A coalition of human rights organizations and those supporting people with disabilities have written to the Commissioner of Human Rights at the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatovic, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations Michelle Bachelet to bring to their attention to “repetitive discriminatory language towards people with disabilities, used by Albanian politicians, including Prime Minister Edi Rama.
“Insulting and discriminatory language with disability diagnoses for political reasons towards their political opponents and opposition supporters has become a matter of high concern in recent years and especially in the last weeks of the electoral campaign preceding the Albanian parliamentary elections that will be held on the 25th of April 2021,” they write.
They named members of parliament including Myslim Murrizi, Alket Hyseni, and Prime Minister Edi Rama for using derogatory terms like “downs”, “autistic”, “blind”, “deaf”, and “mute”. Also for imitating opposition political Edi Paloka who has a speech sound disorder.
Also mentioned was Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj who posted an electoral video that made fun of Alzheimer’s disease to the detriment of opposition political Sali Berisha. He said he was “too old to be a candidate” and the organizations say that his comments were discriminatory towards age and disability. Veliaj did not apologize or remove the video.
The organzations said they have complained publicly and to the Commissioner for Protection Against Discrimination in Albania, but no one has been punished in any way for the incidents. They called on Mijatovic and Bachelet to hold the politicians responsible and stop discriminatory behavior.
“We are afraid that this language is causing hate speech, enforces stereotypes and is bringing our awareness and advocacy efforts backward in a country that has ratified the UN CRPD and has signed the European Convention on Human Rights,” they said.
In the letter, they also noted that people with disabilities in Albania have had”zero financial or in-kind support by the government”, despite being one of the most vulnerable groups. They added that only 7000 people out of 73,000 with disabilities get government assistance.
Despite requests to the government to include people with Down Syndrome in priority vaccination, as they are at a greater risk of COVID-19, their requests have so far been ignored.
“We kindly ask for your public reaction and positioning towards these matters and help us stop further hate and discriminatory language and actions as well as being neglected and left behind in pandemic and election times.”
Signatory organizations include the Down Syndrom Albania Foundation, the Albanian National Association of the Deaf, Help the Life Association, MEDPAK, Together Foundation, and the Albanian Disability Rights Foundation.