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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Albania

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Albania, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa321c.html [accessed 18 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
ALBANIA

 

Albania is a parliamentary republic ruled by a democratically elected government. Pending a new constitution, the Law on Major Constitutional Provisions, which includes a Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, serves in its place. The Democratic Party won a comfortable majority in free and fair parliamentary elections in 1992. President Sali Berisha, elected by Parliament in 1992, continued his 5-year term. The law provides for separation of powers and an independent judiciary. However, the judicial branch, lacking in resources and experience, was subject to strong executive and parliamentary pressure.

Local police detachments reporting to the Ministry of the Interior are principally responsible for internal security. Police effectiveness in combating violent crime increased but instances of police abuse continued. The National Intelligence Service (SHIK) has both external and domestic intelligence gathering and counterintelligence functions. There are continuing allegations that SHIK exceeded its mandate, largely through harassment of opposition politicians and journalists. There are credible reports that SHIK agents have taken part in the detention and investigation of some journalists and other arrestees, usually in conjunction with the criminal police. Some members of the security services committed serious human rights abuses.

Albania is a poor country with a largely agricultural economy. Some mining and light industry (clothes, shoes) also exist. Remittances from Albanians working abroad and, to a lesser extent, fuel smuggling in contravention of economic sanctions against Serbia-Montenegro, provided the principal source of foreign exchange. Foreign aid was also an important source of national income. The economy, in transition from a centrally planned to a market- oriented system, continued to improve as gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6 percent. Per capita GDP grew to $650. The Government made a major effort to privatize medium and large enterprises through a mass privatization program using vouchers to involve the public as much as possible in the transfer of ownership. Inflation dropped to under 5 percent, and unemployment was officially estimated at 18.6 percent, although observers suspect it is considerably higher.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but serious problems remain. Principal abuses include security force beatings of citizens, prolonged pretrial detention, poor prison conditions, occasional restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, limitations on freedom of assembly and association, and discrimination and violence against women. The judiciary is subject to political pressure. The September removal of the Chief Justice of the Cassation Court appeared to be unconstitutional and politically motivated. Also in September the Government adopted a comprehensive lustration law that bars a broad range of Communist-era officials from public office until 2002.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

The 1994 deaths in police custody of Enrik Islami and Irfan Nano were investigated by the authorities. In the Islami case, charges have been brought against six prison guards. A criminal case continues against the two police officers accused in Nano's death.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Penal Code prohibits the use of physical or psychological force during criminal proceedings and provides for penalties for those found guilty of abuse. However, members of the security forces continued to beat detainees. The Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) and Amnesty International (AI) have received reports of police mistreatment of citizens. Some cases were reported by AI to be politically motivated and directed against Socialist Party activists. AI reported that Afrim Sula, a leader of the Youth Forum of Eurosocialists of Albania, was detained and beaten by police on January 15 on his way home from an authorized meeting of the Socialist Party in Tirana. Sula was reportedly beaten again on April 14, along with three other Socialist Party members, after meeting in a private cafe.

Other incidents appeared to be random mistreatment of ordinary citizens and are described in numerous press accounts. On two occasions foreign diplomats were chance witnesses to the mistreatmentÚÚby punching, slapping, and kickingÚÚof persons by security forces. The Interior Ministry reported that it investigated cases of police abuse where complaints were lodged. However, it was unable to provide detailed or up-to-date information on several specific cases. Therefore it is difficult to assess the seriousness with which police officials pursue cases of mistreatment.

Prison conditions do not meet internationally accepted minimum standards. Of particular concern are the incarceration of juvenile suspects and convicts under the age of 18 with older inmates and the resulting allegations of sexual abuse of minors by older prisoners. Those sentenced for minor crimes are often imprisoned together with violent offenders. There are no statutes which define the rights or obligations of prisoners, nor are there rules governing prisoners' behavior. The AHC, which monitors prison conditions and reports on them to its parent organization, also noted that hygienic conditions in the prisons are extremely poor, and prisoners often experience difficulties receiving visitors, mail, and newspapers. The AHC deemed health and sanitary conditions potentially life threatening at certain prisons, including a pretrial detention center, and asked that they be shut down if conditions were not improved.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

New penal and penal procedures codes entered into force in 1995. The new Penal Procedures Code mandates improved rights for detained and arrested persons. According to the new code, a police officer or prosecutor may order a suspect into custody. Detained persons must be immediately informed of the charges against them and their rights, and, if detained by the police, a prosecutor must be notified immediately. Within 48 hours from the time of arrest or detention a court must decide, in the presence of the prosecutor, the suspect, and the suspect's lawyer, the security measures to be taken. Legal counsel must be provided free of charge if the defendant is unable to afford a private attorney.

