By Prof. Mirjana Najčevska, PhD, human rights expert
One role of the media in democratic states is to act as watchdogs of the government in the area of respect and protection for human rights. The reporting on the judgments/decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in general, and especially the decisions that refer to the Republic of Macedonia, is an important aspect of that watchdog role.
When ECHR adopts a judgment, it is a judgment against a state that failed to protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights.
The execution of judgments doesn’t consist solely of payment of compensations to the plaintiff, but also a resolution of the actual case (the situation has to be restored to the status before the violation of the plaintiff’s rights) and implementation of such changes that would prevent future same and similar cases from happening. The states usually want to slow-down the execution of politically unpopular, controversial and complex judgments.
The media play an important role in the execution of ECHR’s judgments. They should:
- Promote the judgments adopted by ECHR
- Offer opinions and interpretations by relevant experts, especially on the significance of a judgment and the messages it carries pertaining to indicated weaknesses of the legal or judicial system
- Analyze the judgments from the view point of obligations they create for the state
- Ask questions about the implemented changes and follow and scrutinize the implementation of the changes
- Make connections of new with similar or identical cases resolved with previous judgments adopted by ECHR.
- Follow the fate of judges of courts of first jurisdiction, appellate, supreme or constitutional courts who participated in the violation of European Convention of Human Rights.
What happens in our media?
1. There is no continuous coverage of ECHR’s judgments
The media usually focus on the ECHR’s judgments on a prominent case that caused interest abroad (like the Al Masri Case), or make short presentations of concrete cases that got their hands on in a given moment (like the case of Drage Nikolovski). These cases, as a rule, are covered only once, during the deliberating stage, and there are no analyses of the execution of judgments. Some media offer one-off short analysis related to changes in Macedonia tied to the country’s relations with ECHR (for example the article published by “Utrinski vesnik” daily on the parliamentary debate on the Law on Execution of ECHR’s Judgments, which was misrepresented in the article as a Law on Representation of Macedonia at the European Court).
Not all judgments that refer to Macedonia are covered by the media, something that would greatly help inform and alert the government, but also prevent the authorities to sweep the messages “under the carpet”.
2. The media offer no analysis of ECHR judgments from the point of view of obligations they bring on the table for the government
As a rule, the media don’t venture into comprehensive analyses of the issues related to ECHR’s judgments (both in general and the judgments referring to Macedonia). One exception was the analysis of the period January-February 2011 published by “Dnevnik” daily. The analysis itself was not an in-house project of the daily, but a part of the “Macedonia at the European Court” investigative project, supported by the Danish Association of Investigative Journalism and the SCOOP Project. While it doesn’t diminish its value, it does indicate the lack of interest of the media in that type of analysis and the absence of investigative journalism practice that is the only approach that would yield results on matters of this kind.
Even when the media seem to analyze the actions and developments related to ECHR, they stick to the information they get from the authorized persons and institutions, and don’t try to truly investigate and produce a story based on such an investigation. To list just one example, the article “Macedonia loses up to 40 cases in Strasbourg”, published by “Utrinski vesnik” carries a statement by an official of the Ministry of Justice saying:
„At this moment, there are no processes against Macedonia for failing to conduct trial in reasonable time, i.e. on court procedures in the country that started after 2007”.
The reporter didn’t even try to investigate and verify that statement, not to mention to delve deeper into the matter and investigate the actions of the Supreme Court on the new legal remedy made available to the citizens. The statement is false in any case, having in mind that ECHR considers a number of cases after 2007, because the Court believes that the new remedy is not yet efficient enough to protect the citizens from prolonged trials and litigations (for example, the case of Dunimaglovski vs. the Republic of Macedonia, filed in 2008 and settled out of court).
3. The media don’t raise the question of changes that need to be implemented on basis of ECHR’s judgments, ultimately closing the cases from the point of view of the obligations of the Republic of Macedonia
In the few cases in which media report on concrete judgments, for example the two judgments in 2010 reported by “Nova Makedonija” daily, the reporter didn’t analyze the obligations that need to be met by the state to close the cases and take them off the list of cases supervised by the Ministerial Committee of the Council of Europe. The two cases covered by that article (Nasteska vs. the Republic of Macedonia and Sandel vs. the Republic of Macedonia) are still on the list of cases in which the state has not met its obligations.
4. In absence of analysis, the media make no attempt to relate ongoing cases in the courts with existing judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
The media don’t relate the cases currently in Macedonian courts or other state bodies and institutions with similar cases that were already reviewed by ECHR and for there are valid judgments. The establishment of a connection could help raise appropriate questions on any given case, the analysis of information issued by the authorities and the identification of obligations arising from ECHR judgments that the state has not met. For example, in the case of Gorgievski vs. the Republic of Macedonia from 2009, the ECHR provides clear direction the limits of use of undercover agents (agent provocateur) in the building of prosecution’s case, contrary to the case against Ljube Boškoski, which indicates that the judgment was based on the actions and testimony of an undercover agent provocateur. The situation with detention is even more dramatic. Namely, in spite of existing judgments of ECHR that address detention as a form of violation of the Convention by judicial authorities of Macedonia (for example, Vasilkoski and others vs. the Republic of Macedonia, 2010), in their coverage of the cases of extended detention (for example, Jovan Vraniškovski, Velija Ramkovski, the detainees in the Metastasis case, etc.), the journalists never cross-reference the data and raise the question if the applied detention measures were adequate and necessary.
5. There is no investigative journalism on ECHR judgments
The journalists don’t venture into any serious investigation of either the consequences suffered by the judges that made the judgments later ruled as violations of rights by ECHR. Namely, there is no analysis of the number of judges advanced in their careers (or were awarded in some other way) after the end of trials that were later brought to ECHR and on which it deliberated and adopted judgments. There is no analysis of whether some judges repeat committing the same violations of rights even after the ECHR’s judgments.
Therefore, the media miss the opportunity to gather information and to use the available data for serious and substantiated criticism and control of legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.
Links on ECHR and Macedonia
- The official website of the European Court of Human Rights.
- The European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (pdf)
- Case Law on Hate-Speech of the European Court of Human Rights (2012), OSCE
- Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights published by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Macedonia
- Pending Cases – Current State of Execution, European Court of Human Rights
- Council of Europe, Publications.
English translation by One World SEE.
This analysis was created within the framework of the USAID Media Strengthening in Macedonia Project – Media Fact-Checking Service Component, implemented by Metamorphosis. The analysis is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, USAID or the United States Government. For more information on the work of USAID in Macedonia please visit its website (http://macedonia.usaid.gov) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USAIDMacedonia).