Albanian authorities must prevent further police violence and uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly

The Albanian authorities must show restraint in policing demonstrations and ensure thorough, independent and effective investigations into all allegations of excessive use of force,” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović in a statement today, expressing concern at the escalation of clashes between police and protesters following the fatal shooting of a young man by the police during the country’s nightly curfew last week. “Disproportionate use of force has also been reported in relation to other demonstrations which took place in Albania earlier this year,” she adds.

“The response to the COVID-19 pandemic does not give authorities carte blanche to use force when policing assemblies,” says the Commissioner.  In this context, she notes the use of water cannons, pepper spray and other forceful means which have led to the injuring of several protesters and large-scale detentions, including of children. “While the right to peaceful assembly may be restricted to protect public health, the authorities must uphold the principles of necessity and proportionality in all circumstances. Therefore, blanket bans on public assemblies and the dispersing of demonstrations for the sole reason that they violate lockdown rules, without considering less restrictive measures, should be avoided. The police must also distinguish between individuals engaged in violence and those who demonstrate peacefully and refrain from heavy or indiscriminate use of force. Moreover, any detention of children should only be carried out as a measure of last resort and should fully respect their procedural rights, including the right to be questioned only in the presence of a lawyer or one of their parents or guardians.”

The Commissioner reiterates that the policing of demonstrations should be based on communication and collaboration with the organisers and participants in demonstrations and must be aimed at de-escalating tensions. “It is crucial to ensure that police officers operating in the context of demonstrations receive specialised training in the negotiated management of assemblies and the proportionate use of force.”

The authorities should at all times demonstrate zero tolerance towards law enforcement officers involved in excessive use of force, who should be identified, brought to justice and sanctioned in line with the relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Guidelines on Eradicating Impunity for Serious Human Rights Violations adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers in 2011. Wearing visible identification tags helps ensure accountability. Moreover, persons claiming to be victims of police misconduct should be able to file a complaint to obtain redress.

Noting that most persons detained have been freed, the Commissioner calls on the authorities to speed up the release of any remaining peaceful protesters who may still be in detention.

Lastly, the Commissioner is concerned about the detention of, and alleged assaults on, several journalists covering the demonstrations. “Attacks on journalists constitute a serious violation of press freedom and the right to be informed. The authorities must ensure that journalists can continue to inform citizens without fear of threats or acts of violence”.