LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey
The Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia establishes a high standard of protection, respect and promotion of basic human rights, but none of the articles explicitly state the right to and the freedom of sexual orientation or gender identity. The same formulation is found in many other legal documents in North Macedonia.
North Macedonia decriminalised homosexuality in 1996, which until then was regarded as “sodomy against nature”. Same sex sexual acts are legal.
Age of Consent in North Macedonia is 14-15 and it is the same for opposite as well as same sex sexual acts.
The Criminal Code does not explicitly prescribe the age of sexual consent. Every sexual act committed by a person age 15 and above upon a person under age of 14 is treated as sexual assault. (Criminal Code, Art. 188).
As to the current status of LGBT rights and freedoms, LGBT persons are neither recognized nor protected by the national legislation of North Macedonia. The Law on Protection from Discrimination does not include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for protection.
On a positive note in November 2015 the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination, HERA and the Coalition on Sexual and Health Rights of Marginalised Communities launched an anti-discrimination protocol. Since the anti-discrimination legislation does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected grounds, the protocol outlines how to treat claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The institutions responsible for the protection of human rights in North Macedonia are – apart from the Constitutional Court – the Ombudsman, the Inquiry Commission on Human Rights of the Parliament and the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. The latter was established in January 2011 and covers 19 defined bases for discrimination. The organization is predominantly quasi-judicial body.
In 2015 LGBTI NGOs expressed concern following the appointment of six new members of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination by parliament in December. NGOs were particularly concerned about three appointees as they had previously expressed homophobic, islamophobic and misogynistic views.
Due to lack of explicit legal protection from discrimination of LGBT persons, North Macedonia has no concrete plans for protecting its citizens against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
A 2015 study by US-based NDI found out that less than 1% of the population of North Macedonia know the exact definition of the acronym LGBTI. 31% of them thought heterosexuals were part of the group and a worrying 35% thought paedophiles were part of this group. 66% of the LGBTI population in North Macedonia thinks LGBTI people are exposed to different forms of psychological abuse and verbal harassment while 27% of them think LGBTI people are exposed to physical violence.
According to LGBTI people the main perpetrators of psychological abuse and verbal harassment are school colleagues (24%) and people on the streets/passers-by (20%). As for perpetrators of physical violence 29% are people on the streets, 21% school colleagues and 19% hooligans. Levels of prejudice are high even within the family and for loved ones. When asked, how would they react if they found out that their child was LGBT 58% of responders said they would try to help them find a cure.
According to the same study as of 2015 only 1 in 10 people in North Macedonia know personally a member of the LGBTIQ community.
According to an April 2016 survey by Subversive Front young LGBTI people experience constant everyday discrimination. This is much higher compared to the levels of discrimination experienced by non-LGBTI people (9.2 vs 4.1). During focus groups LGBTI youth were asked to describe their experiences with discrimination in different sectors of their lives such as school, by law enforcement, national institutions and in everyday life. Many LGBTIQ youth feel discouraged and hopeless about the momentum and political will to improve the living situation of LGBTIQ persons in North Macedonia. Meanwhile the constant barrages of physical and psychological violence and abuse have severe negative consequences on their mental health and overall well-being.
Family Law in North Macedonia explicitly defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The current legislation does not give same-sex couples the right to enter marriage or to live in a legally recognized community. Same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt children nor entitled to assisted reproduction.
In January 2015, Parliament voted in favour to constitutionally define marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman. In addition, politicians adopted an amendment to ensure that a two-thirds majority would be necessary to regulate marriage, family and civil unions. Such a majority was previously reserved only for issues such as sovereignty and territorial questions.
On 9 January, the parliamentary committee on constitutional issues approved a series of amendments, including the limitation of marriage and the two-thirds majority requirement which was included at the last minute. On 20 January, the amendments were approved in parliament by 72 votes to 4. In order for these amendments to be added to the constitution, a final vote was required to approve them. This final parliamentary session was commenced on 26 January but never concluded, as the ruling coalition did not obtain the two-thirds majority required. The parliamentary session on the constitutional amendments was in recess until the end of 2015.
The 2015 NDI poll revealed that 89% of the general population finds equal marriage unacceptable.
In its latest decision, on the Oliari vs. Italy case the European Court of Human Rights ruled that same-sex partnerships are covered by the provision on protection of family life and that States have to guarantee at least the same level of legal protection to same-sex partnerships that they offer to heterosexual civil partnerships, in order to ensure compliance with this right.