Bail, in the form of money or property, may be required if it is believed the accused may not appear for the court hearing. House arrest may also be used. If the court fears that the accused may leave Albania prior to trial or is a danger to society, it may order pretrial confinement.

The new Penal Procedures Code requires that pretrial investigations be completed within 3 months. However, the prosecutor may extend the investigatory period by 3-month intervals in especially difficult cases. The accused and the injured party have the right to appeal these extensions to the district court.

Detainees in criminal cases are often denied contact with their families during the investigative phase. AHC protested the case of Ms. Teuta Ceken, the mother of two children, arrested for embezzlement and held in pretrial detention for 14 months. In this case, the General Prosecutor reportedly approved repeated extensions of the 3-month investigative phase. According to the Minister of Justice, Ceken was finally transferred to house arrest in March while a protracted investigation, involving several other defendants, continued. Another individual was detained for 19 months before charges were filed in August.

The Government does not employ exile as a form of punishment or political control.

e. Denial of a Fair Public Trial

The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is hampered by political pressures, insufficient resources, inexperience, patronage, and corruption. Albania introduced new civil, penal, penal procedures, and labor codes during the year.

The judicial system comprises the courts of first instance (also known as district courts), the Court of Appeals, and the Court of Cassation. Each of these courts is divided into three jurisdictions: criminal, civil, and military. The Court of Cassation (also known as the high court or Supreme Court) hears appeals from the Court of Appeals, while the Constitutional Court reviews those cases requiring interpretation of constitutional legislation or acts.

Parliament has the authority to appoint and dismiss judges of the Constitutional Court (9 members) and the Cassation Court (currently 10 members). These judges may be dismissed only for mental incompetence or conviction for a serious crime. Constitutional Court justices serve 12-year terms, while Cassation Court judges are elected for a renewable term of 7 years. The Supreme Judicial Council, which is headed by the President of the Republic, appoints and dismisses all other judges. According to its internal statute, the Supreme Judicial Council has broad powers to fire, demote, transfer, and otherwise discipline district and appeals court judges for incompetence, commission of a serious crime, or questionable morality. This assumption of broad authority by the Supreme Judicial Council subjects the courts to direct control by the executive branch. Judges were not always notified in advance of disciplinary proceedings against them and often not given the opportunity to present facts in their defense.

Prosecutors are also appointed by the Parliament on the recommendation of the President of the Republic and serve at the pleasure of the Supreme Judicial Council. Many judges and prosecutors who held ranking positions during the previous regime have been removed, and their replacements often lacked legal training and experience. A former member of the Council stated that judicial nominations were often motivated by purely political considerations with no regard to professional qualifications. AHC expressed concern that, of 40 persons nominated for judgeships by the Supreme Judicial Council in 1995, 16 were still in the process of obtaining their legal degrees by correspondence. Status as former political prisoners or descendants of politically persecuted families sometimes constituted an additional consideration in nominating judges. The majority of nominees had very little legal experience after obtaining their law degrees. As state employees, judges are poorly paid, and it is widely believed that corruption is prevalent in the courts.

The judicial branch came under significant pressure in 1995 from executive and parliamentary attempts to limit its authority. Under the Law on Major Constitutional Provisions, the Justice Ministry has responsibility for the budget and administration of the court system and sought to use this control to achieve its policy goals. In September the Justice Ministry fired three administrative employees of the Court of Cassation, reportedly for their roles in the previous Communist regime, and sent a contingent of police to surround the court and prevent the fired employees from entering.

