United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Albania, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4c18.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
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Albania continued to make progress toward establishing a multiparty democracy with legal guarantees of human rights. It installed its first non-Communist Government in free and fair elections in 1992 after 47 years of Communist rule. Parliament in 1992 elected Sali Berisha as President for a 5-year term, and Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi heads a coalition Government dominated by members of the Democratic Party. Pending the adoption of a new constitution, the Law on Major Constitutional Provisions continued to serve as a substitute. Local police detachments are under the direction of the Ministry of Public Order. Instances of police abuse occurred, including the deaths of four persons while in police custody. The Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), created in 1992 and also under the Ministry of Public Order, has the authority to use force against public disorder, terrorist activities, and vandalism, to search homes, businesses, and vehicles, and to arrest suspects under certain circumstances. The National Intelligence Service (ShIK) is the successor to the Sigurimi secret police. The Government made substantial progress in moving from a centrally planned economy to a market-oriented system. With 97 percent of the land restored to private ownership, crop yields increased by more than 20 percent. The privatization of services and trade expanded greatly, and a liberal investment law was passed to encourage foreign investment. Inflation was reduced from 200 percent in 1992 to about 40 percent in 1993. Although 100,000 new jobs were created, unemployment still ranged near 35 percent. Industrial production, declining at the beginning of the year, began to increase by year's end. Parliament in March passed a human rights law which incorporates the basic provisions of the first articles of the draft constitution, providing for the freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. Nonetheless, significant human rights problems remained. Incidents of police violence occurred, involving use of excessive force (including shootings and beatings) against peaceful protestors and detainees, and resulting in four deaths. The Government appears not to have prosecuted those responsible in all cases. The Government restricted freedom of speech and press, trying Albanian journalists for defaming public officials and harassing foreign journalists for allegedly criticizing Albanian authorities. Freedom of assembly and association remained significantly restricted. Ethnic tensions increased when Albanian authorities expelled a Greek Orthodox priest accused of publicly endorsing the union of southern Albania with Greece, and Greek authorities retaliated by expelling over 25,000 Albanians working legally and illegally in Greece. The ethnic Greek community has complained of discrimination in education and religious matters in particular.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of targeted political killings in 1993, but in several instances police used excessive force, causing death. On May 15, police in Korca shot Romeo Gace while he was attempting to evade arrest for suspected theft. He later died. The responsible police officer was arrested, charged with willful murder, convicted, and sentenced to 8 years in prison. On June 21, police in Fier beat to death a suspect attempting to elude arrest. Local and national police authorities released no details of the death and made no explanations. On August 15, police in Lushnje reportedly shot and killed a suspect while in the process of apprehending him. Authorities have not indicated whether investigations or prosecutions of those responsible have been initiated in these cases. On August 14, 31-year-old David Leka died in Lac after police arrested him and beat him fatally for allegedly having injured a police officer with a knife by first cutting his nose and then stabbing him in the back. Three police officers were arrested in connection with his death, although two have since been released. The investigation was continuing at year's end. The Albanian Helsinki Committee protested these examples of the use of excessive force by police and criticized the Government for perpetrating an atmosphere that condones the abuse of force. President Berisha vowed that police who exceed their authority or violate citizens' rights would be held responsible before the law.
There were no reported disappearances in 1993.
