Oct 22, 2004

Greek minority in Albania: Human Rights Committee considers Report of Albania

The Human Rights Committee has considered the initial report of Albania on how that State party implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Untitled Document
20 October 2004

The Human Rights Committee has considered the initial report of Albania on how that State party implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Introducing the report, Luan Hajdaraga, Deputy Minister at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Albania, said that since ratifying the Covenant in 1991, Albania had undertaken important steps consisting of legal and practical measures and had achieved significant results in protecting and respecting human rights and freedoms. Among other things, the Government of Albania attached great importance to the education of minorities and the special needs of the Roma minority in particular. The Deputy Minister added that his country had ratified the Covenant at a time of major democratic, economic and social change attributable to the ideals and aspirations of its people to live in peace, freedom and in a democratic society, after having lived through nearly five decades of totalitarianism.

In preliminary remarks, Committee Chairperson Abdelfattah Amor said he was impressed by the good work demonstrated by the delegation and the serious way in which the State party was tackling the implementation of the Covenant. Albania had come a very long way from what had been a very difficult situation and this transition had been illustrated by the many legislative measures taken by the Government. The Chairperson welcomed the steps taken by the State party aimed at abolishing the death penalty, and expressed the Committee's concern about the status of women and minorities in general.

Other Committee Experts raised questions on subjects pertaining to, among other things, anti-terrorist measures, customary law and the crime of "blood feud", gender equality, trafficking of women and children, the treatment of prisoners, the State's judicial system and legal services in Albania, the protection of minorities, in particular the Roma, and the use of minority languages.

The Committee will issue its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Albania towards the end of its session which will conclude on 5 November.

Also representing Albania were officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Public Order, Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Permanent Mission of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Albania is among the 153 States parties to the Covenant and as such it is obligated to submit reports on its performance aimed at implementing the provisions of the treaty.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 21 October to begin its consideration of the initial report of Benin (CCPR/C/BEN/2004/1).

Report of Albania

The report, found in document CCPR/C/ALB/2004/1, states that a fundamental element of the constitutional democracy in Albania is the establishment of specific limitations on the State's rights over individuals. The fundamental rights and freedoms and the duties contemplated in the Constitution for Albanian citizens are also valid for foreigners and stateless persons in the territory of Albania. For all Albanian citizens, including persons from national minorities, Albanian legislation contemplates the right to the freedom of movement without obstacles to other States, the freedom of expression and organization, and the freedom and secrecy of correspondence, among other things.

According to the Criminal Procedure Code, a defendant is entitled to self-defence or to defence by a lawyer. In case of insufficient means, he or she shall be provided with legal aid. With the intention of increasing the number of women at the decision-making levels, the Albanian Committee for Equal Opportunities has been cooperating closely with civil society and foreign organizations since 1999. Moreover, the Criminal Code provides that discrimination by a worker holding a State function or public service conducted because of that capacity or during its exercise, when the discrimination is based upon origin, sex, health situation, religious or political beliefs, nationality or ethnic group, can be punished by a fine or up to five years imprisonment.

Since it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1991, Albania has undertaken important steps towards the abolition of the death penalty and its transformation into life imprisonment. Along with the recruitment of professional staff, the School of Prison has played an important role in the formation of the prison personnel, which is foreseen by the law "On Prison Police". Up to the end of 2002, there were 1,780 prisoners in penitentiaries and 272 detainees held in the isolation areas in police stations. The issue of detainees held unjustly in isolation rooms was one of the main focuses of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Presentation of Report

LUAN HAJDARAGA, Deputy Minister at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Albania, at the onset of his address noted that today marked a special day for Albanians in that it was the anniversary of the beatification of Mother Teresa who had been Albanian and whose life had been dedicated to millions of people in need throughout the world.

The respect and protection of human rights constituted fundamental pillars upon which the democratic society in Albania had been founded on. Since Albania had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1991, it had undertaken important steps consisting of legal and practical measures towards ensuring the foundation of an equal society for both men and women, the right to life and the abolition of the death penalty, the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment, the right to liberty and security of a person, and the freedom of movement, of thought, of religion, of expression, of the press and of children, among other things. Significant results had been achieved in protecting and respecting these rights and freedoms.