Later that month, Parliament removed the Chief Justice of the Cassation Court, Zef Brozi, upon the President's request, even though he had not been convicted of a serious crime. In a February vote, also requested by the President, Parliament failed to remove Brozi. In the September vote, some members of Parliament who were recorded as having voted for Brozi's removal stated that they were not in the building at the time of the vote, raising the question of whether there was in fact a quorum when the vote was taken on the removal measure. Many Albanian and international observers charge that Brozi's actions did not provide legal grounds for removal and that the vote against Brozi was motivated by political reasons, including Brozi's attempt to reopen the Fatos Nano case. In a December report, the European Commission for Democracy Through Law of the Council of Europe, referring to the judiciary in general, stated that "it has been unable to satisfy itself that judges in Albania feel themselves free to arrive at their decisions without fear of negative consequences for their professional life."

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for the right to a fair and speedy trial. It also mandates public trials, except in cases where the interests of public order or morality, national security, the private life of the parties, or justice require restrictions. If convicted, the accused has the right to appeal the decision within 5 days to the Court of Appeals and again to the Court of Cassation, which renders the final verdict. The law does not specify any time period within which the Court of Appeals or the Court of Cassation must hear appeals.

The shortcomings of the judicial system are illustrated by the case of Fatos Nano, a former prime minister, current chairman of the Socialist Party, and a potential contender for the presidency. Nano's case was handled by inexperienced, poorly trained, and underfunded investigators, prosecutors, and judges in a highly charged political atmosphere.

Nano was arrested on July 30, 1993, and charged with abuse of power and falsification of official documents in connection with emergency humanitarian aid delivered by Italy in 1991. The case was based partially on the allegation that the Italian company which delivered the aid had shortchanged the Italian Government and its intended beneficiaries by charging more than was justified. It was not alleged that Nano benefited financially in this malfeasance. Nano was sentenced on April 3 to 12 years' imprisonment for embezzlement of state funds for a third party and for falsification of documents. On May 26, 1994, the Appeals Court confirmed this decision and on July 28 the Cassation Court upheld the decisions of the previous courts. Meanwhile, amnesties have reduced Nano's sentence to less than 5 years.

In a review of Nano's arrest and trial in late 1994, the Inter-Parliamentary Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union reported its serious doubts over the soundness of the judgment against Nano, citing both procedural and evidentiary shortcomings. The report called on the Government to review the case. The Council of Europe noted its concerns about the case during its July admission of Albania.

Both AI and AHC have called for Nano's release. Many observers believe that Nano was incarcerated because he was President Berisha's principal political opponent.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, and Correspondence

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for the inviolability of dwellings and the individual person, as well as the privacy of correspondence. There have been credible, widespread allegations by individuals and opposition parties of government-sanctioned tampering with correspondence and wiretapping.

The Government has considered plans to open the files of the Sigurimi (the former secret police of the Communist regime), and Parliament passed a law permitting the files to be made available to a governmental commission charged with investigating future candidates for elective and appointive office under the lustration law. Senior government officials have indicated that not all the files are intact, and some may have been tampered with in the final days of the Communist regime and during the chain of custody since then. The AHC is concerned that information from the files may have been used for political purposes and protested the lack of legislation on their disposition.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for freedom of speech and the press. In practice, however, the Government sometimes restricted freedom of speech, including the freedom to criticize the Government and its officials. Laws against slander, insult, incitement to national hatred, and distribution of anticonstitutional literature were used to prosecute persons, including journalists, for criticizing officials.

A 1993 press law sets out large fines for publishing material that the Government considers secret or sensitive, permits confiscation of printed matter or property by judicial order, and allows for criminal punishment under certain circumstances. The media and AHC continue to denounce the press law as being too imprecise and too harsh for a country with poorly developed legal institutions.

In an interview, Ilir Hoxha, son of the former dictator, referred to demonstrators who toppled his father's statue in Tirana as "organized bands of vandals." He further characterized as "thieves and cowards" those who dug up the grave of his father in the heroes' cemetery. He refers by name to the "blind tools" who condemned his mother, Enver Hoxha's wife Nexhmije, including current democratic leaders. He added that "...the day will come when they will be asked to account for their conduct because we demand this.... This is not for revenge, but to put justice in its place." For these statements, he was sentenced to 7 months' imprisonment.

