IRM Report: North Macedonia Transitional Results Report 2018-2020, North Macedonia Design Report 2018-2020

Starred: Pending IRM Review

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information , Civic Participation , Public Accountability

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Improving access to justice for marginalized groups of citizens
Start and end date of the commitment: August 2018 – August 2020
Lead implementing agency
Ministry of Labor and Social Policy of RM
Description of commitment
Status quo or problem addressed by the commitment
The right to access to justice is one of the fundamental human rights. The exercise of this right is connected and depends on the availability of legal services for all citizens, regardless of their material and social position. Access to justice for all citizens depends on the efficiency and quality of the free legal aid system, as the only form recognized by the Ministry of Justice, while for some of the poor and marginalized groups of citizens it depends on informal forms of legal assistance (legal aid, judicial representation and paralegal assistance) provided by civil society organizations. The survey findings on the legal needs of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia indicate that every second citizen of the Republic of Macedonia is facing a legal problem. The problem is the fact that many citizens do not know whether the problem is legal where to turn. Research on legal needs of certain marginalized groups (Roma, drug users, and sex workers) indicate that these citizens, due to marginalization and stigmatization, are additionally disabled in recognizing and resolving the legal problems they face. Lack of trust in institutions, insufficient information, ignorance and unfavorable social and economic situation are the most common problems that prevent the citizens from the poor and marginalized communities to have access to justice.
Main objective
Reducing the unsatisfied legal needs of the poor and marginalized groups of citizens
Brief description of the commitment
Four Centers for access to justice will be established within the municipalities of Tetovo, Suto Orizari, Delchevo and Prilep at the beginning of 2019, which will provide legal aid to all citizens who are facing a legal problem. These centers will be managed by CSOs, and supported by the municipalities and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, in cooperation with FOSM will provide continuous trainings for employees of the Roma Information Centers. FOSM will provide training for the employees in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy in order to strengthen the capacities of the employees for the concept of legal strengthening and its correlation to OGP. The commitment is expected to provide: - Established centers for access to justice in 4 municipalities that will enable citizens easier access to legal and paralegal services and easier exercise and protection of rights - Building the capacities and skills of the employees in the Roma Information Centers through 3 trainings for paralegals
- Increased access and quality (scaling) of the legal services for poor and marginalized groups of citizens in 14 municipalities. Apart from the provision of legal services, their legal strengthening will be achieved through legal literacy activities and mobilization for undertaking independent advocacy actions. - Strengthening the capacities of the employees in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to ensure sustainability of the commitment. - Prepared report on the services provided by the RIC staff for each year separately
OGP challenge addressed by the commitment
- Improving public services - Increasing public integrity - More efficient public resources management - Creating safer communities
Additional information
Refference to the Global Sustainable Development Goals - Objective 16 "Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions", Target 16.3 Promote the rule of law at national and international level and ensure equal access to justice for all The measures under this commitment directly contribute to ensuring equal access to justice for all. This commitment is important because it will achieve achievement of the legal needs of the poor and marginalized groups of citizens. The commitment is directly related to the access to information of citizens, especially in the area of access to information on social protection rights, as well as information on the manner citizens can exercise these rights. The existing electronic databases currently maintained by civil society organizations, it will contribute to reducing data collection costs, and in this way, the commitment is associated with technology and innovation values for openness and accountability.
Milestone
6.2.1. Trainings for employees in 14 Roma Information Centers for providing legal/paralegal assistance (access to justice)
6.2.2. Establishment and maintenance of Centers for access to justice in 4 municipalities (Prilep, Delchevo, Shuto Orizari, Tetovo) for poor and marginalized groups of citizens
6.2.3. Trainings for the employees in the Ministry of labor and social policy
6.2.4. Participation in cross-sectoral policymaking for legal strengthening with other concerned ministries, institutions and local governments at national and local level
6.2.5. Prepared report on the services provided by the RIC staff for each year separately
Contact information
Name of responsible person from implementing agency
Dushan Tomikj
Title, Department
Specaial Advisor in the Cabinet of the Minister for labor and social policy
Phone and e-mail
DTomsic@mtsp.gov.mk
Other actors involved
Municipalities Prilep, Shuto Orizari, Tetovo and Delchevo
A network for legal strengthening, consisting of 19 civil society organizations (CSOs), coordinated by the Foundation Open Society - Macedonia (FOSM) Ivona Stalevska, FOSM ivona.stalevska@fosm.mk Hristina Vasilevska Dimchevska, FOSM hristina.vasilevska@fosm.mk