With regard to the freedom of information, the press, and freedom of speech, the Government had taken measures for the practical enjoyment of these freedoms. Albania had adopted one of the most advanced laws on the right to information, Mr. Hajdaraga noted.

In Albania, more than 60 political parties were registered and more than 80 trade unions. There were also a large number of non-governmental organizations focused on the protection of human rights. Moreover, the Government of Albania attached great importance to the education of minorities. Apart from adopting modern legislation in compliance with international standards, the Government had taken steps for the implementation of this right, in particular by organizing training courses.

Having considered the special needs of the Roma minority in Albania, in September 2003 the Government of Albania adopted the National Strategy for the Improvement of the Roma Living Conditions, establishing at the same the "Monitoring Sector of the Strategy", to monitor its practical implementation.

Mr. Hajdaraga said his country had ratified the Covenant at a time of major democratic, economic and social change attributable to the ideals and aspirations of its people to live in peace, freedom and in a democratic society. The ratification had corresponded with the end of the communist regime. After nearly five decades of totalitarianism, the aspirations of the Albanian people were for their country to become a developed country in the context of the economy, democracy and the rule of law. For this reason, tremendous work had been carried out during the last decade to set up new democratic legislation.

The commitment to protecting and advancing human rights was not just contained and reflected in the domestic policies of Albania but was widely portrayed in its international actions. Mr. Hajdaraga drew attention to the commitment of Albania for securing and promoting peace, stability, human rights and democracy in various parts of the world including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

While noting that the report only provided a picture of measures taken by his country during the period of 1991 to 2003, Mr. Hajdaraga assured the Committee that his country's commitment and its approach to human rights as a Government, as a people and a nation was substantial, genuine and ongoing. Even though human rights had improved significantly since 1991, it was obvious that legal acts incorporated in the Albanian legal system needed extensive improvements, he added.

Questions by Committee Experts

While acknowledging the impressive steps taken by Albania since its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1991, a Committee Expert asked for more information on how the Government was addressing the issue of implementing the Covenant. The Expert also was interested in obtaining additional information on the State party's plan to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on the death penalty. The Expert asked for clarification on the nature of the crime of "blood feud", which was the result of the Canon customary law which allowed only males to inherit.

Other Committee Experts raised questions pertaining to the role of the Office of the Ombudsman and cases handled by it; trafficking in women; non-refoulment; the access of women to courts in Albania, particularly in view of divorce cases; and domestic violence. A Committee Expert asked specifically whether free legal aid was provided to women who were not able to provide their own attorney in court cases. While thanking the delegation for detailed information provided in the report on the situation of women, another Expert asked for further explanation on the low participation of women in decision-making positions. Also asked was whether there were provisions for compensation in Albania for cases of torture.

Another member of the Committee raised a case of police brutality which had resulted in the death of a person brought into police custody. The member asked what measures had been taken by the State party to investigate this matter further since the official cause of death as listed by the police was attributed to an alcohol-induced coma where as an international human rights body claimed the death was caused by a "blunt object".

Responses by Delegation

Implementation of Covenant

In response to a question about the implementation of the Covenant in practice, the delegation said the Constitution of Albania and its legislation after the ratification of the Covenant provided for and reflected extensively the standards of democracy and rule of law. As for the direct application of the provisions of the Covenant in practice, the delegation mentioned that several articles of the Covenant had been invoked in a number of cases. Domestic legal provisions corresponding to rights and freedoms provided by the Covenant were invoked before the courts regularly.

Rule of Law

With regard to the questions on the Office of the Ombudsman ("People's Advocate"), the delegation said the Government had started to implement the policy of "Open Days" as a way for the Office of the Ombudsman to communicate directly with the public to hear complaints. This form was a way to help citizens in need that had emerged along with the decentralization of the Government. The "Open Days" policy had reduced the bureaucratic procedures, financial costs as well as some abusive behaviour from certain officials and authorities, resulting in citizens becoming more trustful of the State, institutions and legislation. Moreover, it was intended to change the attitudes of citizens towards the State.

