Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Albania

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Albania, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa814.html [accessed 20 December 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.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

Albania is a parliamentary republic with a Parliament elected in a seriously flawed process. 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 governing Democratic Party won 122 out of the 140 parliamentary seats, an 87.1 percent majority, in flawed multiparty elections in May. The major opposition party, the Socialist Party, together with some small center parties, staged a boycott of the election process several hours before the polls closed, citing reports of widespread Government-sponsored fraud, beatings, and intimidation. They refused to recognize the newly elected Parliament's legitimacy. President Sali Berisha, elected by Parliament in 1992, continued his 5-year term. The law provides for the separation of powers and an independent judiciary. However, the judicial branch remains subject to strong executive pressure and corruption.

Local police detachments reporting to the Ministry of the Interior are principally responsible for internal security. In addiion to their usual tasks, police were responsible for securing order during the parliamentary and local elections in May and October respectively. There were numerous allegations of police abuse before, during, and after the May elections. In September Parliament passed new legislation governing police conduct during the October elections. The Albanian National Intelligence Service (SHIK) is legally responsible for both external and domestic intelligence collection and counterintelligence functions. SHIK's internal responsibilities include gathering information on government corruption and anticonstitutional activities in support of law enforcement agencies. Given the activities of the former security service (Sigurimi) under the Communists, some citizens perceive SHIK as a similar organization and fear it accordingly.

Albania is a poor country experiencing the painful transition of reform after nearly 50 years of a Stalinist, centrally planned economy. Its economy remains based on agriculture, but a rapidly growing commercial and trade sector has taken root in cities and larger towns. Construction is the fastest growing sector. There is some mining and light manufacturing (clothes, shoes, beverages, and consumer products). Most state-owned heavy industry is moribund. The Government continued privatizing medium and large state enterprises, a process begun in 1994. Privatization has expanded to many sectors of the economy and continues in the mining, energy distribution network, telecommunications, and textiles sectors. Remittances from Albanians working abroad and foreign assistance remain major sources of income. With the lifting of sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro at the end of 1995, the country lost a significant source of hard currency from organized fuel smuggling to those countries. Prices for key consumer items such as bread, electricity, and kerosene were freed from state control at midyear, creating additional hardships for public sector workers and pensioners on fixed incomes, but moving the overall economy toward greater efficiency. Salary increases and subsidies for public sector workers and those receiving pensions helped offset these increases. Overall economic growth remained strong, about 6 percent for the second year in a row. Inflation, which was near zero at the end of 1995, was expected to exceed to 20 percent in 1996, largely as a result of growing government budget deficits. While per capita gross domestic product reached approximately $650, more than double that in 1992, the economic transformation has created an emerging middle class as well as widening income disparities. Organized crime has surged. A number of large pyramid type schemes operate throughout the country, and a significant number of people have deposited money in them. Several of these schemes, including some larger ones, collapsed in 1996, causing depositors to lose their funds.

The Government's human rights record worsened during the year. The flawed May elections, coming at a time of further government pressure on the judiciary and the press were major steps backwards for democracy. There were numerous serious human rights abuses during the May 26 parliamentary elections and the May 28 opposition demonstration in protest of those elections. Other serious problems included police killings and beatings; poor prison and pretrial detention conditions; harassment of the press; a judiciary that is subject to widespread corruption and executive pressure and lacking in resources, training, and experience; and discrimination and violence against women. However, the Government took some positive steps by ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights, amending the law on public meetings, and exempting city and district council candidates from the antigenocide and lustration laws for the local elections in October. The Government made physical improvements in some prisons, set up courses for prison officials to improve treatment of prisoners, introduced training programs and new regulations for local police, and prosecuted those who commited abuses against prisoners. The Government is working with the Greek Government to assure improved conditions for the Greek minority.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There was one report of a killing in custody. Authorities arrested former president Ramiz Alia in February and charged him with the internment and imprisonment in concentration camps of thousands of citizens during the Communist regime. After pretrial detention, the prosecutor added other charges: Ordering the killing of people who attempted to leave the country; ordering troops and police to fire on the people who toppled the Hoxha monument in Tirana; ordering the arming of military students who subsequently killed some civilians; and ordering the shootings on April 2, 1991, in Shkodra that left four dead. Estimates are that another 6 months of investigation will be needed before Alia is brought to trial.

Unknown persons beat and burned to death a 15-year-old Romani boy (see Section 5).

The Government has yet to respond to queries about the status of charges against police and prison guards in 1994 deaths in custody of Enrik Islami and Irfan Nano.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms states that "no one can be subject to torture, punishment, or cruel and brutal treatment." The Penal Code makes the use of torture a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and prohibits the use of physical or psychological force during criminal proceedings, with penalties for those found guilty of abuse. Police nevertheless continued to beat detainees, journalists, and political opposition party members, most noticeably around the time of the May election campaigns and post-election demonstrations (see Section 3). Except for incidents during the election, many of the beatings appear to be random or based on revenge or family blood feuds (usually more common in the north but now occurring throughout the country). The Interior Minister opened offices in the Ministry and local police stations to deal with citizen complaints and instituted human rights training courses for police. The impact of these measures remains to be seen.