IRM Midterm Status Summary

Theme VI: Access to Justice

6.2. Improving access to justice for marginalized groups of citizens

Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan: [87]

“Four Centers for access to justice will be established within the municipalities of Tetovo, Suto Orizari, Delchevo and Prilep at the beginning of 2019, which will provide legal aid to all citizens who are facing a legal problem. These centers will be managed by CSOs, and supported by the municipalities and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, in cooperation with FOSM will provide continuous trainings for employees of the Roma Information Centers.

FOSM will provide training for the employees in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy in order to strengthen the capacities of the employees for the concept of legal strengthening and its correlation to OGP. The commitment is expected to provide:

  • Established centers for access to justice in 4 municipalities that will enable citizens easier access to legal and paralegal services and easier exercise and protection of rights
  • Building the capacities and skills of the employees in the Roma Information Centers through 3 trainings for paralegals
  • Increased access and quality (scaling) of the legal services for poor and marginalized groups of citizens in 14 municipalities. Apart from the provision of legal services, their legal strengthening will be achieved through legal literacy activities and mobilization for undertaking independent advocacy actions
  • Strengthening the capacities of the employees in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to ensure sustainability of the commitment
  • Prepared report on the services provided by the RIC staff for each year separately”

Milestones:

6.2.1. Trainings for employees in 14 Roma Information Centers for providing legal/paralegal assistance (access to justice)

6.2.2. Establishment and maintenance of Centers for access to justice in 4 municipalities (Prilep, Delchevo, Shuto Orizari, Tetovo) for poor and marginalized groups of citizens

6.2.3. Trainings for the employees in the Ministry of labor and social policy

6.2.4. Participation in cross-sectoral policymaking for legal strengthening with other concerned ministries, institutions and local governments at national and local level

6.2.5. Prepared report on the services provided by the RIC staff for each year separately

Start Date: August 2018

End Date: August 2020

Context and Objectives

Under this commitment, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (with support from civil society) aims to improve access to justice for poor and marginalized groups in North Macedonia, with a particular focus on the country’s Roma community. Unemployment among this group is estimated at 49 percent in 2019, significantly above the national average, and the community have high poverty rates and low levels of formal education. [88] According to the Foundation Open Society Macedonia (FOSM), the country’s Roma community faces a variety of obstacles to accessing justice, such as discrimination, high costs of services, lack of awareness of legal rights, and geographical, language, and cultural barriers. [89] The lack of knowledge of existing rights, and especially the right to health services, often leaves them in vulnerable. For example, Roma have reported being forced to pay for free health services and frequently face medical negligence and poor treatment. [90]

This commitment calls for training employees in 14 Roma Information Centers (RICs), establishing centers for access to justice in four North Macedonian municipalities (Delchevo, Prilep, Shuto Orizari, and Tetovo), and preparing annual reports on the services provided by RIC staff. According to the action plan, the RICs will be managed by CSOs with support from municipal governments. The centers for access to justice are designed to serve as a resource for local communities for information on their legal rights in areas such as employment, health, housing, and education, and to assist them in exercising their rights. [91] Importantly, the centers for access to justice offer free paralegal aid to members of the community, and paralegals at the centers for access to justice typically come from the communities themselves. [92] The inclusion of Shuto Orizari among the municipalities where a center for access to justice will be established is notable because it is the only municipality in North Macedonia (and in Europe) that is majority Roma, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the municipality’s population. [93]