Concerning the death penalty, the delegation indicated that the last death penalty had been carried out in Albania in 1992. Ever since there had been no initiative to apply the death penalty even though it remained in the Criminal Code. Moreover, the Ministry of Justice had prepared the draft law for approving Protocol 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which provided for abolishing capital punishment under all circumstances.

Asked for information on the cases of the "blood feud" crime, the delegation said Albania had undertaken some important legal initiatives, namely in terms of the changes made to the Penal Code in 2001. Killings motivated by "blood feud" were investigated by the Public Prosecutors Office of Heavy Crimes and were judged by the Court of Grievous Crimes. During the year 2003, the number of persons tried for blood feud crimes had been 55. Cases of homicides as a result of "blood feud" were punished by no less than 20 years or life imprisonment.

In providing information about Albania's laws on combating terrorism, the delegation noted that Albania had established communication bridges and mechanisms with the international institutions and the States leading the action for preventing and combating terrorism. The measures which were being taken in legislative or institutional terms aimed to train structures and institutions for preventing and consolidating the internal capacities of protection and the effective reaction against such events as the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 and the attacks this year in Madrid. Moreover, there had been substantial changes in the criminal legislation of Albania with regard to terrorism and its financing, organized crime, and trafficking of any kind. Since the creation of an anti-terrorist structure in the State party within its Ministry of Public Order, no criminal act had classified as a terrorist act within the territory of the State.

With regard to the extradition of terrorists to another country where the domestic legislation provided for the death penalty, the delegation said according to the Albanian legal basic principles, the extradition of the person was prohibited if the receiving State handed down a more serious punishment than that allowed by Albanian legislation.

Right to be Free from Torture and Detention Conditions

In response to the question on a specific case of police brutality which had resulted in the death of the person and which had been raised by a Committee Expert, the delegation noted that five police officers had been given prison sentences ranging from five months to 16 years. The Director of the Korca Police and Commissariat Chief had both been suspended and then dismissed. With regard to the fate of the doctors involved in the case, the doctor who gave the second medical opinion had been transferred to another position which was unrelated to such cases. The first medical opinion provided by another doctor had been deemed to be unprofessional by the Ombudsman; however no action had been taken against the doctor.

In response to a question on the treatment of prisoners, the delegation noted that the total number of remand prisoners was 645, out of which 31 were minors and 39 females. The average period of stay in remand imprisonment varied from eight to 10 months. In terms of illegal detention, as per the Criminal Procedure Code, compensation was granted for every day the prisoner was held in prison. Moreover, remand imprisonment for juveniles had specific conditions and they were sheltered in separate sections away from the adult prison population. In order to reduce the number of remand prisoners, a plan had been drafted for the System of Remand Imprisonment in Albania which was currently being implemented.

The Judiciary

Concerning a question about the State party's judiciary and reports that magistrates were inexperienced, the delegation noted that the difficulties encountered by the judiciary were numerous and ranged from a weak infrastructure to lack of training for judges. Presently, the Ministry of Justice was drafting a new law, which was going to establish a new structure in the judicial system which would regulate the judicial infrastructure, improve the functioning of judges and ensure better working conditions in general. As a result of inspections carried out by the High Council of Justice and the Ministry of Justice during 2004, three judges were dismissed and one was demoted.

In response to a question about access to legal aid, counsel and trial without delay, the delegation said legal assistance was provided free of charge and was only granted in criminal cases. But the quality of this assistance was not good because of the low remuneration. Moreover, very often there were delays in the proceedings as a result of the infrastructure and a lack of a database containing precise addresses, but also due to frequent changes in the organization of various institutions and law amendments. In response to a related question, the delegation noted that the High Council of Justice attached great importance to the timely verification of allegations of interference by State officials and others in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. As a result, these cases had been minimized.

Gender Equality

Asked to provide information on the practice of Canon, the delegation noted that the practice of Canon was an unwritten customary law which interfered with the present Albanian legislation. In the northern part of Albania and especially in rural locations the practice of Canon was more common. The practice indicated that only the boy child had the right of inheritance. It resulted in the "blood feud " crime. In response to a follow up question, the delegation added that according to the law women and men were on equal footing. Women had rights equal to her husband and property owned by a woman before marriage remained her possession if she were to divorce, unless otherwise stipulated in a contract. On the contrary, according to customary law the wife and women in general were disadvantaged. However, the delegation stressed that this Canon law had not been enforced in Albania since 1928.