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 penalties for those found guilty of abuse. Nonetheless, there were several credible reports that police beat suspects while in official custody. In a series of incidents, police used excessive force in controlling or detaining demonstrators. On June 12, police in Tirana and Shkoder entered buildings where members of the Society of Former Owners were engaging in a hunger strike. When the strikers refused to leave or accept medical attention, police reportedly beat many of them, including elderly persons, while evicting them. The Helsinki Committee protested this use of force. On July 30, the Socialist Party held a rally in Tirana which turned into a march (not authorized by the original permit) to the main square where they were met by regular police units, riot police, and plainclothes officers. While the regular police in general acted professionally, some riot police and plainclothes officers allegedly mistreated demonstrators after taking them into custody. The Minister of Public Order vowed to investigate these charges and take action against those responsible. Serious concerns remain about Albanian prisons which became more crowded in 1993. Of particular concern was the incarceration of minor suspects and convicts (under the age of 18) with older inmates and allegations of sexual abuse of minors by older prisoners. There are no statutes which define the rights or obligations of prisoners or the rules governing prisoners' behavior. Prisoners have the right to appeal disciplinary decisions made by the guards to the prison director. The Helsinki Committee, which monitors prison conditions and reports on them to its parent organization, believes these conditions were not life threatening.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
During the July 30 demonstration in Tirana (see Section 1.c.), police made a number of arrests, allegedly singling out those shouting antigovernment slogans and not arresting the (equally unauthorized) progovernment counterdemonstrators. According to the Penal Code, a prosecutor or police officer may order a suspect into "custody." Those "in custody" may only leave their residences with the approval of the prosecutor. The accused must be informed of the charges against them at the time of detention and have the right to legal counsel, which will be appointed free of charge if they are 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. If the prosecutor fears that the accused may leave Albania prior to trial or is a danger to society, an arrest is ordered. Many suspects remain in jail until their trial date, which, due to the backlog of cases and shortage of attorneys, may be up to 3 months. Within 24 hours of the arrest, the police must send a report to the prosecutor on the evidence linking the suspect to the crime. The prosecuting attorney has 48 hours within which to decide to go to trial or to order the person's release. Either the defendant or counsel has the right to appeal the arrest ordered by the prosecutor in the court of first instance. The hearing must be held within 7 days of the arrest in the presence of the prosecutor, the defendant, and the defense counsel. There is no appeal of the decision of the court on this matter. The court system attempts to follow these procedures as closely as possible, but a severe shortage of trained, experienced legal professionals slows down the process considerably.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
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. A separate Constitutional Court (also known as the High Court or Supreme Court) can take jurisdiction of any case giving rise to a question of constitutional interpretation. The Court of Cassation hears appeals from the court of appeals, while the Constitutional Court reviews only those cases which require interpretation of the Constitution. Parliament has the authority to appoint and dismiss judges on the Constitutional Court (nine members) and the Court of Cassation (seven members). The Supreme Judicial Council appoints and dismisses all other judges. Judges have a lifetime appointment and may only be relieved of their duties by Parliament (in the case of the Constitutional Court and the Court of Cassation) or the Supreme Judicial Council (in the case of other courts) on conviction for a serious crime. In 1993 the Supreme Judicial Council continued the process begun in 1992 of removing Communist-era judges from the bench. For example, in the Tirana court system, only 2 of 26 sitting justices remain from the former Communist regime. Nationwide, some 70 percent of judges have been replaced since 1991. Prosecutors also serve at the pleasure of the Supreme Judicial Council. Many who held ranking positions under the previous regime were removed during 1993. Because of the rapid turnover of prosecutors and judges and their insufficient experience and training, the rule of law and the principle of an independent judiciary are not yet firmly established. Examinations have been instituted for admission to the faculty of law which previously had been based on political influence. However, a legal training course for the children of former political prisoners has aroused the concern of the Helsinki Committee, which argued that the program would not adequately prepare persons to work in the judicial system. In January a Fier judge was reportedly reprimanded because President Berisha disagreed with the judge's decision to dismiss charges of labor agitation against two Socialist Party activists. In June Parliament passed a law that would have disbarred 92 lawyers who practiced under the Communist regime. The Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional, and the lawyers were reinstated. In September the General Prosecutor's office replaced 14 attorneys. Some reports claimed they had been fired for political reasons, but most appear to have resigned to make more money in lucrative private practice. The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions provides that a trial must be held in public, unless it might divulge national security information. 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 Association of Former Political Prisoners, formed in 1991, seeks redress from the Government in the form of assistance with housing and schooling for prisoners' children or grandchildren. In January the Parliament pardoned all former political prisoners who were not covered under the October 1991 parliamentary decrees overturning the convictions of most political prisoners. In June Parliament approved measures designed to move former political prisoners and their families to the top of waiting lists for housing and admission to institutions of higher education in Albania. Former political prisoners will also be eligible for pensions to compensate them for the time they spent in prison. According the Helsinki Committee, those convicted and still serving sentences under pre-March 1992 penal procedures still do not yet have the right to appeal their convictions, even though they were convicted without the right to a defense lawyer or the right of subsequent appeal.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions does not address these issues, although it states that Albania guarantees "the human rights and fundamental freedoms as accepted in international documents." The draft constitution states that searches may only be conducted with court-ordered warrants, and that correspondence may not be interfered with, except on grounds of national security. However, a law allowing police to enter homes without a warrant in search of illegal weapons remains in effect, which the Helsinki Committee has protested. There is no evidence of abuse of this law. The Communist-dominated parliament, in office prior to March 1992, approved the establishment of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), which is authorized to use force against a breakdown in order, terrorist activities, vandalism, and arson. Attached to the Ministry of Public Order and also at the disposition of the Council of Ministers, the RDF in times of emergency comes under the command of the local chief of police and the local executive committee chairman (mayor). It has the right, among other things, to search residences and businesses, to set up roadblocks, and to search vehicles. It is not known to have abused its authority in 1993. Plans to open and examine the files of the Sigurimi (the former secret police of the Communist regime) were still being considered at year's end. In the meantime, these documents remain under the control of the National Intelligence Service (ShIK). However, senior government officials have indicated that not all files are intact and some may have been tampered with in the final days of the Communist regime. The draft constitution states that "no information may be collected on citizens without their knowledge except on grounds of national security. All citizens have the right to examine government files pertaining to them and their activities."
