Here I find myself rapidly becoming an expert on legal and even criminal affairs from the point of view of the American constitutional notion of Due Process. Slowly, after penning a few pieces about prosecutorial and judicial abuse, more information seems to make it into my inbox. This one case, however, about similar issues abroad, caught my attention because it was related to what was happening last month at the United Nations. There, on September 23, Stevo Pendarovski, President of the Republic of North Macedonia pressed the UN body for help with North Macedonia’s accession to the European Union. This is something they want and need, but they also face opposition from neighboring states and others for various human rights issues.
The EU is generally an organization that holds its member states to the highest of standards. The rules and regulations that are enacted in this select group underline that no one is above the law and that the same legal rights and standards from a president and prime minister to a common criminal must be adhered to. Much like the United States’ ideals of due process, there must be an emphasis that a criminal should be afforded the same rights, dignity and respect as anyone else. Justice is blind and that is how we assure equity. There is a debate currently in the U.S. between those who consider themselves progressives and those more to the right on matters of criminal justice, but most agree that even criminals – and I would simply keep this to white collar and non-violent offenders for the purposes of this article – deserve the chance to serve their time, take their punishment and eventually matriculate back into society. It is indeed these rules and regulations that set the EU apart from other parts of their neighboring world. That is why North Macedonia, perhaps at the moment, under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s and President Pendarovski’s administrations are not yet ready to join the EU.
The more I read, the more I have seen that since the Zaev government took control there has been a governmental led “purging” of entities who were close to the previous government. Even now, the former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski fled North Macedonia not to escape a prison sentence, he claims, but to escape his would be assassination attempt while in prison. He believes the government fabricated evidence and encouraged prosecutors to persecute anyone who was a significant part of or even friendly with the past administration. Let’s be frank, even for those who proposed to “Lock Her (Hillary Clinton) UP” or even to prosecute former President Trump, prison would be the expected punishment.
There is a political prisoner named Jordan Kamchev. He is reported to be the richest man in Macedonia, and was under a “pre-investigation” in a case dubbed “Empire” that was led by the Special Prosecutor Office. Katica Janeva, a private lawyer was appointed by the Zaev government to lead the effort and initiated the investigation into Kamchev. During the investigation, recordings that Kamchev made revealed that Janeva and her acquaintance, a reality tv star Boki-13, were attempting to extort large sums of money from Kamchev. Due to Kamchev’s testimony, a court convicted Janeva for improper use of her office, extortion, and corruption. Her collaborator Boki-13 was also sentenced to prison.
Not long after, Kamchev was again indicted, but time for a allegedly associating with known criminals from who he purchased land at an artificially low price. Kamchev took ownership of land through one of his offshore companies (coincidentally, Pandora’s Papers revealed this week that many of the world’s richest people have been doing this).
Instead of being detained in a prison for non-violent offenders while awaiting trial, he was sent to the Shutka Prison, a notoriously awful facility that is run by one of Zaev’s associates who managed a nightclub prior to his appointment. It is a place where Zaev allegedly uses for his personal vendettas.
This facility would not work well in an an EU member state, and, in fact, has been under EU scrutiny for some time. Kamchev, as a detainee awaiting trial, not even a convicted criminal, alleges that his human rights are being violated. Prisoners and detainees have been humiliated, denied medical treatment, insufficient food, water, and some report news of torture, such as the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe.
The conditions in Shutka, even without the suggestion that Zaev uses it to punish his rivals, are far from being in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, without exception or derogation. If it makes a difference to some, detainees there are considered as if they were already convicted and sentenced.
The accusations and conditions of detainment and imprisonment are not the standards of EU member states. A government that “detains” innocent people as political prisoners is not ready to join the EU.
There are certain responsibilities, traditions, and norms that governments are expected to abide by. It is a privilege that few countries can claim to be a true Western Democracy. And the EU holds the highest of standards for a country to be part of it. If they indeed do detain political rivals in
inhumane detention centers, it should immediately disqualify North Macedonia from admission to the EU.
Zaev and his government must have a justice system that adhere to the rules and regulations of the EU. Only once these stipulations have been met can North Macedonia be considered a member of the EU.