WORLD REPORT 2000 - Albania

Human Rights Developments


The rapid influx of ethnic Albanian refugees from the neighboring province of Kosovo was Albania's dominant event in 1999. By early June, more than 450,000 Kosovar Albanians were in the country, having been forcibly displaced by Serbian and Yugoslav forces during the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia.

Despite limited resources, the Albanian government made sincere efforts to accommodate the refugees, many of whom had suffered serious human rights violations inside Kosovo. Protection problems faced by the refugees were mostly related to the unsafe location and poor security of the camps in the north of the country; the general state of lawlessness in Albania; and the country's severe economic deprivation.

One positive consequence of the Kosovo crisis was the ameliorating effect it had on Albania's highly polarized political scene. The two main parties, the Democratic Party (DP) and the Socialist Party (SP), were less antagonistic in 1999, and politically motivated abuses were less common than in previous years. Despite this, Albanian citizens continued to experience many of the human rights violations that accompany states in transition from communism, such as politicized courts, abusive police, and abuses against women. As in previous years, victims of abuse rarely obtained redress through the legal system.

A high level of official corruption, pervasive at all levels of government, remained a critical problem. Corruption continued to have a negative impact on citizens' trust in the government and the rule of law. In September, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko issued an administrative order obliging all senior administration officials to declare their personal assets and state how they had been acquired.

The judicial system was a particular problem. With meager state salaries, judges and prosecutors were susceptible to bribes from wealthy and powerful criminal elements.

Women's rights also remained a serious concern, including the ongoing practice of trafficking. While there is no evidence of direct government involvement, the government has clearly been unable to stop trafficking, including of Kosovar Albanian women who were taken, some forcibly, from refugee camps by criminals and trafficked into prostitution in Italy. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported some cases of rape and sexual assault of Kosovar Albanian women in Albanian refugee camps. Domestic abuse also remained a serious but largely unmentioned issue in Albanian society. There were no state-run institutions to provide assistance for victims of domestic violence, who had to use Albania's small and underfunded nongovernmental organizations for shelter or counseling.

Despite the less belligerent political atmosphere, a remaining point of contention between Democrats and Socialists was the state's investigation into the September 1998 killing of Azem Hajdari, a former student activist and militant member of parliament for the opposition Democratic Party. Top DP officials, including former President Sali Berisha, refused to testify to investigators during 1999 because, they said, the investigation was politically motivated.

The government was also continuing to investigate the violent demonstrations that erupted two days later during Hajdari's funeral procession, when armed DP supporters ransacked government offices and, for a brief period, held the Prime Minister's office, the parliament building, and the Albanian state television and radio building, prompting the resignation of then-Prime Minister Fatos Nano. Parliament subsequently lifted Berisha's immunity due to his alleged role in what the government called a coup d'etat, but no charges were leveled against him in 1999. The trial of twelve people who were arrested for their alleged involvement in the violence was ongoing during the year. In October the defendants, including the chairman of the Legality Movement Party, staged a brief hunger strike to protest what they considered procedural violations by the court.

Local human rights groups and the political opposition complained about procedural violations in the legal case against six former government officials. The six men, including the former Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior, were charged in August 1998 with crimes against humanity for their role in suppressing the popular uprising following the collapse of the pyramid schemes in March 1997. They were released from house arrest in February 1999 but had still not been tried as of this writing.

Despite these problems, Albania's slow process of legal reform continued throughout 1999. On November 22, 1998, a national referendum approved Albania's first complete post-communist constitution which is in conformity with international human rights standards. Until that time the country had operated under a motley collection of new laws and constitutional provisions.

On September 30, 1998, parliament passed a new law on public and private radio and television, the first complete law regulating the electronic media since the fall of the communist government in 1992. The law largely meets international standards, although some media experts complained that the Albanian state radio and television still had ownership of the transmitter network, which, they feared, would allow the government to interfere in the transmission of programs. Throughout 1999, a host of private radio and television stations were broadcasting, some of them in opposition to the government.

In February 1999, the parliament ratified a new law to create Albania's first national human rights ombudsman. As of September, however, no one had been appointed to the post. According to the law, the parliamentary commissions on human rights and legal matters must propose candidates, who are then approved by three-fifths of the parliament.