On September 2017 the Administrative Court of the Republic of North Macedonia adopted its first ever decision on sex change. The Court obliges the Office for Management of Registers of Birth, Marriages and Deaths to change data in the birth registry by annulling the current personal identification number. By the new instructions, the office, which uperates under the Ministry of Interior, is obliged to issue a new personal ID number within 3 days after the amendments of the data in the birth registry have occured.
The Criminal Code of North Macedonia does not explicitly offer protection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, however Article 137 uses an open legal norm “personal characteristics and circumstances” in which the above basis can also be interpreted. According to the Criminal Code, if any person takes away or limits the rights of humans and citizens in this respect, he or she, shall be punished with imprisonment of three months to three years.
The perpetrator of a violent attack against two LGBTI activists in 2012 was sentenced to 7 months imprisonment in January 2015. The decision was quashed on appeal in December and will be reviewed by the Basic Criminal Court in 2016.
In December 2014 North Macedonian activists held three demonstrations in Skopje, protesting the authorities’ failure to respond to several hate crimes in recent years. Six human rights defenders and members of the LGBTI community had been attacked in the past 24 months and the Police had not prosecuted anyone for those crimes. Due to lack of response from state authorities activists demonstrated very often during 2013 and 2014. On one of these demonstrations protesters began lying down in front of the prosecutor’s office, wrapped in black sacks made to look like body bags.
On previous years the LGBTI Support Center in Skopje haD been vandalized several times while activists have been attacked during tolerance marches and other activities.
A 2015 opinion poll carried out by the US-based National Democratic Institute revealed that 27% of the LGBTI people surveyed in North Macedonia had suffered physical violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to report high cases of discrimination and abuse happen while being under custody of the police (24%).
The Coalition on Sexual and Health Rights documented two cases of assault based on sexual orientation and one case of violence based on gender identity in 2015; two of these cases were pending at the end of the year.
An opinion poll carried out by the US-based National Democratic Institute revealed that 66% of the LGBTI people surveyed in North Macedonia had been verbally harassed or abused because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In February 2015, one journalist was sanctioned with a public warning by the Council for Ethics in the Media after his national TV show contained homophobic hate speech.
Bekim Asani, the leader of Tetovo-based NGO LGBT United, spoke at Amsterdam Pride in August. After his speech appeared online, Asani received many homophobic messages and multiple death threats. He temporarily relocated abroad.
In November 2015, the Commission for Protection against Discrimination (CPD), civil society organisation HERA and the Coalition on Sexual and Health Rights of Marginalised Communities launched the Nation without Discrimination campaign to make the public more aware of how to report discrimination on various grounds, including sexual orientation. The campaign attracted serious bias-motivated speech; the incidents were reported to the Cyber Crime Unit but no action had been taken by the end of the year.
There is no legislation pertaining to transgender issues and the status of transgender persons in terms of official change of gender is unclear.
In 2015, the Coalition on Sexual and Health Rights documented three cases in the access to banking services and health care services based on gender identity. Also the Coalition provided legal representation to five trans people who have requested legal gender recognition; some of the cases are pending since 2011.
Meanwhile in 2015 NGO Subversive Front filed a case in the Administrative Court in November in support of a trans woman whose request to change her gender marker and official ID was refused. Subversive Front also initiated civil proceedings due to the authorities’ delay in responding to her request; this was still pending at the end of 2015.
As pointed out in North Macedonian organization’s 2015 Shadow Report, transgender individuals who want access to hormone therapy, reassignment surgery and appropriate psychological counselling do not have access to these services. Additionally, transgender individuals are not allowed to conform their personal identity documents to their actual gender identity.
North Macedonia is one of the few countries of the ERA region, along with Albania and North Macedonia not to have any procedures in place for legal change of name or documents.
Labour legislation in North Macedonia includes “sexual orientation” in its non-discrimination provision and covers harassment with reference to LGBT belonging. This Law also prohibits direct or indirect discrimination relating to: employment conditions, promotion at work, access to all forms and levels of education, all rights deriving from work relations or relating to work relations, including therein the quality of salaries, termination of the work contract, work hours, health condition i.e. disability, religious, political or other beliefs, and/or other personal reasons.
According to the 2015 NDI survey, LGBTI people report high occurrence of discrimination in the area of employment (36%).
The right to education is protected by Article 44 of the Constitution. Education is accessible to everyone under equal conditions. Primary education is compulsory and free.
There is no legal protection of LGBT individuals in the educational system or legislation and sexual education is not objective as LGBT issues are not made part of the curriculum.