Prison conditions do not meet minimum international standards; some are well below those levels, but the Government has made a serious effort to improve conditions in all prisons. Pretrial detention conditions are still poor, particularly hygiene and sanitation. The Government transferred responsibility for prisons from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice. Two new prisons are under construction and were designed using international standards. The Government invested $1.8 million in improvements at two of the seven existing prisons. The European Union (EU) gave the Government 800,000 Ecu to modernize and increase the capacity of the prison in Lezha. All prisons now offer water 24 hours a day and allow personal furniture. However, severe budget restraints limit the Government's abilities to address all the problems.

The Ministry instituted new rules for treatment of prisoners and started training courses for prison officials and guards, some of whom received additional short-term training in Western Europe. There were no reported cases of torture in the prisons. Officials now attempt to house those sentenced for violent crimes apart from those in prison for minor offenses as well as from those under age 18, but such separation is not always possible. According to the Penal Code, military and civilian prisoners should be in separate facilities; again, this division is not always followed. New visitation rules allow a prisoner to meet family members once a week for 30 minutes per session, or twice a month in maximum security prison. One conjugal meeting a month is granted for married prisoners. Prisoners can receive items from visitors, e.g., food, televisions, radios, or books and newspapers, and use them in their cells. Prisoners receive approximately 1 hour of daily physical activity. There is no confirmation that these new regulations are as yet applied throughout the prison system. Reportedly those prisoners with money still can bribe prison officials for better treatment and more food.

According to ministry figures, 35 women are in prison. They are housed in a separate prison in Tirana, and their living conditions are reportedly much better than conditions in other prisons, due to funds provided by an Italian charity.

Official state or nongovernmental organization (NGO) personnel can have unlimited visitation rights but must first secure permission from the general director of prisons. Local NGO's usually receive permission.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Parliament approved new penal and penal procedure codes based on European standards in 1995 and modified them in 1996. The Penal Procedures Code mandates improved rights for detained and arrested persons, but the extent to which they are followed in practice remains unclear. According to the code, a police officer or prosecutor may order a suspect into custody. Detained persons must be informed of the charges against them and their rights, and, if detained by the police, a prosecutor must be notified within 12 hours. Within 24 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, if the detainee is to be released or charged. 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 hearing, or a suspect may be placed under house arrest. The court may order pretrial confinement in cases where there is reason to believe that the accused may leave the country or is a danger to society.

The Penal Procedures Code requires completion of pretrial investigations within 3 months. The prosecutor may extend this 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.

The Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) reports increased complaints received in 1996 of police violating the law pertaining to search and seizure, detention, interrogation, advice of rights, timely court appearance, and adequate access to defense counsel.

The appeals court has reduced more than a dozen of the sentences given to high-level officials found guilty of crimes against humanity in connection with the vast network of prisons and labor camps under the Communist regime. The court reduced former chief of the Supreme Court Aranit Cela's and former general prosecutor Rrapu Mino's death sentences to 25 years in prison each and former head of the secret police Zylyflar Ramizi's to life in prison. The Appeals Court also reduced or commuted several other Communist officials' sentences, although the head of the Tirana Communist Party Llambi Gegprifti's sentence remains at 20 years. On December 29, the President issued a decree reducing in part or all of the sentences of 102 persons in prison for various charges. The times reduced ranged from 6 months to 6 years off an individual's sentence. Former prime minister Fatos Nano's sentence was reduced by 6 months under this decree (see Section 1.e.).

The law does not provide for and 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. The Parliament approved new civil, penal, and labor codes and new penal procedures in 1995.

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

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for the right to a fair and speedy trial. However, there have been delays in bringing some cases to court. The law also mandates public trials, except in cases in which the interests of public order, morality, national security, the private lives 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 Parliament has the authority to approve and dismiss judges of the Constitutional Court (9 members, of which the Parliament nominates 5 and the President 4) and the Cassation Court (11 members, which Parliament nominates. The President nominates the chairman and the two deputies subject to parliamentary approval. Cassation judges may be dismissed only for mental incompetence or conviction of a serious crime. Constitutional Court justices serve maximum 9-year terms, rotating in three new justices every 3 years. Cassation Court judges are elected for 7-year terms. The President heads the Supreme Judicial Council which 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. The composition of the Supreme Judicial Council and its broad authority subjects the courts to direct executive branch control. Judges are not always notified in advance of disciplinary proceedings underway against them and often are not given the opportunity to present facts in their defense.

In 1996 the Council removed 17 judges from their positions for disciplinary reasons based on the 1992 law "On the Organization of the Judiciary," which sanctions removal on the decision of the Supreme Judicial Council for violation of the law, rules and procedures, corruption, and meting out light sentences for serious crimes. Reasons cited for removing the 17 included falsifying documents, delaying procedures, giving light sentences, and taking bribes. Judges may also be removed for poor health, failure to pass the periodic professional test, or discipline or moral problems. Many lawyers report that loyalty to the ruling Democratic Party is a key prerequisite in selecting replacements. Judges' salaries are low, and there are widespread accusations of corruption. The Justice Ministry claims that it investigates all charges.