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law on basic human rights, approved by a two-thirds majority of Parliament in March, provides for the freedom of speech and press, although other laws are used to restrict criticism of the Government. The draft constitution prohibits any restrictions on the freedom of speech and press. In October Parliament passed a press law which, in its attempt to legislate greater press responsibility, could severely restrict press freedom. The law sets out large fines for publishing material considered secret or sensitive by the Government, permits confiscation of printed matter or property by judicial order, and allows for criminal punishment under certain circumstances. These circumstances will be defined in future modifications of the Penal Code. The media and the Albanian Helsinki Committee denounced the law. Electronic media are to be dealt with in a separate law. Opposition parties (with the exception of the Communist party which is banned and prohibited from publishing), independent trade unions, and various societies and groups publish their own newspapers. Approximately 250 newspapers and magazines appear on a regular basis. Liko Vima and Zeri i Omonias, two newspapers in the Greek language, are published in southern Albania. In practice, freedom of speech, including freedom to criticize the Government and government officials, was sometimes restricted. The Government took legal action against three Albanian journalists in 1993. Nikola Lesi, editor of the opposition newspaper Koha Jone, was tried on charges that he libeled the Chairman of the State Control Commission, was found guilty, and fined. Aleksander Frangaj, also at the time with Koha Jone, was charged with endangering national security for his report on alleged military maneuvers. After a court battle, the Government withdrew its allegations. Koha Jone frequently criticized the Government and claimed that as a result it was a target of official persecution. Idajet Beqiri, Chairman of the National Unity Party and editor of its newspaper Kombi, was charged under a 1990 law with "defamation of the office of the President" for having authored an article calling President Berisha "the killer of Albania." On July 12, Beqiri was found guilty and sentenced to 6 months in prison but is appealing. Journalists were also allegedly arrested in the course of covering demonstrations and charged with participating in illegal demonstrations. At least one journalist was reportedly beaten while in custody. The Government has also reportedly increased the number of financial inspections of opposition newspapers. Foreign journalists also encountered difficulties in Albania in 1993. Police detained an Italian journalist with the newspaper Corriere de la Serra in August, without filing charges. He had written articles for his newspaper critical of President Berisha. Only after agreeing to leave the country was he released. The Italian Government protested this as improper interference with journalistic freedom. A reporter for Agence France Presse and a Greek journalist and film maker were also reportedly harassed by police for "anti-Albanian" or "antigovernment" activities. Radio and television remained state monopolies. Albania has one television station, while each major city has its own radio station. 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 interests of the ruling Democratic Party. Some controversial interviews and programs were said not to have been aired, reportedly at the request of political and governmental leaders. Local radio in southern Albania broadcasts Greek-language programming. The Ministry of Education sets a standard course outline for all levels of education. Professors may substitute texts and teach their courses in whatever manner they see fit, within the general guidelines set in Tirana. A Greek studies program at the University of Gjirokaster, long a demand of the ethnic Greek cultural organization Omonia, began functioning for the 1993-94 academic year.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
There are significant restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Both the Law on Major Constitutional Provisions and the draft constitution state that political parties must be fully independent from state institutions, including military and security forces, but they may not be formed on an ethnic or religious basis. Parties with representatives in Parliament are eligible for modest government funding. 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 in the course of the meeting. Requests for meetings were usually granted, although police sometimes required a change of date or venue. When such meetings expanded into marches to other (unauthorized) locations, however, they were then deemed illegal. Some public meetings of the opposition Socialist Party were not permitted for the sites or times requested. At least 14 men were imprisoned on charges of having taken part in unauthorized demonstrations in July and August. In July 1992, Parliament passed a law banning all "Fascist, racist, antinational, Marxist-Leninist, Enverist (followers of former dictator Enver Hoxha), and Stalinist" parties, including the Communist party. The Constitutional Court upheld the prohibition of the Communist party, and the draft constitution continues this ban. An organization, including a political party, must apply to the Ministry of Justice to be officially certified. It must declare an aim or purpose that is not anticonstitutional or contrary to law. It must describe its organizational structure and account for all public and private funds it receives. The Constitutional Court has upheld prohibitions on organizations which failed to get the necessary government authorization. An anti-Communist group called Vendetta was denied registration, allegedly because it favors a violent approach towards retribution against former Communists who are now Socialists.
