From: Arjan Balla
Government Violated Human Rights and Domestic Laws in Demolishing Building in Central Tirana

Last month, the Tirana Municipality demolished the four-storey glass building on Italy Square in Tirana, next to the “National Arena” stadium. The demolition was ordered and carried out in an urgent manner, in contravention of the law.  The demolition was done prior to compensation for expropriation, and before it was completely vacated by the businesses that had their offices in the building.

The series of legal violations followed during the demolition, including violations of human rights and dignity of company employees whose offices were within.

The flow of events

June 26: Prime Minister Edi Rama issues a Council of Ministers Decision (VKM) to expropriate the building “in the public interest” because it “is affected by the project for the requalification of the Italy Square.”

July 3: The General Directorate of Assets and Licensing in the Municipality of Tirana forwards the decision to the Territorial Protection Inspectorate (IMT) in the Municipality of Tirana.

July 4: IMT has not yet sent the building owners an order to vacate the premises. Hence, they have no official notice for the demolition of their building, and therefore they did not notify businesses operating in rental offices there.

July 12: IMT begins demolishing the building at 7:00 a.m., even though it has not been completely vacated. Aluflor Construction Group, an Albanian-American company that rented offices there had not taken out their equipment, furniture and documents. Moreover, none of the company’s employees had yet arrived at the office at the time of the demolition.

When employees of Alufor arrived and saw how the demolition was ongoing and their offices and documents were being destroyed, they peacefully asked the Municipality and State Police officers to allow them to save their belongings. The police refused. Their desperate pleas, becoming increasingly agitated, were met with repeated refusal by police officers and IMT employees.

July 13: Demolition is complete, including everything inside business offices – information systems and documentation.

Legal and Human Rights Violations

The building demolition was done in breach of the Law of Expropriations, which requires that private property be demolished only after the expropriation process is complete, meaning that the property has practically passed into state ownership, after which the state may tear it down.

In Article 16/4 of the law states that only “with after the fulfillment of mutual obligations, the procedure of expropriation of such private property shall be considered complete.” This means that the government must first fulfill its obligation to set the compensation value and pay the owners. Since this did not happen, the building demolition before the expropriation process was completed was illegal.

Legally speaking, the Municipality of Tirana illegally demolished a building that was still under private ownership.

The owners’ rights in relation to the expropriation procedure were violated with the demolition taking place in breach of procedures defined by the law.

The law requires that the expropriation notice be made public, then the owners be notified, and given enough time to familiarize themselves with the expropriation conditions, notify the authorities if they agree with such conditions or have claims against them, which should be considered by the authorities.

In any case, Article 16/4 of the Law on Expropriation stipulates that the expropriation cannot be carried out earlier than one month from the date of public announcement of the expropriation decision.

The decision on expropriation was taken on June 26, 2019, but published in the Official Journal on June 28.

According to the legal deadline, the expropriation could not have taken place before July 28, but the Municipality of Tirana demolished it within two weeks, on July 12, without completing the expropriation process.

In the meantime, the owners have not been given the opportunity to submit their claims regarding the expropriation conditions.

The worst abuse is the five-day deadline given by state authorities for vacating the premises. An absurd and impossible deadline for a business, with no prior knowledge, to find and rent new offices and move into them without affecting business performance and interests. The deadline has openly violated their entrepreneurial rights and their business interests.

But legal abuses do not end there. They were compounded by the arbitrary and abusive actions of public officials and employees during the demolition process.

Art.3 of the Law on Expropriations states that the expropriation of private property is realized “by guaranteeing the transparency, equality of citizens, protection of their interests and property rights”.

The Albanian-American company employees were banned from entering its offices to save documents and items in their property. The demolition of the building made it impossible for them to vacate the office and this caused the company serious damage to its business.

The IMT thus violated the law by failing to guarantee the company the protection of its interests and rights on the property it had rented.

The IMT operates on the basis of administrative orders requiring the implementation of various decisions, including the Council of Ministers’ Decisions (VKMs).

However, administrative orders and/or government decisions cannot be above international conventions ratified by the Albanian state, guaranteeing citizens property rights.

Art.1 of the European Convention of Human Rights obliges states that have signed it to protect people’s property and to give citizens the right to “peaceful enjoyment”.

In the case of this demolition, the building and land were expropriated, not furniture, office equipment, safes and archive of the company which used the space there as a tenant.

Prior to the action, city police officers forcefully prevented company employees from taking their belongings out of the office.

This action is considered forced eviction from property and is, according to the United Nations, a “human rights violation”.

The Municipality of Tirana has been working for two years on Italy Square to requalify it into a “square with an underground parking lot”, so nothing justifies its rush to demolish a building, let alone in violation of laws.