Torture and Human Rights Violations in Albanian Prisons

Yesterday, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (KShH) publicly denounced a case in which an inmate from the high security section of the prison in Peqin had been tortured and physically abused by the prison guards.

On September 30, during a control aimed at finding prohibited items, the prison guards had entered cell no. 12, asking the inmate V.G. whether he held any prohibited items. After responding negatively, V.G. alleged that he was beaten repeatedly with rubber batons by the guards.

According to the declaration of the KShH,

After physical examination of the inmate, the medico-legal expert that is part of the KShH group found four ecchymoses [bruises] on the back and one on the right leg above the knee with a length of about 5–15 cm, as well as a hematoma on the belly, left, with a length of about 10 cm, with a blue-purple and emphatically deep-red color. The above wounds were clearly apparent and recent.

But this is far from the only case.

On October 3, the KShH published a shocking report related to the implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, of which Albania is one of the signatories. The report is highly critical of the legal standards in Albania as regards the investigation and punishment of torture, as in the above case.

The report notices several discrepancies between the Albanian Penal Code and international jurisprudence on what comprises torture. Whereas the Albanian Penal Code only recognizes as torture as violence exerted by an official, it doesn’t cover torture exerted by regular citizens, even though several cases of torture in the criminal milieu have been reported over the last years. Moreover, the Penal Code’s article on Torture also includes dehumanizing and degrading treatment, which are, however, never enforced by the judiciary. The KShH concludes that “the internal laws are not compatible and no not secure an adequate protection that respects the highest standards” set by the Constitution and the International Convention on Human Rights.

Even cases brought to the General Prosecution as torture (under Art. 86 of the Penal Code) were “dubiously” reframed as lesser crimes such as “committing arbitrary acts” and “abuse of office,” which have no relation to the crime of torture. Moreover, the KShH notes an absence of knowledge and information about the international definition of torture with the prosecution and courts.

The Prosecution has shown an undervaluation of this criminal act [torture]. In no case did this organ do the investigations, delegating the investigative work to officers of the Court Police and not always did the latter implement the order of the prosecution.

Furthermore, investigations are often not completed or rushed, evidence is not gathered, and medical experts are not called in to inspect wounds. “In general,” the KShH concludes, “no reasonable attempt has been made to verify and investigate with objectivity the claims of the wounded.”

The practices implemented by the organs of justice does not correspond to the need to strike and prevent […] under conditions in which it is evident that this phenomenon [torture] is widespread, especially in environments where persons with a limited freedom are treated [such as prisons].

Except for the frequency of torture used in Albanian prison, the report also lists overpopulation, lack of respect for human dignity, privacy, hygiene, and fresh air, lack of toilet paper, lack of water, etc. In short, the report of the Helsinki Committee shows the miserable circumstances and degrading conditions under which Albanian inmates have to spend their sentence, while the justice system is unable to guarantee them even one of the most basic human rights, the proper protection of the well-being from maltreatment and torture by the guards.