Interview 17 Sep 12

Macedonia’s New Lustration Law is a Political Tool

The head of Macedonia's Helsinki Human Rights Committee, Uranija Pirovska, says that the new lustration law violates the recommendations of the Council of Europe and is manifestly intended to silence and intimidate government critics.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Uranija Pirovska, the head of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee

This September, the Helsinki Committee said it was contesting 13 provisions of the new law on lustration adopted in July at the behest of the ruling VMRO DPMNE led by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his government partners.

One problem is time span of the law, which extends up to 2006, not 1991, when the country became a multi-party democracy.

Another is the provision that allows publication of the names of alleged former police collaborators without right of appeal.

This is the third time since 2008, when the first lustration law was adopted, that the law has been dragged before the Constitutional Court. On the first two occasions the court scrapped similar provisions.

Pirovska sees the government’s repeated insistence on adopting the law as a sign of its wish to control matters and intimidate critics.

Q: What is wrong primarily with the new law that prompted you to submit the initiative to the Constitutional Court?

A: The main goal of every lustration law is to deal with the past. This is why the Council of Europe passed recommendations that note certain standards, which need to be part of such laws. These especially refer to the time span. Dealing with the past and with people who in the past held public office and broke human rights is the main purpose of the lustration process, so that those people can be subjected to lustration.

That’s why the Council of Europe says the lustration process should [only] cover the period until the fall of the former Communist regime, which in Macedonia means until 1991. This is why it is unconceivable and absolute nonsense that in Macedonia the time span for lustration should be up until 2006, when a public information access law was adopted.

Apart from an adequate time span, each law must also encompass an adequate procedure, meaning a body that will be in charge of the lustration. That is also one of the points we tackle in our initiative, arguing that with the current law the commission has taken on the jurisdictions of a court. How can a body that is not a court have the right to pass decisions that have the effect of a court ruling - decisions that are final and with no appeal procedure?

That is unconstitutional, as the constitution guarantees all citizens a right to appeal each act that concerns them. A body formed by the government cannot assume the jurisdictions of a court. That is contrary to the principles of the rule of the law and the division of powers between the lawmaking, judicial and executive authorities. But in this case the government, the executive branch, is taking on a judicial role.

Macedonia's Lustration Commission

Q: Aren’t the authorities also citing the same Council of Europe recommendations?

A: The authorities cannot manipulate [them] even if they want to because the law itself is evidently in contradiction to the recommendations from the Council of Europe.

Q: The Lustration Commission is now allowed to publish the names of, and data about, persons it deems former collaborators. How do you see this?

A: They can’t publish the names of people found to be informants without a court decision. This is another violation of the Council of Europe recommendations, which say that lustrated persons must enjoy all the rights of persons charged for crime. Lustrated persons now do not have those rights. And we are not talking only about those who are lustrated but also about their families.

One example is the last three cases of lustrated people about whom the Commission first said that two were deceased while later they corrected themselves, saying that only one was dead. This is unacceptable.

And what is the point of lustrating retired people when the purpose of the law is to prevent those who broke human rights under the past system from obtaining similar public authority in the new system? Retired or deceased people cannot hold public office again!

Q: The Lustration Commission insists that victims have the right to know details about their persecutors, no?

A: The goal of the law is not for people to find out who, for example, gave the orders that led to the violations of their rights, or the rights of those close to them. The goal is to deal with police collaborators and order-givers and prohibit them from holding public office again. That is why it is unclear why the lustration law now includes the university, the NGO sector and private businesses, for example.

Q: Your initiative marks the third time that the Constitutional Court is tackling the lustration law. Has there been a tendency to defy the court’s earlier rulings?

Macedonian government building

A: Absolutely! It is not by chance that over and over again the same provisions are being passed that the Constitutional Court previously annulled. This disrespect of the court’s decisions means disrespect for the rule of law. That is why we again submitted an initiative, because we think that the court must be consistent in its actions. If the court scrapped the same provisions from the law on two previous occasions, it must be consistent with its previous decisions and again annul those provisions.

Q: Parliament recently appointed three new judges to the court, seen by some as being close to the ruling parties. Is there political pressure on the court?

A: We are aware of that, and there may be some changes [in the court’s workings]. If the court this time decides differently [from the past], that would be an absolute defeat of democracy and the constitutional order in the country.

Q: One novelty in the new law is that it expands the scope of lustration to include former directors of state companies who benefited from their privatization. Should this be part of lustration?

A: The state has no right to interfere in that segment through this law. Entrepreneurs and businessmen are not people who held public offices. It is obvious who should be subjected to lustration. Those are people employed in the police, the prosecution, the judiciary and other state institutions who had some form of enforcement instruments entrusted to them. These are people who were employed in state office and who were in a position to break human rights, not people who worked in companies.

Q: So, why does the law allow the lustration not only of public office-holders but businessman, journalists, NGO activists, clergy, professors and practically everybody else?

A: The tendency is clear. This law is being passed in such a form so as to serve as an instrument for dealing with all those who don’t agree with government policies. This becomes obvious if you take in to account all the past actions of the Lustration Commission and the persons that it chose to lustrate.

Macedonian Constitutional Court

With the last changes of the law, the government tried to camouflage its intent to lustrate a wide range of professions. In the past provision, various professions were strictly named. But in the new one… anyone who suspects [someone] can ask for the lustration of certain individual. This gives them a cart-blanche to lustrate whoever they want, because the law does not state that the lustrated people should only be former employees in the public office. There is no dilemma for me that the law is in collision with the recommendations of the Council of Europe.

It was not by chance that some countries, like Slovenia, decided not to undergo a lustration process. They assessed that no such law could be sufficiently concisely implemented without breaking some human rights of other people. Countries that adopted lustration laws like Bulgaria or Hungary have done great damage to human rights.

Q: You and the committee are said to be taking the side of former police collaborators. What do you think?

A: In this country it is easy to get labeled. It is enough just to criticize or question the actions of the government and its bodies to be labeled an enemy of the state... I ‘m not surprised. I was ready for this when I took the post. It will not prevent me from doing my job, which is to protect human rights.

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