By September 1999, the Albanian government had still not abolished capital punishment, despite continued pressure from the Council of Europe, which Albania joined in 1995. No one has been executed in Albania since 1993, although six people were on death row in 1999. Those on death row were reportedly kept in inhuman conditions that fell far short of international standards. International monitors observed the inmates wearing helmets and said they were in shackles twenty-four hours a day.

Public order was a serious problem throughout the year, as it has been since 1997, with violent incidents occurring frequently, usually between the police and criminal gangs. Much of the mountainous north and parts of the south were not under the government's control, and crime was endemic. The smuggling of drugs and illegal immigrants, mostly to Italy, was pervasive.

Political violence was less of a problem in 1999 than it had been in previous years. However, on February 21, unknown individuals attacked the former judge and well-known defense attorney Kleanthi Koci, although the reason for the attack is not known. He died a few days later on route to Rome for medical treatment.

Albania's Roma population continued to be a target of racism and discrimination by the general population, sometimes resulting in physical violence. In May, the parliament agreed to ratify the European Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities, which the government had already signed.

Defending Human Rights

Albania's burgeoning nongovernmental sector continued to expand during 1999. Dozens of groups worked on issues related to human rights, ranging from labor rights to domestic violence against women. None of them reported restrictions on their work by the government.

Many Albanian human rights groups worked intensively to assist the ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo, including by taking testimony about war crimes, either for publication or to provide to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Others provided counseling for victims of abuse.

The Role of the International Community

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

The OSCE maintained a large mission in Albania with field offices in various cities, engaged in monitoring human rights and media, provided technical assistance on draft legislation, and conducted other institution-building activities. Field offices near the border with Yugoslavia monitored refugee flows, as well as fighting between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Yugoslav forces.

Council of Europe

Albania came under fire from the Council of Europe (CoE) for maintaining the death penalty, despite a 1995 commitment to abolish it. The Parliamentary Assembly cautioned that any retreat from Albania's commitment to abolish the death penalty "would have serious consequences for Albania's membership in the Council of Europe." The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited Albania in December 1998, following up on its visit from the previous year. At this writing, Albania had not published either of the reports issued by the CPT.

European Union

Albania's handling of the refugee crisis and its cooperation with NATO garnered praise and economic assistance from the European Union (E.U.). In addition to its annual commitment of 100 million Euros, the E.U. pledged 62 million Euros in April to meet refugee related expenses, although only 40 million Euros (U.S. $42 million) were ultimately needed. In June, the E.U. took the lead in establishing the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, which provides a framework for economic development, democratization, and conflict prevention and resolution in the region. Participants in the pact, including Albania, reaffirmed their commitment to observe human rights in accordance with OSCE standards and the U.N. Charter. In 1999, the E.U. also informed the Albanian government that further E.U. support for legal reform in the country was preconditioned on the abolishment of the death penalty.

United States

The United States government had close relations with the Albanian government throughout the year with Kosovo as the centerpiece of discussion. During his June visit to the country, President Clinton promised Albania that its generosity to the refugees and cooperation with NATO provided "an opportunity to deepen [its] partnership with NATO and [its] integration with Europe and the future prosperity that will bring." The U.S. government allocated an estimated $33 million in foreign aid to Albania in 1999, with the largest portions going to economic development and democracy building. In September, the State Department invited a group of moderate politicians from the political oppositionto visit Washington just before the Democratic Party was scheduled to have its party congress. Former President Sali Berisha was not among the invitees.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Albania maintained close relations throughout 1999 due to the Kosovo crisis. Already a member of the Partnership for Peace, Albania opened its airspace for NATO and allowed 8,000 NATO soldiers to be deployed in the country, both for humanitarian and military reasons. In April, the U.S. military deployed twenty-four Apache attack helicopters in Albania for potential use in Kosovo, but they were never put into military action, and one crashed while conducting exercises.

International Financial Institutions

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund provided supplemental loans for the government to deal better with the influx of refugees, and the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development committed substantial funds to Albania and neighboring countries as part of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. In the first six months alone, the World Bank pledged U.S. $125 million in new credits to Albania.