The US State Department has published its annual report on human rights practices in Albania during 2019.
This years report has levied scathing criticism on authorities in almost every area from corruption, impunity, freedom of expression to minority rights, children’s right’, equal rights, and the rights of refugees. Corruption has been found to be widespread and present in every part of government and laws that are in place to protect citizens are often not enforced.
Little progress had been made from last years report and in many areas, things had either remained the same or deteriorated.
The US State Department said that impunity remained a serious problem despite efforts to address it. The prosecution and conviction of officials engaged in corruption were “sporadic and inconsistent” and politicians, judges, officials, and persons with powerful business interests were often able to avoid prosecution.
The report found that the government had failed to enforce criminal penalties for corruption by political officials, as well as stopping mayors, parliamentarians and government and state officials with criminal records from assuming their positions. It added that “officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity” and that corruption was pervasive in all branches of government.
Prosecutors may have made progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, mainly other prosecutors and judges, it was found that they didn’t pursue higher-level crimes. This is due to judicial corruption and fear.
In terms of media freedom, 2019 saw threats, violence, and indirect political and economic pressure against journalists who tried to report on crime and corruption. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent media and many journalists practised self-censorship. A total number of 14 cases of violence and harassment against members of the media were reported to the AJU, although the real number is much higher.
The country’s criminal defamation laws were also noted in the report and were called “excessive” and it was noted they “undermined freedom of expression”. Politicians and judges initiated more than 16 criminal lawsuits against journalists for defamation in the first four months of the year alone.
One of the most damning paragraphs in the report states that “Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently.” The report added that the politicisation of past appointments to the Supreme and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of the institutions.
It was also noted that courts were “susceptible to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tampering”, as well as a “lack of transparency and professionalism”. The State Department also noted that the government often ignored the European Court of Human Rights rulings, especially ones relating to a free trial.
The 30 June elections where “several opposition parties boycotted the elections, claiming concern about government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud” were plagued by allegations of pressure by both sides.
Media portals reported that public resources were abused by political parties and that they placed undue influence on the media. The right to vote by disabled people was also limited.
Sadly, Albania did not get a good review in terms of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This section of the report detailed how police and prison guards allegedly beat and abused prisoners in police stations.
It also highlighted the results of a recent report from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture that found a significant number of allegations of mistreatment of criminal suspects, including instances of using excessive force to obtain a confession, information, or as a punishment. Alleged mistreatment included excessively tight handcuffing, slaps, punches, kicks, blows, and being struck with hard objects.
Some 1211 complaints against police,mainly for arbitrary action, abuse of office, or violations of procedures, were lodged through August 2019 when compared with 1978 in the entirety of 2018. Just 116 received disciplinary proceedings and just two were referred to the prosecution.
It was found that police didn’t often enforce the law fairly, basing decisions on personal, political, and criminal associations. Poor leadership also contributed to corruption and unprofessional behaviour.
The excessive use of teargas by the police on opposition protests and forced evictions at the New Ring Road were also mentioned, as was a number of arrests that were carried out using “excessive force”. According to the report, the State Police refused to review their procedures for using tear gas and stated that their use of teargas was warranted. The report also said that impunity for police misconduct was a problem in Albania.
Prisons and Detention Centres
In terms of prison and detention centre conditions, a lack of medical care was noted- something that allegedly led to the death of an inmate in Fier. Overcrowding, corruption, substandard conditions and a lack of care for mental health issues were noted across the country. It was also noted that authorities held mentally ill patients in regular prisons instead of specialist facilities.
Within police stations, even in big cities, they were found to be cramped, unheated, and lacking in basic hygienic amenities.
Corruption of officials working within the prison and detention system continued to be a serious problem with a number of investigations, arrests, disciplinary procedures, and terminations of contracts.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Refugees and asylum seekers are often detained in unsuitable conditions and a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept asylum requests were noted.
There were credible reports from NGOs, migrants, and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process procedures for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the social care and other services due to limited issuance of identification cards. There were also reports of Albanian border police pushing migrants back into Greece.
The State Department found that the Albanian government had failed to adequately enforce the law on spousal rape and that authorities often did not consider it a crime. They also failed to protect women from sexual harassment, rarely enforcing the applicable laws.
In terms of discrimination, the government did not enforce laws to ensure equality between men and women. In many communities, women are not paid equally and are expected to be subordinate to men. They were also discriminated against in the workplace including termination of work due to maternity leave, imposing gender and age limits on certain jobs and requesting photos with a job application.
A high number of incidents of domestic violence against women were observed with 52.9% of Albanian women being subjected to it at least once during their lifetime.
Members of the Roma community were consistently discriminated against in health, administration, politics, housing, employment education, and society as a whole. There were instances of schools refusing to accept Roma or Balkan-Egyptian students and if they did accept them, they were segregated from other students. Many also had difficulties in accessing water and sewage facilities, coming up against refusals from the Municipalities.
While discrimination based on LGBTIQ rights is illegal in Albania, enforcement of the law is weak. Several cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity were reported. It was also noted that public officials sometimes made homophobic statements in public. As of September 2019, 46 cases of violence had been reported against LGBTIQ individuals and they documented 421 cases in total.
Multiple instances of child labour were found throughout the informal sector including children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastics, agricultural work, selling small goods, serving food and drinks, working the clothing industry and mining. A number were also forced into begging and criminal activity, starting as young as four or five. The authorities generally failed to enforce the law in a number of cases, inspections only happened after complaints were made, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Overall, working conditions, salaries and workers rights were not protected and laws were not enforced by the authorities. Paid annual holidays, legally mandated rest periods, overtime, maximum working hours, and health and safety regulations are largely ignored and workers are often unable to do anything about it without jeopardizing their employment.