While there is no law mandating comprehensive sexuality education, the current HIV strategy, the sexual reproductive health Strategy and the Strategy for Safe Motherhood adopted by the Government indicate that comprehensive sexuality education is a crucial intervention. In addition, the Parliamentary Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men during two public hearings has recommended to the Ministry of Education to pilot a programme on sexuality education.
Textbooks used in high schools and universities in North Macedonia however, perpetuate homophobic attitudes. Discriminatory language pathologizing homosexuality is present in a number of North Macedonian textbooks covering psychiatry, medical psychology and psychology.
In 2015 The Coalition on Sexual and Health Rights successfully applied to the Commission for Protection from Discrimination to remove homophobic content from a university psychiatry text book. During the year, the Coalition also initiated advocacy activities to discuss the material included in the regular curricula.
A 2016 study by Subversive Front observed homophobic discrimination and bullying among youth in the city of Skopje. The study, which was comparative between LGBTIQ and non LGBTIQ persons, found out the striking differences and treatment between the two communities. For example, in the online survey, 40% of LGBTI persons had been physically assaulted compared to 15% for non-LGBTI persons. In terms of bullying, 24% of LGBTIQ persons in the online sample had been bullied compared to 9% for non LGBTIQ persons. During focus groups, LGBTIQ youth considered bullying as a concerning issue. Cyber-bullying was also of particular concern, given that social media is used widely by LGBTIQ people to meet and share information about who they are.
In the same study, during focus groups, LGBTIQ youth spoke about the high level of discrimination they experienced in the education system. According to them the education system continues to exacerbate the negative and hostile environment in which LGBTIQ youth live.
The right to healthcare applies equally to all on the basis of the Law on Health Protection. LGBT individuals, in particular transgender persons, are not entitled to particular treatment. The Law on Protection of Patient’s Rights introduces the notion of “sexual orientation” in in anti-discrimination clause, thereby underlying the human rights in the fields of medicine and health by explicitly including the rights of LGB persons, thus laying the legal grounds for realization and protection of the rights of LGB persons in the healthcare sector.
The Law on Protection of Patient’s Rights could have a solid legal basis for the realisation of LGBT rights in the health system and stands out as good practice in the normative regulation of discrimination.
Housing legislation does not recognize LGBT couples as a separate category in respect to the rights to housing.
Freedom of Assembly and association is guaranteed in the national constitution and further enshrined in national laws. These do not specifically mention “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as non-discrimination grounds. Freedom of expression is also guaranteed by the Constitution. There is no particular protection of LGBT individuals in law as to this freedom and the Criminal Code does not mention sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the Code prohibits non-discrimination on the basis of “other personal characteristics or circumstances”.
The opinion poll by NDO revealed that 45% of LGBTI people in North Macedonia feel that Pride parades have improved the position of LGBTI community in society. However, North Macedonia was the only one of the six countries where only a minority agreed with this statement. In addition, 84% of the general population would not personally support the organization of Pride events.
During the March of Tolerance organized in 2009 by the Helsinki Committee, counter demonstrators tried to provoke incidents. Although the march was focused on anti-discrimination in general, the public reacted very negatively because the event was linked to the acceptance and promotion of rights of LGBT persons.
Pride weeks and other visibility events have been taking place in North Macedonia in the last 7 years.
In October 2017, for the first time in North Macedonia's LGBTI modern movement, the head of the government showed openly support for LGBTI community by joining the 5th anniversary event of LGBTI support center. This was a considered a turning point by the LGBTI community, which under the previous regime suffered discrimination and persecution, including attacks against LGBTI venues which were never fully investigated by authorities.
LGBTI organizations in North Macedonia have monitored elections and positions of political parties extensively in the last years. In a 2013 report by LGBT Support Centre on the pre-election campaigns it was observed that “the relevant parties and candidates of different positions practiced hate speech. Different statements made by political parties and politicians, “strengthen the promotion of an exclusive society … which does not lead to solving, but to deepening of the social, economic and political crisis in the country”.
On the same 2013 local elections, LGBTI support centre sent a questionnaire to all political parties asking them what they would do for the rights of the LGBT community if they were elected. None of the parties showed any interest on replying.
In December 2016 organization Subversive Front in cooperation with the Victory Institute incorporated the “Vote for Equality" Campaign which aimed to incporporate LGBTI people and their rights in the public policy agenda for the parliamentary elections of December 2016 and beyond. The campaign was part of a broader strategy to encourage greater political participation of LGBTI people in the Balkans as a region, and in North Macedonia, as an instrument for promoting equality. In addition to the campaign an analysis on the political partie's inclusion of LGBTI people's needs in their programs was conducted. The analysis showed that with the exception of a few small left-wing liberal parties, LGBTI issues are not represented in the working documents of main political parties.
