The new Macedonian Government should firstly review the results and recommendations of the previous projects on police oversight.
By Magdalena Lembovska (Analytica)
Macedonian police are regularly criticized for violating human rights and freedoms of the citizens, as well as the lack of liability in cases of police misconduct. This is partially the result of the poor functioning of the existing mechanisms for oversight and control.
The internal control unit which is responsible for handling police complaints and improving the professional standards is lacking independence, impartiality, and effectiveness. On the other side, the Ombudsman actively alarms the public about detected infringements of human rights and increased police brutality. However, the Ombudsman faces obstructions by the authorities to perform his duties in this area.
Throughout the years, civil society has been advocating for establishing an external oversight mechanism for the work of the Police. The absence of such body is also noted in the European Commission Progress Reports for Macedonia. There have been several initiatives for introducing external oversight of the Police, but genuine will by the political establishment was always lacking.
Nevertheless, in 2015 the Ministry of Interior with support from the Council of Europe started more considerable efforts for strengthened oversight of the Police with a particular focus on respecting human rights and freedoms.
Two consecutive projects were implemented where the latter gathered together representatives of state institutions, experts from the civil society and academia to develop a proposal for a new model for external oversight. Indeed, the working group came out with the model “Prosecution+”, proposing establishment of a specialized department within the Public Prosecutor’s Office and a new model for civil oversight which is supposed to include representatives of the civil sector, either through creating a separate body or inclusion of civil society organizations in the work of the Ombudsman.
At the same time, the current Ombudsman started advocating for the model of strengthening the capacities of the Ombudsman to oversee the police and involvement of representatives of civil society in this institution. This idea was discussed at the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on the Political System and Inter-Ethnic Relations conducted on 3 July 2017.
However, the members of the Parliament did not seem enthusiastic about it.
On the contrary, a completely new solution appeared on the table and that is the formation of a new institution as a Police Ombudsman. Surprisingly, the MPs from the oppositional VMRO DPMNE were the ones firmly supporting this idea. Moreover, the same model is envisaged in the Program of the new Government 2017 – 2020. Therefore, there seems to be a political consensus that introducing a Police Ombudsman should be the next step in ensuring external oversight.
While there are many pros and cons of the model of a Police Ombudsman, this approach entails numerous inconsistencies.
To begin with, VMRO DPMNE was in power for 11 years and most of the time they were reluctant to even to discuss introducing external oversight mechanism. The past initiatives for Police Ombudsman were rejected without a debate but now, all of a sudden, this seems like a good idea to them. Also, even though the structures under their authority were the ones to start the cooperation with the Council of Europe on the issue in the first place, they are distancing themselves from the results of the project. SDSM, on the other side, disregards the work of their predecessors, without offering a clear position and background of their preferred solution.
In addition, a bad signal is sent to the donors that their support does not provide any results, even though those kinds of projects provide significant financial support and engage important internal capacities of the institutions, and also external domestic and foreign experts. Following the wiretapping scandal, complex reforms in the security sector should follow, and we need serious external support (financial, expert and technical) for their implementation.
Therefore, the new Government should firstly review the results and recommendations of the previous projects on police oversight. Then, a public debate on establishing an external oversight mechanism should follow as part of an inclusive process. Most importantly, the citizens need to see genuine commitment to implement the chosen solution.