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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, visited the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in early June in order to assess the state of freedom of opinion and expression in the country.

La Rue met with APC member Metamorphosis Foundation, who has been at the forefront of the fight for freedom of expression, privacy and security, and rights to information and access to all, in the country. The Special Rapporteur will present his findings and recommendations in June 2014.

APC and Metamorphosis Foundation made a joint submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review in light of recent changes to laws in Macedonia, particularly with regards to media freedom. These changes effectively threaten fundamental human rights in Macedonia, both online and offline. The submission focuses on freedom of expression, freedom of press, privacy and hate speech.

Lack of government transparency and lack of civil society consultation throughout the drafting and development of the recent Law on Media and Audiovisual Services prompted the Special Rapporteur to express his concern. “Such an important law must never be designed and adopted without proper consultation with civil society, including in particular journalists associations and human rights organizations,” he said.1

We recommend that the government of Macedonia:

a) Take steps to ensure media freedom and protection for journalists in the country, including protection from political pressure and undue civil defamation lawsuits. Ensure that fines imposed for insult and defamation according to the Law on Civil Responsibility for Defamation are proportional both to the harm caused and to ability of the journalists and media to pay.

b) Strengthen efforts to ensure constitutional rights of privacy, data protection and secrecy of communications.2 Ensure adequate legal frameworks governing communications surveillance that adhere to recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in his 2013 report.

c) Adopt and enforce standards for all e-government websites, including development of procedures and publishing a privacy policy demonstrating adherence to the Law on Personal Data Protection and proactive implementation of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Character.3

d) Take steps to ensure transparency in government decision-making, including allowing all stakeholders sufficient opportunity to comment in all stages in the drafting and development of legislation.4

e) Ensure that any limits to freedom of expression are provided by law and in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). National law and practice should distinguish undoubtedly between the responsibility of the author of expressions of hate speech, on one side, and any responsibility of the media and media professionals contributing to their dissemination as part of their role to convey information and ideas on matters of public interest on the other side.

f) Ensure constitutional protections make it clear that freedom of expression in Macedonia includes internet related expression, in accordance with the Human Rights Council Resolution on freedom of expression and the internet and General Comment 34 on Article 19 of the Human Rights Committee.5

[1] UNHRC Press Release
[2] Article 25 of the Constitution of Macedonia
[3] Privacy International Report
[4] International Media Freedom Mission to Macedonia Report
[5] Frank La Rue “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (26 April 2011, A/HRC/17/27), page 21, note 3.