Opposition parties, independent trade unions, and various societies and groups publish their own newspapers. Some 250 newspapers and magazines appear on a regular basis. Three newspapers in the Greek language are published in southern Albania. Taxes on publications, in addition to increases in printing costs, make it difficult for independent media to be economically viable without subsidies from patrons, such as political parties, social organizations, or private businesses. Some journalists believe that the Government is using taxes as a deliberate means to cripple the independent and opposition press.

Government officials invoked libel laws and the Press Law against several editors and journalists. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists protested the cases of Blendi Fevjiu, editor of the Democratic Alliance Party's daily "Aleanca," and Gjergj Zefi, a

Democratic Alliance Party official and editor of "Lajmeteri," who were both convicted of libel for articles that they wrote about official corruption. Zefi has been prohibited from publishing articles or holding public office for one year. Fevziu was given a $2,000 fine, but was pardoned December 8 by President Berisha. Two other journalists were detained by police, questioned, and released in connection with stories they were covering. AHC protested SHIK's detention in June of Filip Cakuli, editor of the satirical weekly "Hosteni," and journalist Naim Naka, who were held for 12 hours until they agreed to change the cover of an upcoming issue. On November 1, a bomb exploded on the doorstep of "Koha Jone" publisher Nikolle Lesi. No one was hurt, and the perpetrators have not been found.

Only state-run radio and television provide domestic programming, but many municipalities offer international programs received via satellite. Home satellite dishes abound and most Albanians, even in impoverished areas, have access to international broadcasts.

Since November 1991, Parliament has exercised direct control over television, delegating some oversight duties to an Executive Committee of Radio and Television, which it appoints. The Executive Committee, comprised of 11 members from outside Parliament, meets occasionally to review programming and the content of news broadcasts. Opposition critics of the Government alleged that television serves the interest of the ruling Democratic Party. Television's progovernment bias, particularly acute during the November 1994 constitutional referendum campaign, eased somewhat in 1995 with the inclusion of more coverage of opposition activities and views. Debates between government and opposition figures were more frequently aired. The director of state radio and television was replaced by an individual considered by many observers to be more impartial than his predecessor. Local radio in southern Albania broadcasts some Greek-language programming, with its content translated directly from Albanian-language reporting. The AHC continued to express concern over the lack of legislation covering electronic media ownership and broadcasting.

AHC protested government infringement of academic freedom in the case of eight educators fired from the economics faculty of the state-controlled University of Tirana. The educators were fired under an amendment to the Labor Code which permits the release of employees accused of obstructing democratic and economic reforms. AHC argued that all of the educators were professionally capable and had received training abroad in Western institutions. AHC characterized their collective firing as colored by political, not professional, motivations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for the right of peaceful assembly. However, the Government places some limitations on the right of assembly and association. In order to hold a public rally, an organization must apply for a permit from local authorities and provide copies of all speeches to be delivered and slogans to be used. The authorities generally grant requests for meetings, although police sometimes require a change of date or venue. The Socialist Party and other opposition parties have complained that local authorities frequently discriminate against them by delaying or denying permission for meetings in public places. Some opposition parties have claimed that meetings of their representatives with constituents in private dwellings were prevented by police who insisted on being notified of all such gatherings in advance, regardless of venue.

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms states that "no one may be denied the right to collective organization for any lawful purpose." Any organization, including a political party, must apply to the Ministry of Justice for official certification. It must declare an aim or purpose that is not anticonstitutional or contrary to law, and it must describe its organizational structure and account for all public and private funds it receives. The Ministry of Justice denied such certification to the Party of the Democratic Ideal, using the argument that the party's program "is no different from the programs of other parties....it is not likely that the problems in these areas (economic and political) will be solved with other alternatives outside of those of the parties already registered in any fundamental way." The Party of the Democratic Ideal availed itself of the right to appeal this decision to the Court of Cassation, where the case is pending.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms states that "the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion may not be violated. Everyone may freely change their religion or beliefs and may manifest them alone or in community with others, and in public or in private life, in worship, teaching, practice, and observance." The Government respects these provisions in practice.