The commitment is relevant to the OGP value of access to information because the new RICs will provide communities with information on legal rights. It is also relevant to the OGP value of public accountability because it aims to improve access to justice for marginalized groups. Additionally, the RICs will be created and maintained in cooperation with a network of local CSOs, coordinated by FOSM, which makes the commitment relevant to civic participation. The planned activities are verifiable and specific. For example, it provides the number of new RICs that will be established (four) and where, as well as the number of RICs where trainings for paralegals will take place (14). The commitment also clarifies that FOSM will provide three trainings for the paralegals at the RICs.

If fully implemented, this commitment could significantly improve access to justice for poor and marginalized groups in North Macedonia. In particular, the newly established RICs and centers for access to justice could provide free legal assistance and resources to the public in the four municipalities that is timely and relevant to their specific legal needs. This is particularly important considering the aforementioned low levels of awareness of legal rights, lack of resources, and frequent legal discrimination faced by the country’s Roma community. FOSM’s trainings can help ensure that the RIC paralegals are able to provide paralegal services that cover a wide range of cases and can ensure the long-term sustainability of the RICs and the centers for access to justice. More broadly, this commitment could help support the integration of North Macedonia’s Roma community and strengthen the country’s protection of minorities, which could be seen as exemplary in the Western Balkans region.

Next steps

The IRM recommends that the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and civil society stakeholders (like FOSM) consider the following:

  • Continue to engage and mobilize local government and community organizations to ensure that legal services are rooted in the community.
  • Integrate legal services and dispute resolution mechanisms into planning and operations of vital sectors such as housing, employment, and education.
  • Identify culturally appropriate means of delivering justice services. Examples of such similar efforts in other OGP countries include Ireland, [94] Afghanistan, [95] and Bulgaria, [96] which all targeted special populations that required unique support.

[87] The texts for all the commitments are an abridged version of the commitment texts. For the full commitment texts, see the Republic of North Macedonia 2018-2020 National Action Plan, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Macedonia_Action-Plan_2018-2020_EN.pdf

[88] European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/20190529-north-macedonia-report.pdf

[89] Ivona Stalevska, Program Coordinator, Foundation Open Society- Macedonia, email correspondence with IRM, 10 December 2019.

[90] The Open Society Public Health Program, Roma health rights in Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/uploads/d332970c-fc46-4521-b056-74984b1b94d6/roma-health-rights-macedonia-romania-serbia-20130628.pdf

[91] Republic of Macedonia, Ministry of Labor and Social Policy in Collaboration with the National Coordinator of the Decade and Strategy of Roma, Strategy for the Roma in Republic of Macedonia 2014-2020, p 32, available for download at https://www.rcc.int/romaintegration2020/docs/1/strategy-for-the-roma-2014--2020--former-yugoslav-republic-of-macedonia

[92] Ivona Stalevska, Program Coordinator, Foundation Open Society- Macedonia, email correspondence with IRM, 10 December 2019.

[93] Al-Jazeera, Shutka: Inside Macedonia’s only Roma-run municipality, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/shutka-life-world-roma-run-municipality-170406133010977.html

[94] OGP, Improving access to justice for individuals with limited decision-making capacity in Ireland, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/stories/improving-access-to-justice-for-individuals-with-limited-decision-making-capacity-in-ireland/

[95] Commitment 3 “Establishing Special Courts to address Violence against Women”, p 24-27, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Afghanistan_Design_Report_2017-2019_EN.pdf

[96] OGP, Establishing special courts, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/stories/establishing-special-courts/

IRM End of Term Status Summary

Commitment 6.2 Improving access to justice for marginalized groups

Substantial:

For details regarding the implementation and early results of this commitment, see Section 2.3.

