At a time when the whole world is facing a pandemic of COVID-19, the need for legal aid to citizens, and especially to those from vulnerable and marginalized communities, is more emphasized than ever. The restrictive measures taken by the Government affect all citizens, but especially the poor and vulnerable groups. The Foundation Open Society – Macedonia (FOSM) continues its efforts to provide access to justice to all citizens and is in daily communication and coordination with its grantees and partners who provide free legal and paralegal assistance, and in case of emergency find alternative ways to provide their services and offer them to the citizens.
Following the Government’s recommendations, a number of associations temporarily closed their offices and started working from home, while remaining committed to ensuring equal access to justice for all citizens. Lawyers and paralegals are available to citizens through online tools found on their websites as well as through social media. Another way to request assistance and counselling is by phone.
Educating and informing the citizens remains one of the main forms of legal strengthening of the citizens, especially in a period when the country is in a state of emergency and the Government brings Decrees with legal force, that are often unclear to the citizens. Using the technology and availability of social networks, the associations inform the citizens about the measures announced by the Government, the Ministry of Health and other relevant institutions. Also, online information brochures prepared by the associations are available, in order to timely inform the citizens about the symptoms of COVID-19, but also about the protection measures.
FOSM supports 14 associations that provide free legal and paralegal assistance. The Legal Clinic for Vulnerable Groups at the Faculty of Law Iustinianus Primus in Skopje is active during this crisis and available to citizens for urgent legal problems. FOSM also implements the project “Access to Justice for the Most Marginalized” funded by the European Union. Free legal and paralegal assistance is provided to poor citizens, Roma, sex workers, drug users, and victims of domestic violence, textile workers, and other marginalized groups.
Online access to information and legal advice
Through the website www.pravnozajakni.mk , the citizens have access to information and legal advice, educational materials and other resources related to legal strengthening, as well as information on prevention and protection from COVID-19. Also, on the Facebook page Access to Justice, information and materials are available, as well as the possibility for citizens to request legal advice and information online.
Legal information about vulnerable groups
The Legal Clinic of the Faculty of Law Iustinianus Primus – Skopje provides legal information to citizens on questions posed through their Facebook fan page https://www.facebook.com/pravnaklinikazaranlivigrupi/ as well as via e-mail, providing continuity in their support and assistance to citizens for urgent legal problems.
E-learning platform for legal empowerment for young lawyers and students
Macedonian Association of Young Lawyers through the developed E-learning platform for legal reinforcement in the field of human rights provides continuity in education for young lawyers and law students. The platform includes publications, trainings and courses that young lawyers and law students can consult.
Support for victims of domestic violence
In the state of crisis in which public health is, the need for legal assistance to victims of domestic violence is especially visible. EHO-Educational-Humanitarian Organization – Štip provides continuous free legal aid and support to the victims of domestic violence by phone and if necessary in the offices.
Psychological support for sex workers
HOPS – Options for healthy life Skopje provides psychological assistance to sex workers.
Alternative operation of HOPS’s DROP IN centers for harm reduction
Associations that work with particularly vulnerable citizens, who live on the margins of society and do not have access to the Internet, use alternative ways of communication that allow them to be available to citizens who have urgent problems. Although DROP IN harm reduction centers are closed, they are still available to users because each service has a unique phone number and contact person that meets the needs of customers.
—————————————————3 April 2020