The majority of Albanians are secular in orientation after nearly 25 years of rigidly enforced atheism. The largest traditional religious group are Muslims, who follow a moderate form of Sunni Islam. The Roman Catholic and Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox churches are the other large denominations. The Albanian Orthodox church split from the Greek Orthodox church earlier in the century, and there is a strong identification with the national church as distinct from the Greek church. Priests from Greece augment the indigenous clergy of the Albanian Orthodox church to serve Greek-speaking congregations primarily in southern Albania. A seminary training priests for the Albanian orthodox church graduated 28 persons in 1995, 21 of whom were immediately ordained to the priesthood. Foreign clergy, including Muslim clerics and Christian missionaries, freely carry out religious activities. Until year's end, the Government required that Greek citizens have a visa to enter Albania. The Orthodox church complained that the Government did not grant visas to a sufficient number of Greek priests to come and minister to the needs of the Orthodox community.

A religious affairs section in the Council of Ministers oversees the activities of the religious communities. Some questions concerning property confiscated by the Communist regime from religious organizations have yet to be resolved. In December President Berisha announced that buildings belonging to the Orthodox Monastery of Ardenitsa would be returned to the Orthodox Church, and negotiations began to effect this transfer. President Berisha has pledged the return of property belonging to religious communities and has asked Parliament to pass a law specifically addressing religious property. Meanwhile, the Government treats all religious communities the same as other former owners of large properties, who, according to the 1991 Law on Property, are not guaranteed full restitution of lands.

In addition, a number of religious icons, objects, and archives have not been returned to religious communities, especially the Albanian Orthodox Church, and remain in state hands. The Government indicated its willingness to return these objects once the religious communities can ensure their security as cultural objects of value to the entire nation. The Albanian Orthodox Church claimed that it that it already has the means to protect the objects better than the Government and continued to demand their return. The Government has stated that it has returned copies of all seized religious archives to the religious groups and permitted unrestricted access to the originals pending their final disposition.

A small but growing Protestant evangelical community desires official government recognition and representation in the religious affairs section in the Council of Ministers. A Protestant umbrella organization, the Albanian Evangelical Alliance, has complained that Protestant groups have encountered administrative obstacles to building churches and obtaining access to national media which it believes are the result of religious prejudice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no restrictions on freedom of movement within the country. Albanian-born citizens of all foreign countries are eligible to apply for dual citizenship. Since the downfall of the Communist regime, hundreds of thousands of economic migrants have left Albania. Albanians who fled the country during the Communist dictatorship have been welcomed back, and their citizenship has been restored.

There was no significant influx of refugees and the Government has no formal refugee policy. There was, however, a significant transit of refugees, especially from the Middle East and Asia, headed for Europe. None were forcibly expelled who had a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions states that citizens have the right to change their government "by free, general, equal, direct, and secret ballot." International observers judged the national elections in March 1992 to have been free and fair. The next elections are not required before mid-1996. In September Parliament passed a broad lustration law that bars former politburo or central committee members, government ministers, and district party secretaries who served before March 1991 from holding elective or appointive office until 2002. The law also excludes from political life members of the Sigurimi and persons who denounced others at "political" trials during the Communist era. AHC criticized the law, arguing that it circumvents due process and infringes on the right to elect and to be elected by disqualifying an entire class of people from political life.

An implementing law passed by Parliament in November mandated the creation of a commission, chaired by a deputy selected from the Parliament and consisting of representatives of various government ministries, responsible for vetting all those seeking elective and high appointive positions and excluding those who closely collaborated with the Communist regime. This commission is to have access to the archives of the Sigurimi. Some opposition politicians criticized this law for calling for a narrow, government appointed, rather than a broad, Parliamentary appointed, commission. They also criticized an article in the law, whereby government ministers may ask for exceptions to some articles of the law for "special cases," as favoring ruling party politicians.

Although there are no legal impediments to their participation, women are underrepresented in politics and government. To date few women have competed for elective office, and only eight women serve in Parliament, reflecting the traditional male-dominated society. In the Government, 1 minister and 1 deputy minister are women, and 3 women serve on the 10-person Court of Cassation.

