CRC ELECTIONS: Dragi Zmijanac (Macedonia)

Dragi Zmijanac, 50, from Macedonia, is the co-founder and Executive Director of First Children's Embassy in the World – Megjashi. He has worked in children's rights for 18 years and has written extensively on the subject.

Click here to read Dragi's full CV.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience in children's rights?
It all started in 1992 during the Bosnia conflict when I worked with others to open shelters for refugee children. We set up the first children's helpline in Macedonia in 1993 to deal with many kind of problems, such as sexual abuse and drug use.

I co-founded the First Children's Embassy in the World – Megjashi – a children's rights advocacy organisation which monitors the State's fulfilment of children's rights. We have worked with refugee children from Kosovo as well as children who were internally displaced by the domestic conflict here in Macedonia in 2001. During this conflict the First Children's Embassy in the World established Shelter for Internally Displaced Persons and we took care of them until September 2006.

I participated in the preparation of two alternative reports by the Macedonian National Coalition of CRC and trained children to submit their own report in February this year. During the 54th Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in May, the Committee commented that they were surprised and impressed by how honest children were encouraged to be about their State's fulfilment of children's rights.

Which issue in children's rights do you think needs more attention?
We recently launched a public awareness raising campaign for responsible parenthood in Macedonia: I think this is a hugely important issue. If parents spend time with their children and encourage them to talk about problems they might be having at school and other issues, children would feel they had somewhere safe to go and talk about violations of their rights.

What would you say is the best achievement of your career?
We have broken the silence about children who suffer violence in my country. We have pressed State institutions to protect children rights in practice. We have lobbied the Ministry of Justice to increase the penalties for incest and paedophilia. We are recognised by citizens of Macedonia as advocates who make no compromises when it comes to protecting children's rights

Why do you want to serve on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child?
I believe all governments should be held to account for how they are fulfilling children's rights. I have a lot of experience of working with NGOs and have supported children to submit an alternative report to the UN Committee so I think I can help to boost children's participation in the reporting process.

What do you think you can contribute to the Committee's work?
I have 18 years of experience in children's rights and I know the regional situation very well. I am also very well connected to NGOs, having participated in national, regional and international networks of NGOs, spanning from Macedonia without Discrimination, Civil Platform of Macedonia and Coalition All for Fair Trial to Child Helpline International, the European Federation for Street Children, Global Campaign for Education, EUROCHILD, Global March Against Child Labour and Human Rights House.

In addition, I am an independent candidate; not having worked for the government, I am not afraid to speak out about what States should be doing to fulfil children's rights.

What is your vision for the Committee?
I think the Committee could work more closely with local NGOs and children's ombudspersons to make sure its recommendations are followed up by the State. I think the Committee should urge States which have not yet done so to establish children's ombudspersons.

If you were not working in children's rights, what would you be doing?
Everything I want to do is connected to children's rights. There are other things I do to survive the difficulties this role brings: I practise yoga four times a week, love to cycle and listen to music, for example; but I am in the job that I love.

Sum up children's rights in one word
I will use a few! I would say: giving children the encouragement to speak out about violence.


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