The Parliament approves the court budgets. Administration of courts' budgets was transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the courts, although the Ministry still provides and approves administrative and support personnel.

The Parliament appoints the chief prosecutor and the two deputies on the recommendation of the President. They may be dismissed only for mental incompetence or conviction of a serious crime. To improve the judicial system, the Parliament passed a law in July to establish a magistrates' school, a government-subsidized institution to assure the professional training of judges and prosecutors. The program is expected to include mandatory initial training of candidates for magistrate positions as well as a program for the continuing education of magistrates. One seminar took place in November. Regular classes are scheduled to begin in October 1997.

The Council of Europe and foreign NGO's are working with the Government to print and distribute the penal codes and laws from Parliament throughout the country. Many courtrooms, however, are still without updated versions of many of the laws and codes.

On February 14, the Constitutional Court ruled that the September 1995 dismissal by the Parliament of the former Chief Justice of the Court of Cassation, Zef Brozi – which became a major political issue – was legal, because Brozi had committed serious criminal offenses. Although Brozi had not been charged with a specific crime, the court held in its decision that the Parliament acted reasonably and that the unconstitutionality of Brozi's actions, e.g., in suspending the execution of certain decisions, was sufficient to constitute a serious criminal offense. Numerous domestic and international observers believe that Brozi's actions did not provide legal grounds for removal, that he was removed to subordinate the Court to the executive, and that the Government falsified the parliamentary vote to do so, actions all motivated by political reasons, including Brozi's attempt to reopen the Fatos Nano case. Nano, Socialist Party chairman and former prime minister, was convicted on charges of corruption. However, many observers believe Nano was imprisoned because he was President Berisha's principal political opponent.

Members of the opposition and human rights NGO's claimed that some persons being held on criminal charges are actually political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 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 reports of government-sanctioned tampering with correspondence and wiretapping or interference with telephone service.

In January the Constitutional Court ruled that the genocide law and the law on the verification of the character of officials (lustration law) were legal. The law had the effect of exempting President Berisha and many of his chief aides, also former Communists.

Under the provisions of the genocide and lustration laws, the Government examined the files of political candidates in the May parliamentary elections. The 1995 Law on Genocide and Crimes against Humanity Committed during the Communist Regime prohibits any persons who were senior government officials, members of the secret police, or secret police collaborators before March 1991 from holding high-ranking state positions or being elected as Members of Parliament until the year 2002. The lustration law allows examination of the former secret police files to determine the rights of individuals under the genocide law. The Special Commission (Verification Committee) set up to review these files consists of 7 individuals: The Council of Ministers appointed two members; the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Defense, Minister of the Interior, and the head of the National Intelligence Service each appointed one member; and the Parliament elected the chairman. The opposition parties were able to participate only in a limited and inadequate way, through their minority in the Parliament, in the selection of and actions of the Commission. The executive branch effectively controlled the Commission and gave it the powers to judge, in closed session, decisions based on secret files that were not open for review to the general public, but that were available to the candidates and their lawyers for examination. The executive branch also had the final say in the decisions; the Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, and the head of SHIK had the right to appear before the Commission and take part in the decision in any case on the basis of state security interests.

Under these laws, the Commission banned 139 individuals from participating in the May parliamentary elections. Of those banned, 45 were members of the Socialist Party, 23 were Social Democrats, 11 were from the Democratic Alliance, 13 from the Republican Party, 3 from the Democratic Party, and the rest from minor parties. According to the law, these individuals had the right to appeal the Commission's decision to the Court of Cassation. Only 57 appealed and the Court overturned 7 decisions. The Albanian Helsinki Committee contends that the entire process violated Albanian and international law by failing to grant prospective candidates the right to due process. All court sessions were closed to observers and the media. There were complaints that the time for appeal was too limited, and several decisions came after the time limit had passed for candidates to file for the election.

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. In some cases, the Government used laws against slander, insult, incitement to national hatred, and distribution of anticonstitutional literature to prosecute persons, especially journalists, for critical commentary.

Although financial and judicial harassment of journalists increased, particularly at the time of the May elections, the print media remain willing and able to criticize the Government. Publications in general, however, are hampered by small circulation and limited revenue. Taxes on publications, in addition to rising printing costs, made it difficult for independent media to be economically viable without subsidies or loans from their patrons, e.g., political parties, trade unions, social organizations, or private businesses. Their dependence on outside sources for revenue leads to pressures that limit the independence of reporting. Some journalists believe that the Government is using excessive taxation as a deliberate means to cripple the independent and opposition press. On December 24 President Berisha told the heads of the main newspapers that he would lower some taxes and levies. At year's end, the reductions had not yet been implemented. Between 150 to 250 different publications are nevertheless available. Three Greek minority newspapers are published in southern Albania.

A 1993 press law assesses 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 the AHC denounce the press law as being too imprecise and too harsh for a country with poorly developed legal institutions. Under this law and general criminal laws journalists have been beaten, detained, arrested, fined, and jailed, although most sentences are reduced to fines.