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion has been established both in theory and practice. The Government legalized the private and public practice of religion in 1990. The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions declares Albania to be "a secular state" which "respects the freedom of religious faith and creates conditions to exercise it." The human rights law passed by Parliament in March also guarantees full religious freedom. Controversy over a proposed law on religion erupted in early 1993. The law, which went through several revisions before being dropped entirely, would have required the leaders of the four main religious communities Muslim, Bektashi, Roman Catholic, and Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox to be Albanian citizens from birth, thus necessitating the removal of, inter alia, the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Archbishop, Anastas Janullatos, a Greek citizen. Foreign clergy, including Muslim clerics and Christian missionaries, freely carry out religious activities. Albanian Muslim clerics are being training in Egypt. A seminary training priests for the Albanian Autocephalous Church will graduate its first class in 1994. Orthodox priests from Greece serve Greek-speaking congregations, primarily in southern Albania. In June a Greek priest, Archimandrite Chrystostomos, who had been working in ethnic Greek areas of southern Albania for almost a year, was expelled from Albania for allegedly engaging in anti-Albanian activities, including publicly calling for the union of parts of southern Albania with Greece. In retaliation, the Greek Government expelled over 25,000 documented and undocumented Albanian workers. A secretariat of religions within the Ministry of Culture 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 some instances, the restitution of property would displace thousands of residents from their present-day homes located on the religious communities' lands.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no longer any restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, and regulations on foreign travel and emigration have been revised. Passports are available to all citizens, and the practice of limiting them to specific countries of destination was abandoned in 1991. Albanian-born citizens of all foreign countries are eligible to apply for dual citizenship. As in 1992, thousands of economic emigrants fled Albania, principally overland to Greece but also by sea to Italy. The Tirana office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) jointly run a program to inform the public of opportunities for legal migration to other countries. Responsibility for emigration was assigned in 1993 to a committee which works with foreign governments to establish agreements for the legal employment of Albanians abroad. Although until now there has been no significant influx of refugees into Albania, some government officials are concerned about the potential flood of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo in Serbia if widespread violence were to break out there. Some ethnic Albanians, most of whom fled Kosovo to avoid the draft, came to Albania, though exact numbers are not known. Albania also agreed to shelter up to 5,000 Bosnian Muslims who are in Croatian refugee camps. Some Bosnians did come in 1993 but then relocated to Turkey.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions and the draft constitution provide citizens with 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 Democratic Party holds 86 of 140 parliamentary seats to 38 for the Socialist (former Communist) Party, 7 for the Social Democratic Party, 6 for the Democratic Alliance Party, 2 for the Unity for Human Rights (ethnic Greek) Party, and 1 for the Republican Party. The next elections are not required before 1996. Opposition parties had good access to radio and television and were unhindered in publishing their newspapers. The law on political parties, passed in early 1992, and the draft constitution bar the formation of parties on an ethnic basis. During the campaign for parliamentary elections in 1991, Omonia, the national political and cultural organization of the ethnic Greek minority, constituting approximately 3 percent of the population, was permitted to field candidates. Since that time Omonia leaders have founded the Unity for Human Rights Party, which has run candidates in both national and local elections. Ethnic Greek candidates in southern Albania won a majority of elected positions in parts of three districts (Gjirokaster, Delvine, and Saranda) and manage many ethnic Greek communities. There are six ethnic Greek Members of Parliament, two of whom represent the Unity for Human Rights Party. There are no legal impediments to the participation of women in politics or government, although to date few women have competed for elected office, and only eight women serve in Parliament, a reflection of the male-dominated society.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Albanian Helsinki Committee, the major human rights watchdog organization, took a very active and public role in defending human rights and remained independent of the Democratic Party-led Government. During 1993 it initiated and carried out investigations and issued statements and reports which were critical of the Government. The main areas of its focus are the rehabilitation of former political prisoners and the independence of the judiciary and the mass media. The independent Albanian group, the Society for Free Elections and Democratic Culture, founded in 1992, shifted its interest from elections to democratic institution-building and civic education. Delegations from the International Helsinki Commission, the Council of Europe, and the Office of the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) made several visits to Albania in 1993, during which they conferred with political officials and representatives of the ethnic Greek minority and visited prisons, hospitals, and other state facilities. Albanian government cooperation with the U.N. Human Rights Center continued during 1993. There were no allegations that the Government penalized or repressed any human rights observers or their contacts for their work in Albania.