A Victory for our member HOPS from North Macedonia – European Court of Human Rights rules against the state of North Macedonia – Awards Compensation to Four Sex Workers for Police Brutality
After a legal battle lasting almost 15 years, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has ruled in favour of sex workers in a dispute against the state of Macedonia, after they were subjected to arrest degrading and inhumane treatment at the hands of police in 2008.
In Skopje, in November 2008, in an attempted crackdown on street-based sex work, the Ministry of the Interior, detained 23 sex workers who were found at the Vardar River overnight at the Bit Pazar police station.
Those arrested were kept in a small room, without access to food, water and toilet and without being informed of the reasons for their arrest. During this time, the sex workers were verbally abused by police officers and subjected to humiliation and ridicule, whilst some also experienced withdrawal symptoms from drug use, including diarrhoea and vomiting. The following day, all were taken to the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions, where they were forcibly tested for blood and sexually transmitted diseases, before being released. During the whole event, they were photographed and filmed by the police and media, and the images were published online.
With the support of our members the HOPS (Healthy Options Project) Association, just a few months after their arrest, 13 sex workers were able to file a lawsuit for the protection of their human rights before the Civil Court of Skopje, which on two counts declared a violation of rights and ordered the Ministry of the Interior and the Criminal Court of Skopje to compensate the claimants for their injuries. After the Court of Appeal finally overturned the verdict, four of the victims continued their fight before the European Court of Human Rights, and were awarded €13,300 in total in compensation for serious violations of their human rights and their right to privacy.
Beyond this specific case, the verdict brings attention to the broader issue of police violence – systemic discrimination, stigma, and abuse by police is, unfortunately, an omnipresent reality in much of the research SWAN has conducted – and this fact is as true now as it was 15 years ago. The Strasbourg Court’s decision serves as a call for increased scrutiny and reform in policing practices across CEECA nations, urging authorities to address the pervasive violence and harassment experienced by sex workers.
We extend our congratulations to these sex workers, and to HOPS, for their strength and persistence.