Government officials invoked libel laws as well as the press law against journalists. The Government prosecuted one reporter and teacher, Ylli Polovina, accusing him on state television of provoking a car bombing through an article he wrote following the October 3, 1995, assassination attempt on the president of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The article deplored the attack and stated that in the Balkans corruption and political oppression are dangerous and should be fixed before they lead to another such extreme result. In January there was an assassination attempt against Tirana's head judge. In February a car bomb exploded in front of a Tirana grocery store killing four people. Polovina was taken from his home 6 hours after the bombing incident, held for 12 days, brought to trial, and convicted of instigating the violence through his article, fined $300, and released. He was fired from his teaching job but was later given another teaching job in a small village after he wrote a public letter to the President.

The newspaper Koha Jone (KJ), which has the country's largest circulation, as well as other opposition papers, accused the Government of systematic harassment, e.g., through higher taxes and increased printing charges. Reporters claim regular harassment from police and threats from unknown individuals. Police confiscated eight of KJ's cars for various reasons, such as no license, no documentation, or having tinted windows. Police later returned six cars to the newspaper. KJ's telephones were disconnected from April 14 to December 8, ostensibly for technical reasons. Allegedly based on two separate eyewitnesses who placed a KJ employee near the scene of the February car bombing in Tirana, police detained the entire KJ staff, including drivers and janitorial staff. Koha Jone reporters say that they suffered physical harassment, including a relatively serious beating of one KJ reporter by persons unknown early in the May election campaign. Several newspapers complained that telephone/fax lines were cut for 2 or more months during the campaign. Opposition newspapers reported that police blocked cars and impounded copies of their newspapers before the May elections.

Police clubbed several journalists, including some foreign reporters, and confiscated cameras and film during the post-parliamentary election demonstration in Tirana on May 28. Assailants almost killed one independent journalist, Bardhok Lala, who was still in serious condition at year's end from the beating he received.

State-run radio and television are the main sources of domestic news for the vast majority of people, giving the Government a near-monopoly on domestic news. State-owned television relays international entertainment and news broadcasts in some cities. Home satellite dishes are common, and most Albanians, even in remote villages, have access to international broadcasts. There is still no law on private radio and television broadcasting, but there are at least four "pirate" private radio stations. The Government has temporarily closed some stations but generally allows stations to operate provided they do not heavily criticize the Government.

Since November 1991, the 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 comprises 11 members from outside the Parliament and meets occasionally to review programming and the content of news broadcasts. This gives control of programming effectively to the Democratic Party. International observers and opposition critics noted, for example, that the Government-run television was used to serve the interests of the Democratic Party during the May parliamentary election campaign and its aftermath. Parliament amended the local election law in September to provide a new formula for equal media time dedicated to the campaign (50 percent for the Government and 50 percent for all opposition parties) during the October local elections.

Local radio in the south broadcasts some Greek-language programming, with its content translated directly from Albanian language reporting. Also widely listened to are stations from Greece, the FYROM, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and Voice of America radio.

The AHC has criticized the Government's infringement of academic freedom. Although student newspapers do not exist, there is a relatively new independent student union. However, the university system still operates with a number of its former faults intact. Grade corruption is widespread, a large percentage of the student body bypasses exams and enters university via political means, and decisions are thoroughly centralized. There are reports that political criteria figure prominently in the tenuring and promotion of professors. Ten professors who were opposition members of the 1992-96 parliament have not been allowed to return to their jobs after they lost their seats in the May elections.

Local and foreign observers reported a growing climate of apprehension in the universities in the last quarter of the year. In November a number of foreign professors were removed from their teaching positions, ostensibly for lack of contracts of formal sponsorship by a foreign university. Efforts to return these teachers to the classroom continued at year's end. There is no change in the status of the eight educators fired last year under an amendment to the Labor Code permitting the release of employees accused of obstructing democratic and economic reforms.

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 this right. Many in the opposition parties complained about restrictions on campaign rallies and gatherings before and after the May 26 parliamentary elections. To address those complaints, in September the Parliament passed a new law to replace the 1991 decree on public gatherings.

However, there are still some limitations on the right of assembly. For gatherings in public places, organizers must request permission from the chief of police in the locality of the planned rally at least 3 days prior to the event. The chief of police must issue his decision, with explanations for any refusal, no later than 24 hours prior to the event. The police may refuse the permit in cases when the rally may violate human rights and freedoms; traffic obstruction may become a problem; there is sufficient evidence that violent or criminal acts may occur; if another rally is planned for the same time; or if it would interfere with a national event, e.g, a Presidential speech. No advance official permission is now required for meetings held in closed nonpublic places. The police no longer have the authority to preapprove speech or slogan content.

Under the September law, police have the authority to be present during any lawful rally in a public place and are authorized to disperse the participants if the rally calls for anticonstitutional actions or incites calls for violence. If the participants do not disperse, the chief of police or authorized representative may order their dispersion by force after the police issue a warning. The law provides that the police should avoid the use of force wherever possible, but if force is used, it should be limited to the minimum necessary for the situation. Under the new laws, the opposition parties freely organized rallies during the October local election campaign, although some problems were reported.