Concerning a question on violence in the family, the delegation noted this phenomenon was still a serious problem for Albanian society. Recently it had been made more obvious by the electronic and written media. This was no longer a private problem but a social problem which was strongly connected with trafficking. The Committee for Equal Opportunities of Albania had been collaborating with UNICEF, civil society and governmental structures in order to draft a National Plan of Action against family violence.

The delegation said the practical access of women in the courts was restricted only in certain zones and, in the majority of the cases, had nothing to do with the State. In general, women were hindered in their access to the courts because they, themselves, and the environment where they were living shared the view that women did not inherit in the same way that men did and did not have the same rights. In order to increase the participation of women in public life, the Government had set out to increase public awareness of gender concepts and had created different projects for training women for elections. The Committee for Equal Opportunities had carried out a study on the position of women in the decision-making process and in political life. Moreover, a law had been approved "For an Equal Gender Society". The law provided for concrete measures towards promoting equal opportunities between sexes in order to eliminate direct and indirect discrimination. In order to protect employees from discrimination, especially from sexual harassment, the employer was responsible for setting up disciplinary measures against sexual harassment; obtaining information connected with sexual harassment; and taking appropriate organizational and disciplinary measures.

In response to a question on the trafficking of women, the delegation said the Government had paid particular attention to improving legislation to address the crime of trafficking in general, but especially in women and girls. Pursuing the strengthening of measures, laws had been imposed which increased sanctions for such offences. Organizing, directing or financing the trafficking of persons was punished by 10 to 15 years imprisonment; when the offence caused the death of the harmed person, the punishment was no less than 20 years or life imprisonment. Moreover, a working group of the Albanian Government was drafting the "National Strategy in the Fight against Children Trafficking" in which the Ministry of Public Order was assigned to take a number of actions for the prevention and fight against the criminal activity of trafficking children. If a person was trafficked through the territory of Albania, it was considered to be a crime as per the Criminal Code. With regard to the numbers of police officers involved in trafficking activities, during 2003 there were 13 police officers charged with involvement in trafficking. During 2004, there were two such cases. In this connection, the Albanian Parliament adopted this year the "Law on protection of witnesses and collaborators of justice" which offered the possibility of international cooperation in this system.

Freedom of Expression

Answering a question on alleged violence against journalists, the delegation said institutions in Albania were undertaking some legislative initiatives towards new legislation regarding the freedom of the media and press, especially with regard to strengthening the legal protection of journalists and improving and modernizing the status of journalists. In response to a related question on the activities of the National Council of the Radio and Television, the delegation said the Council operated as a specialized institution on moral and ethical issues related to the electronic media in Albania and considered complaints by the public on issues such as violence, sex and the dignity of radio-television broadcasting, among other things.

Protection of Minorities

The delegation responded to a series of question with regard to the protection of national minorities. Concerning equal access to public services and governmental positions, the delegation noted that the ethnic, ethno-linguistic, religious and other communities had equal access to the civil service and State positions at the central level. With the intention of improving the representation of minorities in the Albanian pubic life, the Council of Ministers had established the State Committee on Minorities which, among other things, encouraged Albanians belonging to minorities to actively participate in public life. As per the law on political parties, minorities in Albania were allowed to establish their own political parties. Although no minority had established its own political party in Albania, minorities were represented in Parliament by the Union of Human Rights, which had never acknowledged itself as a party belonging to the Greek minority. With regard to the level of representation of minorities in the local government, as per the last elections in October 2003, the Greek minority had representatives in all levels of the elected Government. Moreover, with regard to Macedonian minorities living in the commune of Liqenas, in the region of Korca, all representatives of the local government were members of this minority.

As for the measures taken by the State party to prevent ethnic discrimination, the delegation noted that the measures taken in this regard were based on traditional values of the long non-discrimination history in Albania and the close observance of human rights standards according to international instruments. Albanian society had always been free of prejudices and discrimination against persons or groups belonging to other races or minorities. Constitutional and legal provisions provided the opportunity for minorities to take advantage of positive discrimination, making available to individual members of minorities special measures for better protection and support. Furthermore, Albanian legislation prohibited policies and practices that could result in disadvantaging members of minorities.

