Small victory for sex workers and human rights

On the occasion of March 3rd – the International Sex Workers’ Rights Day we would like to inform you that the sex workers in Macedonia for the second time have been awarded protection from the first instance court against the unlawful treatment of the police and the criminal court.

On a November night in 2008, the police carried out the police action called „Suppression of Street Prostitution” in which 32 individuals, 23 of whom sex workers, were deprived of liberty. The police unlawfully detained the sex workers longer than 20 hours in inhuman and degrading conditions, while the other detainees were released just couple of hours after the detention. The sex workers had to spend that critical night in the space of several square meters, without food, water or any possibility for sanitary hygiene. Some of them were left without medical help to surpass the abstinence syndrome which resulted from their drug addiction and were exposed to unnecessary pain and suffering. The following day, all of them were taken for testing without any explanation and were tested for HIV, Hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases without informed consent on the part of the sex workers.

Link for the video "You must know about me“.

The Criminal Court established that the police acted in accordance with the law, upon which fourteen (14) sex workers filed a lawsuit in front of the Primary Court Skopje 2 Skopje against the defendants the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Macedonia and Primary Court Skopje 1 Skopje, demanding that the court established violation of their personal rights, specifically the right to private and family life, the right to freedom and safety and violation of the right to physical and mental integrity, i.e. the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment pursuant the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and award them with fair compensation for intangible damages.

Seven years after the lawsuit was filed, in a secondary procedure, the Primary Court Skopje 2 Skopje once more partially granted the lawsuit of the sex workers and again established that on the 20th and 21st November the first defendant RM-MOI in the police action “Suppression of Street Prostitution” violated the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, i.e. violated the abovementioned sex workers’ rights. The first instance court established that the defendant RM-MOI violated these rights in that it arrested the plaintiffs without a valid and evidence-based suspicion, failed to provide in  a clear and coherent manner an explanation as to the reasons why they were being detained and deprived of liberty, failed to provide medical protection to the detainees, exposed them to body searches in front of men, held them for longer than 20 hours in inhuman conditions and later released to the public the video recordings from the arrest and made them available to the media, and forced the detainees to testing without informing them of a valid court order requiring these tests. In the verdict, the court also established that the Primary Court Skopje 1 Skopje violated these rights by failing to provide protection of the plaintiffs’ rights, and instead issued a court order requiring blood tests at the demand of the first defendant without any evidence to confirm the existence of a reasonable doubt and without questioning the plaintiffs and the other detainees, although at the time they were available for interrogation.  

On the grounds of the aforementioned, the Court awarded the plaintiffs with a fair compensation for intangible damages for having suffered physical and mental pain due to the established violation of their abovementioned rights.

- Although the verdict is not final, we consider it to be significant for the legal practice in Macedonia and for supporting the sex workers in the protection of their rights. For the first time in Macedonia, a marginalized group such as the sex workers who have been continuously and daily exposed to violence, were encouraged to seek court protection of their rights in front of the national courts;

- For the first time the civil court confirmed that the fundamental human rights are equal for all citizens and must be respected by the competent bodies and institutions. Sex workers have equal rights as the other citizens in the state and the disrespect of their guaranteed human rights shall cause legal consequences for the violators, in this specific case MOI and Primary Court Skopje 1 Skopje;

- The first instance court in the verdict directly applied the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms as the source of law;

- We hope that the higher court shall confirm the verdict and contribute towards improvement of the protection of the rights of the marginalized communities in Macedonia;

- We also hope that in future MOI shall refrain from carrying out actions that might harm the existing programs for prevention of HIV, Hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases implemented by the Ministry of Health of RM and the civic organizations.