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions does not address women's rights. The draft constitution, however, prohibits any discrimination on the basis of sex. Women are not restricted, either in law or in practice, from any occupations, although they do not typically rise to the top of their professions. No data are available on whether women receive equal pay for equal work. Although women have 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. Domestic violence undoubtedly exists, but no statistics are kept. Police are seldom called to intervene in cases of family abuse, and women almost never bring charges against spouses. "Refleksione," Albania's first nonpolitical women's group founded in 1993, worked to raise funds and planned for Albania's first shelter and counseling service for abused and battered women. It is also dedicated to the strengthening of women's participation in society and to the expansion of their legal rights.
The Government's commitment to children's rights and welfare is based on domestic law and international agreement. The Government makes education mandatory through age 14. Employment of children under this age is legally prohibited, although it is clear that, in many rural areas, children under 14 are actively involved in agriculture. Special programs of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare are planned but not yet implemented for disabled children.
While no recent official statistics exist regarding the size of various ethnic communities in Albania, ethnic Greeks are the most organized and receive the most attention and assistance from abroad. Albania has a population of approximately 3.3 million. Ethnic Greek leaders believe there are about 70,000-80,000 ethnic Greeks in Albania. Vlach (Romanian speaking) leaders claim their community numbers close to 300,000, although this is unlikely. Small ethnic Macedonian villages exist in the northeast part of the country. Two distinct groups of Roma (Gypsies), the Jevg and the Arrixhi (Gabel), reside in Albania. The Jevg are more likely to be settled in urban areas and are more integrated into the Albanian economy than the Arrixhi. The two groups seldom intermarry or have any significant contact. Both groups encounter societal discrimination, but no specific violence is known to have been directed against them during 1993. CSCE High Commissioner for Minorities Max Van der Stoel visited Albania twice in 1993 to investigate the situation of the ethnic Greek minority. In his trip report Van der Stoel called Albania's commitment to provide full CSCE rights to ethnic Greeks "real" and stated that the minority does in reality enjoy those rights. However, he recommended the creation in the Government of a special office for minority questions. Greek-language education was the single most important concern of the ethnic Greek community in southern Albania. In 1993 the Government met the community's longstanding demands for state-funded, Greek-language education. Seventy-three elementary schools (grades one through eight) are open in the areas where most ethnic Greeks reside (three southern districts of Gjirokaster, Delvine, and Saranda) which now serve more than 4,500 students. A Greek-language high school was opened in Gjirokaster, and the "Eqerem Cabej" University of Gjirokaster now has a department of Greek studies which opened for the 1993-94 academic year. The curriculum in these schools is the Albanian state program translated into Greek and taught by ethnic Greek Albanian instructors. Ethnic Greeks complained, however, that there is no legislation permitting the establishment of private schools. Although they have no legal basis, the Government continued to use the term "minority zones" to describe the three southern districts in which villages have majorities of ethnic Greeks. It has had practical application in the area of education. Given the Government's severe budgetary problems and the overcrowded and poor conditions of most Albanian schools, the State has funded Greek-language education only in "minority zones". After Albania expelled a Greek priest in June for alleged anti-Albanian activities and the Greek Government retaliated by deporting over 25,000 documented and undocumented Albanian workers, tensions between ethnic Greeks and Albanians rose in southern Albania. The Government ordered the deployment of extra RDF police in ethnic Greek areas to prevent any anti-Greek violence. Occasional reports of beatings of illegal Albanian workers by Greek military personnel also fueled emotions from time to time throughout 1993. In one incident, an ethnic Greek policeman was wounded by other policemen. Some ethnic Greeks alleged that ethnic Greek army officers were forced to resign under pressure of transfers to the northern part of the country, but there was no evidence to support allegations of discriminatory transfers. Vlachs continued to demand government-funded education in their language, although they were less vocal about their demands than in 1992. They also continued to seek funds to restore several early 18th-century churches and monasteries that have deteriorated over the years. In accordance with an agreement signed in 1992, the Macedonian Government funds Macedonian- language education in several villages on the Albanian side of the Albanian/Macedonian border.
