U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Albania
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Albania, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa64c.html [accessed 13 March 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
ALBANIAAlbania is a republic with a multiparty Parliament, a Prime Minister, and a President elected by the Parliament. The Prime Minister heads the Government; the Presidency is a largely ceremonial position with limited executive power. The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions serves in the place of a constitution. (A parliamentary commission is authorized to begin work on a new constitution, but the principal opposition party has been reluctant to join the process.) The Socialist Party (PS) and its allies won 111 out of 155 parliamentary seats in June multiparty elections that observers deemed acceptable and satisfactory under the circumstances. The elections followed a 5-month period of chaos and anarchy in the country. Fatos Nano, the Socialist Party chairman, formed a new Government in July. The judiciary was unable to function for much of the year. Local police units reporting to the Ministry of the Interior are principally responsible for internal security. The police disappeared from the streets in many cities, especially in the south. Security forces were able to keep some control in Tirana for all except a few days of the unrest, but in the rest of the country they totally lost, and in many places still do not exercise, control and authority. The Albanian national intelligence service (SHIK) is responsible for both external and domestic intelligence gathering and counterintelligence functions. SHIK'S internal responsibilities in support of law enforcement agencies include gathering information on government corruption and anticonstitutional activities. A public perception arose before and during the violence in February and March that SHIK was firmly under the control of then-President Berisha and that he and the Democratic Party were using SHIK for their own political ends. SHIK personnel, particularly in the south, suffered beatings and harassment and in several cases were brutally murdered. At year's end SHIK was functioning but at an extremely limited level. The new Government plans to restructure the intelligence organization. Police reportedly committed some human rights abuses. Albanians suffered severely due to the collapse of a number of pyramid schemes in which many citizens placed large sums of money. This precipitated a political and social crisis, since many citizens had sustained themselves on the "interest" payments received from such schemes. The ensuing violence and instability undermined economic growth, reversed improvements in infrastructure, and led to growing inflation and increased unemployment. The agricultural sector employs about 60 percent of the workforce. Remittances from Albanians working abroad and foreign assistance are major sources of income. Considerable income is also believed to derive from numerous criminal activities. Following formation of the new Government in July, efforts to restore order and confidence in the economy led to a modest recovery. The Government has committed itself to meeting the international financial community's demands that pyramid schemes be clearly outlawed and that the remaining pyramid schemes be audited and, if insolvent, liquidated to repay depositors partially. However, measurable results have been slow in coming. The country's human rights record deteriorated sharply around the time of the state of emergency from March 2 until July 24, reflecting the country's general breakdown of governmental authority and civil society. Depending on the specific time and the government in power, accusations were made that police, SHIK, and unofficial paramilitary groups committed killings and beatings. Given the breakdown of order, however, there is very little, if any, firm evidence to substantiate these accusations, although the Government acknowledges that police may have killed some persons in custody. However, there were numerous casualties as a result of the chaos and anarchy. According to unofficial estimates over 2,000 persons were killed and many more wounded during the first 6 months of 1997. Moreover, a much lower but continuous level of killings and injuries continued throughout the year. Most deaths were due to accidents, whether from firearms or grenades, as armories were looted. Many intentional deaths, however, resulted from acts of revenge, from traditional blood feuds, or from fighting among rival criminal groups. Some deaths also reportedly resulted from insurgent attacks on the police or SHIK. Poor prison and pretrial detention conditions continued; however, the escape of all prisoners in March enabled the Government to try to rebuild and reconstruct the facilities to meet international standards. Two prisons were repaired and are functioning again. A partial amnesty program attracted some prisoners to return to jail in exchange for reduced sentences. The judicial system, which was inefficient and subject to corruption and executive pressure in normal times, was undermined by the chaos and unable to function in many places. Many of the courts were vandalized or burned down. Some judges were intimidated by the fact that criminals they had sentenced were freed. There are still numerous complaints about unqualified and unprofessional judges. Members of the opposition say that the Government infringed on their privacy rights. The antigenocide (lustration) law -- which could bar potential candidates -- was amended twice, once prior to the June elections, to allow additional groups and individuals to run for office despite their role in the former Communist regime, and again in August, to further lessen its impact. The Government is working with the Greek government to assure continuing improved conditions for the ethnic Greek minority. The two Governments ratified and put into force a seasonal worker agreement and the Greek Government has increased its bilateral assistance programs.