Aim of the commitment

This commitment aimed to improve access to legal services and information on legal rights for marginalized and vulnerable communities by opening four centers for access to justice in North Macedonia. The activities focused on training public employees, lawyers, and paralegals that work on providing access to justice for these groups, including employees in 14 Roma Information Centers (RICs).

Did it open government?

Marginal

This commitment saw substantial implementation overall. Preparatory work to provide trainings for employees and paralegals of the 14 RICs was made, that is, the trainers have prepared training plans, but part of the trainings have not taken place, as the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP) did not provide FOSM with an up-to-date list of employees in the RICs. [112] [113] This activity was postponed because the government suspended all electoral activities in March 2020 due to COVID-19. FOSM organized two trainings for lawyers and paralegals online during the action plan period. [114] In May 2021, after the action plan period, FOSM held additional trainings for employees at the RICs on providing legal and paralegal aid. [115]

Two of the four planned centers for access to justice have been established, in Shuto Orizari and Prilep. Efforts to establish the other two centers in Delchevo and Tetovo will continue beyond the action plan period. [116] The two centers are managed by CSOs and supported by the local self-governments. Local cooperation between the stakeholders exists and the local authorities support participation in the intersectoral creation of policies for legal empowerment. [117]

The MLSP, the Ministry of Justice, the legal clinic from Ss. Cyril and Methodius University’s Faculty of Law, FOSM, and other CSOs organized a seminar on the concept of legal empowerment in June 2019. Furthermore, local authorities in 12 municipalities adopted operational plans as part of their local action plans for Roma integration. [118] The inclusion of legal empowerment in the local action plans for Roma integration provides a basis for municipalities and local CSOs to apply for MLSP funds for social services, including for legal empowerment. This is relevant because the new Law on Social Protection provides municipalities with funds from the central budget for providing social services. The funds will be allocated via public calls based on the local programs of the municipalities. [119]

This commitment aimed to improve access to legal services and information on legal rights for marginalized and vulnerable communities. This goal was partially achieved by opening the two new centers in Shuto Orizari and Prilep. The opening of the center in Shuto Orizari, in which the majority of the population is Roma, is an important milestone for improving information on and access to legal services. The center regularly publishes information regarding the rights of the Roma community on social media and raises concerns about lack of protection of Roma rights. However, the center in Prilep were not provided with adequate office space for functioning and its activities are currently conducted in the spaces of the CSOs involved in the process. [120] Despite these drawbacks, the center in Prilep (the Association for Legal Education and Transparency LET Station) has provided legal and paralegal assistance for around 1,200 cases since the start of the pandemic. [121]

Overall, while the completed activities are positive steps towards access to justice for marginalized groups in the municipalities where the centers exist, the results remain marginal so far. Specifically, they provided 752 services to marginalized families, the Roma community, and persons from rural areas in the territory of Prilep and the surrounding rural areas. [122] LET Station has introduced two telephone lines for free legal assistance, one of which provides urgent paralegal assistance since March 2020, available 24/7, and the other, introduced in January 2021, offers consultations with health professionals regarding protection of the right to healthcare to support citizens during the pandemic. The Prilep center also has a team that works on the ground with citizens from the municipality [123] and publishes information regarding concerns over healthcare rights for marginalized groups and information for citizens on the tools available to them.

The MLSP has not prepared the report for services provided by the RIC for each year because a complete systematization of employees in RICs is missing. [124]