The Socialist Party applied for permission under the 1991 meetings law to hold a gathering in Tirana's main square on May 28 to protest the conditions of the May 26 parliamentary elections but was refused by the police. The opposition parties nevertheless called for the meeting to be held in the square and urged members to attend.

The Government contends the resultant rally was illegal. The police severely beat a number of opposition leaders and their supporters as well as journalists and onlookers in the square. Some were arrested and mistreated at police stations. The Government admitted that the police actions were excessive, but the Interior Ministry blamed the opposition for inciting the initial police reactions. After conducting an investigation, the Ministry claimed that two high ministry officials and five police officials were fired. The police also took disciplinary action against officers who used excessive violence, and the prosecutor has filed criminal charges against a large number of these officers, although the disposition of these cases has not been ascertained.

The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for the right of association and states that "no one may be denied the right to collective organization for any lawful purpose." A political party must apply to the Ministry of Justice for official certification. It must declare an aim or purpose that is not anticonstiututional or contrary to law, and it must describe its organizational structure and account for all public and private funds that it receives. In 1995 the Ministry of Justice denied such certification for 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 Ministry of Justice also confirmed that it refused certification because it considered some of the points in the party's program against the national interest, e.g., advocating a greater Albania by all means necessary, including force. The party appealed its case to the Court of Cassation, which invalidated the Ministry's decision. There were no other cases in 1996.

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. Citizens may change 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 45 years of severe religious persecution and 25 years of rigidly enforced atheism. The largest traditional religious group, Muslims, follow moderate forms of Islam. The other large traditions are the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox and Roman Catholic. The Albanian Orthodox Church split from the Greek Orthodox Church in 1922, and there is a strong identification with the national church as distinct from the Greek church. The current archbishop is Greek because there are no Albanian monks qualified for this position, and two Greek priests serve as his assistants. One Greek priest travels to Gjirokaster on a regular basis to teach. Other priests from Greece come on a rotating basis to teach and augment the indigenous clergy of the Albanian Orthodox Church in the Greek-speaking congregations primarily in the south. There are three Greek nuns in Tirana. Foreign clergy, including Muslim clerics, Christian, and Baha'i missionaries, freely carry out religious activities. The Minister of Culture estimates that 15 different Muslim societies and sects and approximately 80 Christian societies and sects are active in Albania. The Government considers some of these groups to be of dubious origins, and some Orthodox Church leaders have accused certain groups of being responsible for a number of suspicious activities such as destroying Orthodox icons, spying, or setting fire to a Greek school. No substantiating evidence is available in any of those cases. The Government lacks control over these groups and has little accurate information about most of them.

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

A religious affairs section in the Council of Ministers oversees the activities of the religious communities. The ministers decided in January that 21 religious sites (18 orthodox Churches, 2 mosques and 1 Catholic Church) were cultural properties that required special protection. These sites are from a list of 175 religious cultural objects and edifices, of which 140 are churches (mostly Orthodox). According to the decision, each religious community must negotiate an agreement with the Institute for Cultural Monuments to decide how often religious services will be allowed in each of the 21 old buildings to protect them from deterioration and the theft of icons and other artistic treasures. The director of the Institute said that the Government retains many icons for safekeeping. It returned some objects to the churches, but some churches also asked the Government to keep them because they had no way to secure them safely. The Orthodox Church, however, has complained to the Government because the authorities have dragged their heels on returning some objects turned over for restoration and safekeeping. President Berisha promised to return to churches and mosques the land they owned prior to state confiscation or, in cases where it is impossible to return the original land, to compensate the church with money or another piece of land. The Government has not yet returned all lands but this spring successfully completed the turnover of all the buildings at Ardenitsa to the Albanian Orthodox Church. Restitution of religious properties to the respective religions is a long, difficult, and delicate process. Each religion is slowly recovering old properties, but in cases where the monuments were "cultural monuments protected by the state" or military objects, transfer of ownership is problematic and slow.

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 in 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. Most go to Greece or Italy, many entering those countries illegally. Their remittances are an important economic factor. Albanians who fled the country during the Communist dictatorship are welcomed back with citizenship restored.

There is a significant influx of refugees from Kosovo. Young men from Kosovo come to Albania and stay to avoid the Serbian draft. The Government has no formal refugee policy. The transit of refugees without visas is also problematic, especially of Kurds, Pakistanis, Chinese, Turks, and others from the Middle East and Asia on their way to Western Europe, usually through the port at Vlora. The Government did not forcibly expel anyone who had a valid claim to refugee status. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in conjunction with the Albanian Red Cross, runs a "care and maintenance" program for what they consider "vulnerable" groups, i.e., those who arrive in Albania and cannot return to where they came from or continue further. The UNHCR office in Tirana assesses refugee cases and approves grants of money, shelter, and food for those considered to meet refugee criteria.

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." Parliamentary elections were held on May 26, and local elections, which were not nearly as politically significant, were held on October 20. International observers judged the May parliamentary elections to be seriously flawed. The opposition parties, claiming massive fraud and manipulation, withdrew from the elections several hours before the polls closed and subsequently boycotted the second round of elections June 2 and the reruns of individual races held on June 16.