With regard to the Roma minority, the Albanian Government had drafted a national strategy for the improvement of Roma living conditions. The strategy outlined the needs of the Roma and the real capabilities and capacities of the State.

Responding to a question on ethno-linguistic minorities, the delegation said the Greek, Macedonian and Montenegrin minorities were recognized as national minorities, and on the other hand, Roma people and Aromanians were seen as ethno-linguistic minorities. The Roma had kept their own language and after the fall of communism the activities of the Roma people had flourished in Albania. Another minority group was what the delegation referred to as "Gyps" who claimed to be Egyptians. The delegation mentioned that the Gyps originated from India and entered Albania, after having transited through Egypt. They had adopted the Albanian language. Similarly, the Roma came from India to Albania; however they kept their own language.

The delegation mentioned that according to a study on minorities in Albania, the percentage of national minorities in the Albanian population was 1.4 per cent. According to the study, the number of Aromanians was estimated to be just under 1,000. Statistical data with regard to the number of Roma living in Albania did not exist since no census had been conducted in that regard.

Concerning the use of minority languages, the delegation noted that the Government considered the right of using minorities' languages in all areas where national minorities lived as an important aspect for preserving and promoting the values of ethnic minorities. In this regard, they could use their mother tongue in their relations with administrative authorities while taking into consideration the percentage of the minorities in relation to the remaining part of the population.

Other Issues

The Committee indicated that according to information provided to it, numerous citizens in Albania were not locally registered as a result of recent significant internal migration, which deprived them of certain rights such as educational and medical care. In response, the delegation said the Government had been working through the Ministry of Local Government and Decentralization to strengthen the work of the local civil status offices and had been raising the awareness of internally migrated citizens on the importance of registering. The Government had also been updating and improving fundamental registers of the civil status and carrying out related vocational training. Concerning education, the delegation noted that the Ministry of Education and Science and its subordinate structures had been taking numerous practical measures about school attendance by unregistered children such as appointing special education instructors and raising awareness among parents and students on the importance of students remaining and/or enrolling in school.

Asked to elaborate on the competencies of the State Cult Committee, the delegation indicated that the Committee was established by a decision of the Council of Ministers in 1999 and replaced the State Religious Secretariat. It was charged with coordinating responsibilities within religious communities, associations and organizations; maintaining relations with other State institutions on issues related to non-public schools; and conducting surveys on teaching programmes in religious schools and cultural issues. The delegation added that in Albania two religions co-existed – Christianity and Islam.

In response to questions posed by Committee members, the delegation said the practice of conscientious objection was provided for by law and rules for alternative civil service had been established by the Government; a person could also pay a fee as an option to avoid doing military service.

In connection with a question on the existence of landmines in Albania, the delegation noted that there were certain villages threatened by landmines which were located along the border with Kosovo. The Government in cooperation with the international community had been taking measures to de-mine these areas and the hope of the Government was to clear these areas of mines altogether to allow for the free movement of people living in these affected villages.

Preliminary Remarks

ABDELFATTAH AMOR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for having provided detailed answers as to how the Government of Albania was carrying out its obligations in terms of implementing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee was impressed by the good work demonstrated by the delegation and the serious way in which the State party was tackling the implementation of the Covenant. Albania had come a very long way from what had been a very difficult situation. This transition had been illustrated by the many legislative measures taken by the Government. Mr. Amor said a culture of democracy and human rights was needed to adhere to the principles of the Covenant and Albania had expressed that in these measures.

The Committee welcomed the ratification by Albania of Protocol number six of the European Convention concerning the death penalty and expressed hope that it would soon ratify the second Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

Mr. Amor said serious efforts had to be taken in connection with the status of women and minorities in general. The traditional code of the Canon continued to have negative effects on women and the issue of the Roma was also a matter of concern. The Chairperson regretted that the Committee was not able to further explore the areas of pre-trial detention, conditions of justice in general and problems concerning journalists during the course of the discussion with the delegation.

Source: UN