Sex Workers in Macedonia Awarded Protection from the Court

European Regional Correspondent

As Macedonian civil society organisation HOPS reports, sex workers in Macedonia have been awarded protection against the unlawful treatment of the police and the criminal court for the second time.

On a November night in 2008, the police carried out a police action called “Suppression of Street Prostitution” in which 32 individuals, 23 of whom were sex workers, were deprived of their liberty. The police unlawfully detained the sex workers for more than 20 hours in inhumane and degrading conditions, while the other detainees were released just a couple of hours after their arrest. The police mocked the sex workers, and said things such as   “now dance, now stand like sheep. Let's take pictures: you are like a pop star, you are a movie star,” said one of the detained sex workers in the video You Must Know About Me.  

The sex workers spent the night in a cell, which was only a few square meters in size. They had no 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. As NSWP reported earlier, the following day, all of them were subjected to compulsory testing for HIV, Hepatitis C and other STIs. Seven of the detained women had tested positive for hepatitis C (HCV) and were facing criminal charges for allegedly “transmitting an infectious disease”.

As stated at NSWP Community Guide “HIV and STI Testing and Treatment Policies”, “mandatory HIV testing is an abuse of human rights and puts sex workers at risk of increased violence and loss of income.”

Media representatives subsequently published and broadcasted photos of the women and reported on their status as sex workers. The Interior Ministry published photos of the detainees on its website.

The Ministry of Interior of Macedonia released a statement saying that “MOI shall continue to perform measures against all persons involved in illegal socio-pathological phenomena.”

The sex workers filed a lawsuit against the MOI claiming that their personal rights were violated and that they should be awarded with fair compensation for intangible damages.

Seven years after the lawsuit was filed, in a secondary procedure, the Primary Court 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 violated sex workers’ rights.

The Court awarded the plaintiffs with a fair compensation for intangible damages for having suffered physical and psychological pain.

Representatives from HOPS stated, “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.”