There is no media relevant to the protection of LGBT issues. In the last year, with the rise of LGBTI activism and visibility, the Government of North Macedonia has conducted anti-LGBTI campaigns and propaganda and has utilised media to further exacerbate the level of discrimination experienced by LGBTI people.
According to an LGBTI activist: “We are not visible anywhere. Not even in 5 minutes on TV. We are endangered as activists as well. There is no legal framework, the state won’t guarantee our safety, not only that, it encourages violence. And given all these circumstances, how can we exist? There has to be support so we don’t fear for our lives”.
A 2011 study on media, found out that while derogatory language is not openly published about LGBT people the term “gay” is used in pejorative form. One journalist stressed that sometimes when writing about these groups in a negative context the offensive term “warm brothers/sisters” is intentionally used. The study found numerous examples of the use of the term “faggot”, as well as other referential strategies that violate the dignity of LGBT persons. The report also highlights issues such as sensationalistic representation and threatening, ignoring by media on cases of complaints or request for publications and harassment, pathologization of homosexuality, moralizing etc.
A 2012 report by the US Country Report on Human Rights Practices states that “Activists representing the right of LGBT individuals reported incidents of societal prejudice, including harassment and use of derogatory language, including in the media and from the government.
In 2015 the National Broadcasting Television did not respond to a request from NGO’s to air the Nation without Discrimination video campaign as a public interest broadcast. National media outlets also failed to cover the Coalition on Sexual and Health Rights’ 10 December billboard campaign in cooperation with NGO Queer Zagreb; only seven independent news sites mentioned the initiative.
Several organizations have worked on LGBT issues since the 2000s.
In 2015 NGO Subversive Front supported an LGBTI person applying for asylum in Belgium. He had experienced psychological violence, discrimination, hate speech and harassment since he publicly came out in an online video campaign in 2013.
The Constitution and the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection opens the possibility for foreigners to be given asylum when state institutions decide that the reason for their arrival in North Macedonia is the negation of their freedom and they declare their democratic convictions and activities, which should implicitly incorporate the right and freedom to declare their sexual orientation as well.
North Macedonia formally applied to join the EU in 2004 (under the provisional name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"). In its annual report on progress made towards EU accession, published in November, the European Commission pointed out that the LGBTI community continue to suffer hate speech in the media. Such bias-motivated incidents need to be systematically investigated. The Commission also expressed disappointment at the government’s failure to add the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity to existing anti-discrimination legislation. Considerable efforts need to be made to promote acceptance and diversity, through public campaigns and training for law enforcement officials.
The 2015 NDI poll revealed that 83% of the LGBT population think that EU support is
very important for the improvement of their position in the country.
North Macedonia is party to a number of international conventions on human rights of the United Nations, as a member to the Council of Europe, a party in the European Convention on Human Rights as well as control mechanisms established with the purpose of implementation of these conventions. According to Article 118 of the Constitution, international treaties ratified in compliance with the Constitution become part of the national legal order and cannot be changed by law. In such a way international norms superimpose over national laws.
The international documents ratified by North Macedonia prescribe a wide scope of rights of persons and citizens (freedom, security, equality etc). The listed documents, included here the documents of the European Union, introduce a clear responsibility for the country to establish a broad anti-discriminatory clause that will also cover sexual orientation and other status of a person.
In their shadow report for the 114th Session of the Human Rights Committee, North Macedonian organizations reported the serious and ongoing violations of the Covenant rights of LGBTI individuals with respect to hate crimes and hate speech, protection from discrimination in relation to healthcare, education, failure to include sexual orientation and gender identity in laws prohibiting discrimination, failure to prosecute, punish, remedy and condemn crimes against LGBTI individuals and organizations etc.
So far North Macedonia has failed to cooperate with the international community on matters related to the rights of LGBTI people.
In the 2016 ILGA Europe Rainbow Map, North Macedonia is ranked 39th out of 49 countries with a 17% level of achievements. This is the lowest ranking from a country located in the Western Balkans. The poor ranking is mainly dedicated to the lack of anti-discrimination legislation, to effective protection of trans rights as well as to complet lack of legislation and policy on combating hate crime and hate speech.The map reflects legal and policy human rights situation of LGBTI people in Europe and does not reflect the social and cultural realities of the community in the country.
Last update: 16 May 2016