The 1992 Law on Political Parties bars the formation of parties on an ethnic or religious basis. The Unity for Human Rights party, founded by ethnic Greeks, won a majority of elected positions in parts of three southern Albanian districts (Saranda, Gjirokaster, and Delvina). There are six ethnic Greek members of Parliament, two of whom represent the Unity for Human Rights party. The governors of three southern districts, as well as the mayor of one large southern town, are ethnic Greeks.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government generally permitted various human rights and related organizations to function freely. Some groups complained of government failure to respond to written requests for information or data that would normally be considered of a public nature. AHC, the major human rights watchdog organization, took a more active role in defending human rights in certain areas. In 1995 it addressed the issues of prison conditions, the disposition of Sigurimi files, the Greek minority, police abuses, and judicial independence. The AHC's work was impeded by a lack of basic equipment, including computers, copiers, and vehicles. AHC officials reported no serious governmental obstacles to their work, but complained of occasional personal attacks in the ruling Democratic Party newspaper, Rilindja Demokratike. A second human rights organization, the Albanian Human Rights Documentation Center, was established in 1995 and was active in several areas, including the preparation of human rights educational materials that were being used by elementary and secondary schools starting with the 1995 school year. An independent Albanian group, the Society for Democratic Culture, continued its efforts on civic education and women's issues.

Delegations from the International Helsinki Federation, National Helsinki Commissions, the Council of Europe, and the Office of the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) made several visits, during which they conferred with political officials and representatives of the ethnic Greek minority.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity, language, or religion, but women and some minority groups complained of discrimination in practice.

Women

The situation of women improved somewhat thanks to the efforts of several women's groups to educate women about their rights. Spousal abuse continued to be common, but several abused women filed and won court cases in 1995. Police are seldom called to intervene, and women rarely bring charges against their spouses. The major political parties have women's organizations. Several independent women's rights organizations operate freely and are dedicated to educating women about their rights, providing counseling services, and monitoring draft legislation.

Women are not restricted, either by law or practice, from any occupations but do not typically rise to the top of their fields. The Labor Code mandates equal pay for equal work. While no data are available on whether women receive equal pay for equal work, public sector wage scales are based on rank and duties, not gender. Women's groups did not complain of wage discrimination in the large public sector nor in the growing private sector. According to government statistics, 21 percent of judges and 22 percent of medical personnel are women. Although women enjoy equal access to higher education, they are not accorded full, equal opportunity and treatment with men in their careers, due to the persistence of traditional, male-dominated values.

Children

The Government's commitment to children's rights and welfare is based on domestic law and international agreements. Attendance at school is mandatory through the eighth grade, and the Government has adopted measures to discourage truancy. Governmental and nongovernmental organizations have not identified child abuse as a problem. However, there were numerous reports of children being sent to Italy and elsewhere to work as beggars and prostitutes. This traffic is reportedly conducted by organized criminal elements. The Government has coordinated with other governments in the region to address this problem.

People with Disabilities

Widespread poverty and the poor quality of medical care account for a large number of disabled persons. Disabled persons are eligible for various forms of public assistance, but budgetary constraints limit the amount received. The public care section of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, established in 1993, has set up a network of social service administrators throughout the country whose goal is to improve the quality of services to disabled persons and promote social integration rather than institutionalization. There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings for people with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

While no recent official statistics exist regarding the size of the various ethnic communities, ethnic Greeks are the most organized and receive the most attention and assistance from abroad. The ethnic Greek population is concentrated in the south and numbers perhaps 80,000, although some estimates go much higher. Vlach (Romanian-speaking) and Romani communities are also present. Small ethnic Macedonian and Serbian villages exist in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

The OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities visited Albania once in 1995. A Special Advisor for Minority Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister coordinated legislation affecting minorities, including a new preuniversity education law passed in June which permits establishment of private schools using minority languages.