Numerous irregularities marred the elections and represent a significant step backward from the previous parliamentary elections in 1992. Various observers witnessed instances in which the authorities violated the electoral laws, including the manipulations of vote counts and the casting by single voters of multiple ballots. The intimidating presence of armed guards at some polling stations also has been reported. Irregularities have been acknowledged by the authorities themselves.

However, the premature withdrawal of opposition party candidates and their members of the electoral commissions – who claimed they were threatened with violence – also made it difficult to gauge the true dimension of problems subsequently observed during the vote count. The Council of Europe (COE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) asked for a repeat of the flawed parliamentary elections.

The OSCE parliamentary report concluded that "Albanian legislation provides conditions for free and fair elections. However, the law on genocide includes procedures which cannot be considered fair and transparent. It also includes stipulations which limit the electorate's options to freely choose their candidates. During the campaign authorities did not always act in an unbiased manner. There also appeared to be confusion concerning some decisions, or lack of decisions, on behalf of the Central Election Commission in the management of the process. Procedures in the polling stations were, in general, in accordance with the law. There were, however, a number of irregularities and technical shortcomings. The state-owned media was not entirely unbiased." The OSCE report also said that "The political environment appeared to have deteriorated after the first round of the elections. This diminished the integrity of the second round and also undermines the credibility of the democratic process in the country...."

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) published a separate final statement on the May elections. It concluded that "although the lawfulness of the newly elected Albanian Parliament cannot be questioned, the electoral process included several aspects and incidents which severely question the credibility of the democratic process in the country. The Government and all parties alike share responsibility in this matter." The OSCE and ODIHR each offered a list of recommendations to improve the electoral procedure.

The Albanian Helsinki Committee also issued a critical report on the parliamentary election process. It outlined the obstacles facing the opposition during the campaign, especially government control of the media and actions against the opposition when it attempted to hold rallies, leading to the problems on election day. The Government did not give official permission for the AHC to monitor the elections. The Government made it difficult for other domestic observers, particularly those from the Society for Democratic Culture (SDC), to get credentials. Some government officials claim that the AHC and the SDC submitted some names and information about potential observers too late for processing. The AHC said that the progovernment press tried to discredit the committee as "a tool in the hands of the Socialist Party." The AHC reported that the police intimidated and beat opposition party local electoral commission members as well as some voters, forcibly removed opposition party observers from polling stations, and harassed or attacked some opposition candidates. In addition the AHC accused "secret agents and government appointees of the electoral commissions" of "brutally" violating the electoral law. The AHC and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) issued a joint evaluation on June 6. They called for the Government, the OSCE, the COE, and the United Nations to declare the elections invalid. They recommended new elections, an investigation of electoral fraud and police violence, and a separation of powers within the Government. The report condemned government control of the media, government interference in the work of NGO's in the country, and the violent actions of police forces during the May 28 demonstration and during other attempts of the opposition to meet. Committee members wrote that "human rights violations before, during, and after the Albanian parliamentary elections on 26 May and 2 June 1996 have seriously compromised free and fair elections and significantly undermined the development of just democratic institutions in transition Albania. Ballot stuffing, multiple voting, voter list manipulation and police intimidation and violence have all contributed to violating the constitutional right of the Albanian people to freely and fairly elect their political representatives. These violations call into question the willingness of the Government to abide by the rule of law and ensure that political processes occur in conformity to Albanian and international law...."

During the campaign numerous opposition party members and credible eyewitnesses reported police restrictions on their campaign activities, e.g., preventing rallies and beatings. The worst violence occurred on May 28 during a post-election opposition party rally (see Section 2.b.)

The Democratic Party won 122 of 140 seats in the Parliament. President Sali Berisha insists that the election was valid and that the current Parliament is representative of the will of the people. The Socialist Party won only 10 parliamentary seats and refused as a party to enter Parliament, which it considers illegitimate. One of the Socialist candidates nevertheless took his seat, but the Party states that individual does not represent it.

International observers judged the October 20 local elections to be an improvement over the May 26 parliamentary elections, although some irregularities were observed. The major political parties met in roundtable discussions prior to the local elections, and these sessions led to significant changes in the local election law, the rules governing the conduct of the police during the voting, and in access to television time during the campaign. Enactment of a new law on meetings and gatherings, designed to eliminate the abuses encountered in the May parliamentary campaign, was largely successful.

The Government took a number of steps apparently designed to hamper both local and international monitoring efforts. Age qualifications for monitors were raised from 18 to 25. This had the effect of eliminating the vast majority of university students as monitors. It also created a situation in which persons old enough to vote, serve on election commissions, and hold elective office were disqualified as observers. Due to disagreement with some provisions in ODIHR's report on the May elections, the Government initially refused to allow ODIHR to send any monitors for the October elections. The Government later modified its decision, but sought to vet the names of the observers and limit their number to 15, a number ODIHR considered insufficient to do the job effectively. As a result, ODIHR did not send any observers. The EU denounced the lack of Government cooperation with ODIHR. The COE and several EU-member governments sent monitors for the local elections.

