From: Patris Pustina
Albania’s Year as Chair of OSCE Overshadowed by Deterioration of Human Rights

Albania’s year as chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been plagued by a dragged-out justice reform, slow progress on electoral reform, and repeated attacks on freedom of speech and of the press.

A report drafted by a number of civil organizations, including the Albanian Helsinki Committee, Civil Rights Defenders, BIRN Albania, the Institute for Political Studies (IPS), the Center for Legal Civic Initiatives (CLCI), and the Tirana Legal Aid Society (TLAS) came to these conclusions after evaluating the performance of the Albanian government on human rights.

Due to the “political climate in the country,” the application of justice reform remains challenging. Its principal pillar, the vetting process, though a significant blow to the “impunity” of judges and prosecutors, has led to a drain in human resources within the judicial system. With the dismissals and resignations brought forth by this process, workload , and, consequently, backlogged files, have seen an increase.

Additionally, the new institutions created by the justice reform remain incomplete or non-functional. Albania has not had a functioning Constitutional Court since 2018. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBH), created to combat corruption and organized crime, has yet to be completed. The Supreme Court, the country’s highest justice institution, cannot fully exert its functions as it is currently equipped with only 3 out of 17 judges.

The fight against corruption and impunity remains a challenge for Albania. A lack of competition in public procurements looms large, and translates into significant economic damage. Prosecution of corruption is concentrated on low- and mid-level officials, whereas the so-called ‘big fish’ that have been prosecuted can be counted on one hand. Though a special law protecting whistleblowers was passed in 2016, in practice, reporting remains low.

During its year as head of the OSCE, Albania did not take the opportunity to carry out a complete electoral reform that would meet all of OSCE/ODIHR’s recommendations.

Electoral reform processes were accompanied by tension, mistrust, and political contestation, and they were not realized in a transparent manner and did not involve due public consultation.

Freedom of press in 2020 has been under constant attack: physical and verbal attack against journalists and online media, police prosecution for ‘inciting panic’, shut-downs of websites and online media, governmental attempts to control and contain online media, and falling ad revenue brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state of emergency declared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the derogation of a number of articles of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that guarantee freedom of movement, freedom of gathering, the right to privacy, the right to private property and the right to education.

Despite legal obligations and an increased need for information, restrictive measures and the transferal of institutional activity to online operation had a negative impact on the right to be informed. Journalists and civil organizations have reported difficulties in obtaining official information and a decrease in transparency.

A considerable part of legal changes to the Criminal Code, Electoral Code, tax legislation, etc. took place without effective public consultation. Perhaps the most memorable example of this eschewing of public consultation was the demolition of the National Theater in May.