[112] Interview with Ivona Stalevska, Program Coordinator - Foundation Open Society, 14 December 2020.
[113] Ministry of Information Society and Administration, Open Government Partnership North Macedonia, Improving access to justice for marginalized groups of citizens, December, https://ovp.gov.mk/nap_proposals/%d1%83%d0%bd%d0%b0%d0%bf%d1%80%d0%b5%d0%b4%d1%83%d0%b2%d0%b0%d1%9a%d0%b5-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d0%bf%d1%80%d0%b8%d1%81%d1%82%d0%b0%d0%bf%d0%be%d1%82-%d0%b4%d0%be-%d0%bf%d1%80%d0%b0%d0%b2%d0%b4%d0%b0-%d0%b7/. ; Interview with Ivona Stalevska, Program Coordinator - Foundation Open Society, 14 December 2020.
[115] Information provided to the IRM by Ivona Stalevska, Program Coordinator - Foundation Open Society, during the pre-publication review of this report, 23 July 2021.
[116] Ibid.
[117] Ministry of Information Society and Administration, Open Government Partnership North Macedonia, Improving access to justice for marginalized groups of citizens, December, https://ovp.gov.mk/nap_proposals/%d1%83%d0%bd%d0%b0%d0%bf%d1%80%d0%b5%d0%b4%d1%83%d0%b2%d0%b0%d1%9a%d0%b5-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d0%bf%d1%80%d0%b8%d1%81%d1%82%d0%b0%d0%bf%d0%be%d1%82-%d0%b4%d0%be-%d0%bf%d1%80%d0%b0%d0%b2%d0%b4%d0%b0-%d0%b7/. ; Interview with Ivona Stalevska, Program Coordinator - Foundation Open Society, 14 December 2020.
[118] Ibid.
[119] Ministry of Information Society and Administration, Information on the results of the Working Group for Implementation of the OGP Action Plan 2018-2020 Including a Final Self-Assessment Report (Draft Version), December, https://ovp.gov.mk/en/council_sessions/7-%d0%bc%d0%b0-%d1%81%d0%b5%d0%b4%d0%bd%d0%b8%d1%86%d0%b0-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d1%81%d0%be%d0%b2%d0%b5%d1%82%d0%be%d1%82-%d0%b7%d0%b0-%d0%be%d0%b2%d0%bf/.
[120] Interview with Ivona Stalevska, FOO, 14 December 2020.
[121] Stargoski, D., Пандемијата ги изнесе на површина сите слабости на нашето општество и го уназади остварувањето на правата на граѓаните, 12 May, https://infokompas.com.mk/2021/05/12/%d0%bf%d0%b0%d0%bd%d0%b4%d0%b5%d0%bc%d0%b8%d1%98%d0%b0%d1%82%d0%b0-%d0%b3%d0%b8-%d0%b8%d0%b7%d0%bd%d0%b5%d1%81%d0%b5-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d0%bf%d0%be%d0%b2%d1%80%d1%88%d0%b8%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d1%81%d0%b8%d1%82/?fbclid=IwAR280ZXYxqs26VuuiLITsDPYBgj_a-VtGyB2ensgnRkhDD3q-s1WxPAOEfU
[123] Stargoski, D., Пандемијата ги изнесе на површина сите слабости на нашето општество и го уназади остварувањето на правата на граѓаните, 12 May, https://infokompas.com.mk/2021/05/12/%d0%bf%d0%b0%d0%bd%d0%b4%d0%b5%d0%bc%d0%b8%d1%98%d0%b0%d1%82%d0%b0-%d0%b3%d0%b8-%d0%b8%d0%b7%d0%bd%d0%b5%d1%81%d0%b5-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d0%bf%d0%be%d0%b2%d1%80%d1%88%d0%b8%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d1%81%d0%b8%d1%82/?fbclid=IwAR280ZXYxqs26VuuiLITsDPYBgj_a-VtGyB2ensgnRkhDD3q-s1WxPAOEfU
[124] Ministry of Information Society and Administration, Information on the results of the Working Group for Implementation of the OGP Action Plan 2018-2020 Including a Final Self-Assessment Report (Draft Version), December, https://ovp.gov.mk/en/council_sessions/7-%d0%bc%d0%b0-%d1%81%d0%b5%d0%b4%d0%bd%d0%b8%d1%86%d0%b0-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d1%81%d0%be%d0%b2%d0%b5%d1%82%d0%be%d1%82-%d0%b7%d0%b0-%d0%be%d0%b2%d0%bf/.

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