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In October, a complaint was lodged to the Ombudsman against the Ministry of Interior over a discrimination and harassment case based on gender identity that involves border police officers. It’s a matter of two Turkish transwomen who had been harassed by the border police upon landing at the Skopje airport. The two transwomen had already started the transition and have the appearance of typical women, however, the letter “M” in the passport sex column stands due to the inadequate legislative framework in Turkey, which renders the legal recognition of the gender more difficult. At the Skopje airport, first, they were questioned about their stay and reasons for visiting Macedonia, while afterwards the police officers called their colleagues without reason, looked in their passports, stared and laughed at the women. One police officer went insofar to tell one of the transwomen that he had visited Istanbul and had seen “people like her”.

Following the reception of the complaint, the Ombudsman issued a notification stating that he had submitted a request to the Border Affairs Department containing an indication in which he specified the findings from the complaint and pointed out to the need of most urgent proper conduct training for all border police officers. The Ombudsman had also recommended taking measures for familiarizing all officers with the corresponding domestic and international practice related to prevention of any type of discrimination. In addition, the notification states that the Ministry of Interior responded to the complaint by informing the Ombudsman that the travel documents had been checked regularly and that the transwomen had been treated with politeness, and additional verification by another officer was required since there was no match in the appearance.

Pursuant to the notification, the Ombudsman didn’t establish that the non-discrimination principles had been violated and that gender-based harassment had taken place and he only points out to the need of proper conduct training for “this type of persons” and recommends taking measures for familiarizing the officers with the discrimination legislation. The Ombudsman doesn’t take heed of the findings that the transwomen had been subjected to ridicule and offensive comments by some officers and that it wasn’t just a case of verification by a superior, as stated by the MoI. With their conduct, unsolicited comments, forced waiting, calling other colleagues and ridiculing, the airport police officers had created an unfriendly and humiliating atmosphere, rendered their access more difficult and humiliated the transwomen. By calling other colleagues to look at the transwomen and their passports, they violated the right of privacy and exposed them to unnecessary ridicule which resulted in humiliation.

The Network for Protection from Discrimination deems that Ombudsman’s adequate actions, as well as the establishment of discrimination and harassment, are of utmost importance in such cases, rather than just trusting the police officers’ statements. The Ombudsman doesn’t trust the victims’ statements and his notification on stopping the procedure only forwards MoI’s responses without any explanation. Past practice shows that indications to the needs of taking measures are not the right mechanism for tackling discrimination and harassment and inappropriate conduct of the police, while the Ombudsman doesn’t monitor whether the recommended measures are undertaken in practice. The number of reports on inappropriate conduct on the part of the police is on the rise, while equality bodies’ failure to condemn and Internal Control Department’s and prosecution’s failure to punish the officers encourage this type of conduct and increase the distrust in the protection mechanisms.




23 January 2019