The COE described the elections as "sufficiently free and fair to be accepted as a reliable expression of the inhabitants' preference for their future mayor or head of commune, and agreed that these elections are a definite step in the right direction." Other international observer groups issued similar statements. While opposition politicians did not explicitly accept the elections as "free and fair," they generally acknowledged that the Government's actions before, during, and after the October elections were a substantial improvement over its actions in regard to the May elections. Some of the problems included accuracy of the voting lists, ballot box stuffing, and altered vote counts. The Democratic Party won more than 80 percent of the local offices. The opposition acknowledged the victory, although it did not concede all the vote totals. The Government never published the voting protocols as required by the election law. The opposition cited as an additional problem low turnout among its supporters because of lack of confidence in the process due to the events in May.

Although there are no legal impediments to their participation and their numbers are slowly increasing, women are still underrepresented in politics and government. According to women's groups, 18 women are members of Parliament, 2 are Ministers, 2 are State Secretaries, at least 1 is a Deputy Minister. The major political parties have women's organizations, and a few women sit on the parties' leadership committees. Reportedly some women discovered that their names were printed on ballots in the May elections without their knowledge or consent.

The 1992 Law on Political Parties prohibits the formation of any party or organization with an antinational, chauvinistic, racist, totalitarian, Fascist, Stalinist, "Enverist" or Communist, or Marxist-Leninist character or any political party with an ethnic or religious basis. The Unity for Human Rights Party, founded by ethnic Greeks but representing several ethnic minorities, is most popular in the south where the majority of the Greek minority resides. There are three Human Rights Party members of Parliament.

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 organizations noted that while they were able to operate and on occasion cooperate with the Government, they were harassed and intimidated once they had made direct criticisms of the Government. Some groups complained that the Government failed to respond to written requests for information or data that would normally be considered of a public nature. The AHC, the major human rights monitoring organization, took an active role in defending human rights in certain areas, particularly during and after the May parliamentary elections. The AHC believes that it was unable to function this year as freely and indiscriminately as in the past. Representatives complain that the Committee has become the target of criticism in progovernment newspapers and verbal attacks by government officials. Besides the election, the AHC focuses on the status of minorities, rule of law issues, the importance of a new constitution and is pressing for amendments to the law on the organization of the national intelligence service.

Several new domestic NGO's focus on the rights of women and children. The Albanian Human Rights Documentation Center continues to be active in preparing human rights educational materials to be used in elementary and secondary schools. It has a library that attempts to keep current on the most important human rights issues. Like most domestic NGO's, the Center's work is hampered by a lack of sufficient funds and equipment. The Society for Democratic Culture works on civic education, monitoring elections, and women's issues. Progovernment newspapers criticized the SDC's director, and several individuals, including a member of the Central Election Commission, reportedly verbally threatened her following the release of the Society's report critical of the May 26 elections.

Delegations from the COE, the OSCE, OSCE's ODIHR, and the European Parliament made several visits to observe and evaluate the May parliamentary elections and assist in preparation for the October local elections. Representatives of the OSCE's Office of the High Commissioner for National Minorities also visited to confer with political officials and representatives of the ethnic Greek community.

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

Women's groups report that spousal abuse in this traditional, male-dominated society continued to be common and is generally treated by police as a family matter. However, there was an increase in cases reported to the authorities. There is no government-sponsored program that protects the rights of women, nor are there any shelters for abused women. Many men, especially those from the north, still follow the old traditions of law in which women are considered as chattel and treated as such. The concept of marital rape is still foreign to many; it is not considered a crime and is not reported. A recent report indicated that divorce is on the rise, and that women now initiate around 70 percent of the divorce cases.

Some women, either voluntarily or by force, participate in prostitution rings and other criminal activities.

The situation of women improved during the last year, but overall it remains inadequate. There are currently 26 NGO's devoted to women's issues, and some are starting to coordinate with each other. They organize seminars, training courses, and counseling for women throughout the country. Although most are located in Tirana, the larger groups are starting to establish branches outside the major cities. International foundations and NGO's provide expertise and support, and as a result the women's NGO's are getting stronger. Some women have organized their own roundtables for discussion of issues. Women are now doing research on a number of problems, e.g., the need for a law on domestic violence and the position of women in society in relation to land ownership. They plan to lobby the Parliament to pass laws on these and other issues and have already successfully lobbied legislators to pass a law relating to land inheritance. In January the Parliament passed a law on reproductive rights.

Women involved in these groups believe that communications have improved between the Government and the NGO's, but old prejudices and attitudes still remain. In January the Government established a "Women and Family Department" in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs with the intent to create a network of offices to address social problems around the country. Some women claim, however, that the department is not really focused on women's rights so much as social protection in general and that it has not produced any concrete results. The Government also created a new Department for Women's Issues in the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Youth, but women say that its aims are unclear. Female members of Parliament do not usually independently contact women's NGO's, but some have been responsive when NGO's take the initiative.

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 sex. Women have suffered more from unemployment and discrimination in seeking jobs. Although women enjoy equal access to higher education, they are not accorded full, equal opportunity and treatment with men in their careers. An increasing number of women is beginning to open shops and small businesses. Many are migrating along with men to Greece and Italy to seek employment.

