Since last week, the government has started to demolish the houses of families in Shkoza built close to the Lana, in order to make way for a project to broaden the riverbed and road along it. 153 houses are expected to be demolished in total.
The inhabitants are accusing the government for violating their rights, while the government seems to be determined to implement the project until the end, claiming to work in the interest of the public.
The government has decided to systematize the Lana riverbed in the eastern part of Tirana, approximately from the Koço Glozheni maternity ward up to Shkoza, and to reconstruct to road that runs parallel to it.
The initial project of the government envisioned that in the Shkoza area, the Lana would be led through an underground tunnel for several hundred meters, with the road planned above it.
All of a sudden, however, the government changed its plans and the current project envisions changing the extant riverbed in Shkoza and broadening the road next to it. This change of plans has necessitated the destruction of about 150 private building housing around 250–300 families.
The buildings that are being destroyed have been built from 1960 onward, and part of them have regular building permit issued before 1991. A large part of the buildings, however, does not have property certificates. Part of the owners have applied for legalization, but the process has been interrupted.
On September 14, the inhabitants were informed by inspectors from the construction police to immediately vacate their houses, promising them a future compensation for the expropriation, as well as paying the rent of temporary housing offered by the Municipality of Tirana until they find a new habitation.
The inhabitants immediately began their protests against this decision, turning to the EU and US Embassies in Tirana. Last Tuesday the demolitions and forced expropriations started.
Violations of the law
The expropriation of the inhabitants violates a number of civil rights and laws.
a) First, the Constitutional rights of the citizens were violated. The right to property is a Constitutional right sanctioned by art. 42:
The right to property is guaranteed.
Expropriations or those limitations of the right to property that are equal to expropriation are only allowed in return for a rightful compensation.
The Constitution allows expropriation only after the owners have been paid a rightful compensation. In this particular case, the owners were promised a future compensation, without any further specification and, moreover, without any formal decision about this compensation.
The right to property has also been sanctioned by the European Convention on Human Rights, in art. 8:
Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
A series of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has made clear that the rights to respect for a home includes illegally built houses or houses lacking property documents.
Only during 2016 there have been two confirmed cases in which this position of the ECtHR has been consolidated: Ivanova and Cherkezov v. Bulgaria and Bagdonavicius and others v. Russia.
b) Second, the government’s action has violated a number of laws, including the law on public consultation.
Even though the houses in Shkoza are being demolished, there is no government decision about their expropriation and demolition. The orders were given orally, even after several deputies promised the inhabitants that their requests would be reviewed and there would be a government decision, while Prime Minister Edi Rama ordered the demolition through his Facebook page.
The construction project itself of the redirection of the Lana and the expansion of the road has been approved in complete absence of any transparency. The exact details of the project remain unknown to the public, and no study, document, or drawing has been made available. It also is unknown why the initial project of the tunnel was later replaced with the option that would demolish more than 150 homes.
As in many other cases, the government has violated the Aarhus Convention which guaranteed citizens’ access to information related to the environment and participation in all decisions that are related to the environment. According to this Convention, which the government has signed, it should have made all the information concerning the construction project public and organized public consultations with the citizens.
c) Finally, the government has crucially violated one of the five conditions for the opening of EU accession negotiations, namely the implementation of human rights, including property rights.