Greek-language education remained the single most important concern of the ethnic Greek minority. Mother-tongue education has been integrated in bilingual schools in areas where a significant percentage of the population belongs to a minority. The Government has offered supplementary classes for learning the Greek language anywhere in the country, provided that the requisite number of students exists. The Government has made buses available to take children from towns where there are reportedly not sufficient ethnic Greek students to nearby villages where Greek-language schools function.

Bilingual education is provided to approximately 3,400 ethnic Greek students at 46 primary schools and a similar number of 8-year schools in the districts of Gjirokaster, Delvina, and Saranda. According to government information, 400 qualified ethnic Greek teachers are employed at these schools, some of which have classes of fewer than 5 students. Starting in 1995, Greek-language classes were also made available in several high schools in the minority area. In addition, bilingual education is provided to approximately 600 students in ethnic Macedonian villages. A Greek-language high school operates in Gjirokaster, and the Eqerem Cabej University of Gjirokaster has a department of Greek studies with 40 students. The curriculum in Greek-language classes is the Albanian state program translated into Greek and taught by ethnic Greek instructors.

Greek minority leaders have called for the reopening of first grade classes in the towns of Gjirokaster, Saranda, and Delvina where classes had started in 1991 only to be closed by government order in 1993. Minority leaders argue that sufficient numbers of ethnic Greek students live in those towns to justify opening classes; the Government disagrees. There is no independent confirmation of the facts. In September Albania and Greece agreed to discuss these issues in a bilateral commission. This had not yet occurred at year's end.

Roma were subject to particularly harsh official persecution during the Communist dictatorship. Their leaders state that the situation of the community greatly improved with the advent of democratic government. They had no complaints of either official or societal discrimination. The community publishes a monthly newspaper in both the Albanian and Romani languages. There were no reports of violence specifically directed against Roma, although they are often treated with disdain by ethnic Albanians.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers obtained the right to create independent trade unions in 1991. The Independent Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania (BSPSH) acts as the umbrella organization for a number of smaller unions. A separate, rival federation continued to operate in close cooperation with the Socialist Party. There are also some independent unions not affiliated with either federation. The private sector employs more than 650,000 workers, mostly in agriculture, small shops, enterprises, and restaurants, but very few have formed unions to represent themselves.

According to the Law on Major Constitutional Provisions and other legislation, all workers, with the exception of uniformed military, police, and some court authorities, have the right to strike. The law forbids strikes that are openly declared to be political, or so judged by the courts. Several local strikes took place in 1995. Some involved employees of state-owned enterprises that were in the process of being privatized. All were deemed legal, and none resulted in violence or police action.

Labor federations are free to maintain ties with international organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Citizens in all fields of employment, except uniformed members of the armed forces, police officers, and some court employees, have the right to organize and bargain collectively. In practice, unions negotiate directly with the Government, since only limited privatization has occurred outside of the retail and agricultural sectors.

Wages for all state employees are defined by the wage pyramid, legislated in 1992, which comprises 22 wage levels organized by trade.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions and the Labor Code prohibit forced labor, and there were no cases reported.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code sets the minimum age of employment at 14 years and limits the amount and type of labor that can be performed by persons between ages 14 and 18. Working conditions for those over age 16 are covered in the Labor Code. The Ministry of Labor enforces the minimum age requirement through the courts. In rural areas, children continue to be called on to assist families in farm work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for all workers over age 16 is approximately $35 (3,300 lek) per month, which is not sufficient to sustain a family with one or more children. Most workers must find second or part-time jobs to supplement their incomes or rely on remittances from family members residing abroad. Current law guarantees social assistance (income support) and unemployment compensation. The average monthly wage for workers in the public sector is about $60 (5,817 lek). No data are available for private sector wages but the average wage is thought to be higher in the private sector than in the public sector.

Workers are limited by law to a 48-hour workweek; the Council of Ministers must approve exceptions. The Ministry of Labor enforces this law.

The Government sets occupational health and safety standards but has no funds to make improvements in state-owned industries, most of which the Government is in the process of privatizing. In those industries which are functioning, health and safety conditions are generally very poor. The new Labor Code, adopted in 1995, spells out the obligations of employers and their employees with regard to workplace safety. However, the law does not provide specific protection to workers who choose to leave the workplace for fear of hazardous conditions.

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