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 (or age 18, whichever comes first); the Government has adopted measures to discourage truancy, but these measures in many areas are not very successful.

Child abuse is a little-reported problem, but the authorities and NGO's believe that it exists. There have been two publicized cases in which men were convicted of the sexual abuse of children. One was sentenced to 18 months and the other to 2 years in prison. There are numerous reports that organized criminal elements kidnap children, especially young girls, and send them to Italy and elsewhere to work as beggars and prostitutes. Romani children in particular are used as beggars, in full view of the police who take no action either to assist the children or against the adults who use them. Child Hope, an international NGO, operates a center for street children.

People with Disabilities

There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings for people with disabilities, and little has been done on their behalf.

Widespread poverty and the poor quality of medical care account for a large number of disabled persons. The disabled 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 Affairs 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 their social integration rather than institutionalization. Donations from abroad have led to improvements in living conditions in some institutions, especially in Korca and Durres. In Lezha a daycare center for the disabled was opened. This center works to help integrate the disabled into their families. Oxfam, a British NGO, helped open a workshop to employ the disabled.

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 Greek minority, which according to the AHC "is an integral part of the Albanian society," is concentrated in the south and numbers, by official estimates, 80,000 people. Greek minority sources' estimates run as high as 200,000 people. The numbers are always varying because of the continuous movement of a portion of the population back and forth between Albania and Greece. In the eastern part of the country are a few thousand ethnic Macedonians and in the north a small group of ethnic Montenegrins. There are no reports of discrimination against the Vlach, who speak Romanian as well as Albanian, or against the Cams (ethnic Albanians from northern Greece).

Relations between Albania and Greece improved, and in March the two Governments signed a treaty of cooperation and friendship. This treaty led to a number of agreements on the key issues of Albanian immigration to Greece and Greek language education in Albania, as well as agreements on other issues. The Government opened three new first-year classes in the Greek language in the southern cities of Saranda, Gjirokaster, and Delvina when the new school year started in September. The AHC concluded in a recent report that the rights of the ethnic Greek minority had "reached a new (positive) dimension," and that the Greek minority was "an integral part" of Albanian society.

There is an association which claims to represent more than 100,000 Roma throughout Albania. There was one reported incident in July in which a group of young men of unknown ethnicity beat and then burned to death a 15-year-old Romani boy. The AHC strongly condemned the incident and asked the general prosecutor to undertake a full investigation. Action remained pending at year's end. The AHC fears any revival of racism, which is now uncommon.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to create independent trade unions, and the Independent Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania (BSPSH) acts as the umbrella organization for a number of smaller unions. A separate rival federation continues 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 800,000 workers, mostly in agriculture, small shops, enterprises, and restaurants, but very few of them 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. Public workers staged a peaceful 1-hour "warning" strike on September 16 to protest a lack of government subsidies to compensate for the new, higher prices of essential goods such as bread, gas, and kerosene. The Government previously offered to pay public sector employees and pensioners a supplement to cover the rising costs, but the amount was deemed inadequate. The average family spends $20 to 25 per month on bread, which remains the diet staple. Workers staged a peaceful 1-day walkout on October 4 and threatened an indefinite walkout in the future if the Government did not increase wages or subsidies. In December, Prime Minister Meksi signed an agreement with the largest confederation of independent trade unions to index wages to inflation.

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 representing public sector employees negotiate directly with the Government. Wages for all state employees are defined by the wage pyramid, legislated in 1992, which comprises 25 wage levels organized by trade.

Parliament passed a law establishing free-trade zones between Tirana and Durres and elsewhere in the country. These are to become export processing zones, but the zones are not yet functioning due to the lack of implementing regulations.

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 of age and limits the amount and type of labor that can be performed by persons between the ages of 14 and 18. The Labor Code covers working conditions for those over the age of 16. The Ministry of Labor enforces the minimum age requirement through the courts. In rural areas, children continue to be rquired to assist their families in farm work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for all public sector workers over the age of 16 is approximately $35 (3,500 lek) per month, which is not sufficient to maintain a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Most workers must find second or part-time jobs to supplement their incomes or rely on remittances from family members residing abroad. The law guarantees social assistance (income support) and unemployment compensation. However, this is extremely limited, both in the numbers of unemployed who receive it and in the amount that they receive. The average monthly wage for workers in the public sector is approximately $100 (10,000 lek), an increase of around 60 percent over last year. No data are available for private sector wages, but they are perceived to be considerably higher than the public sector. A draft law was under consideration at the end of 1996 that would set a minimum wage for private sector employees.

Workers are limited by law to a 48-hour workweek, and many workers normally work 6 days a week; the Council of Ministers must approve exceptions. The Ministry of Labor enforces this law whenever possible. Women may not work at night in some professions, and pregnant women may not perform any night work.

The Government sets occupational health and safety standards but has limited funds to make improvements in the remaining state-owned industries; health and safety are generally very poor. The 1995 Labor Code spells out the obligations of employers and their employees with regard to workplace safety. The law, however, does not provide specific protection to workers who choose to leave the workplace for fear of hazardous conditions.

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