People with Disabilities
In 1993 Parliament approved a law to assist disabled World War II veterans. Due to the paucity and poor quality of medical care under the Communist regime, there is a disproportionately high number of disabled persons in Albania. Disabled persons are eligible for various forms of public assistance, but the level of that assistance is meager. The public care section of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is to establish local offices for the treatment and rehabilitation of the disabled. The Government has not yet legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled due to the relative poverty of the State and the population in general.
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) was formed as the umbrella organization for a number of smaller unions. A separate, rival federation continued to operate in close cooperation with the Socialist Party. The latter federation the Confederation of Unions is a continuation of the "official" federation of the Communist period. In 1993 municipal employees and workers in such fields as communications and bakeries founded their own independent associations. More than 100,000 Albanians are now employed in the private sector, mostly in small shops, enterprises, and restaurants, but they have formed no unions to represent them. Some unions have organized to represent workers in Greek- and Italian-owned shoe and textile factories. According to the Law on Major Constitutional Provisions, all workers, with the exception of employees of military enterprises, have the right to strike. The draft constitution also fully guarantees the right to strike for economic, safety, or health reasons. Strikes that are either openly declared to be political or so judged by the courts are forbidden. In the depressed economic climate of 1993, labor disputes flared. Early in January, chromium miners in Bulqize ended a bitter strike demanding that their wages be raised to the level of West European miners. After the strike ended, the Government reportedly did not allow 27 miners, including 8 members of the strike committee, to return to work. The Albanian Helsinki Committee protested this decision. On May 20, the BSPSH staged a 1-hour general strike, which was observed, though not uniformly, throughout the country. In response, the Government agreed to increase unemployment compensation and wages for some workers. A court declared a strike planned by oil workers for August 3 illegal because they failed to adhere to the legally required 2-week "cooling off period" between calling their strike and subsequently walking out. Teachers, who are at the bottom of the "wage pyramid" and earn approximately $1 per day, staged a 1-day strike on September 15, the first day of the new school year. In response, the Government agreed to an immediate increase of 10 percent in their wages. The BSPSH has observers with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Brussels and working ties with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. Its closest ties at present are with the Italian labor unions. Individual Albanian trade unions have ties with their corresponding trade secretariats in Brussels and elsewhere.
b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively
All citizens in all fields of employment have the right to organize and bargain collectively, except members of the armed forces, civilian personnel employed by the armed forces, and employees of certain state administrative organs. In practice unions negotiate directly with the Government, since very little 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. Most large enterprises remain state owned. BSPSH leaders were disappointed with the 1993 law on collective agreements and bargaining. They had hoped that it would declare their union the lead union at enterprises where more than one union is active. President Berisha has called for some revisions to the law to effect "improvements pursuant to international acts." Export processing zones do not exist in Albania.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions prohibits forced labor, as does the draft constitution. There were no cases of forced labor reported in 1993.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years. Persons between the ages of 14 and 16 may work only 5 hours per day. Working conditions for those over 16 are not legislated. Although the law mandates education through the eighth grade and prohibits work by those younger that 14, there are no enforcement mechanisms to curb either truancy or child labor. In rural areas, children are often called on to assist families with farm work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no minimum wage in the private sector. Current law and the draft constitution guarantee social assistance (income support) and unemployment compensation. The average monthly wage for all Albanian workers is approximately $30. In June Parliament approved shortening the workweek in state-owned enterprises to 40 hours. The workweek includes a 24-hour rest period, usually Sunday. 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 industry. In a February report, the Albanian Helsinki Committee criticized working conditions in the chromium mines at Bulqize. The Government called the Bulqize miners' strike "politically motivated" but acknowledged the need to improve their poor health conditions. In those enterprises which are functioning, health and safety conditions are generally very poor.