HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
ALBANIA: THE GREEK MINORITY
February 1995, Vol. 7, No. 4 (D)
INTRODUCTION | RECOMMENDATIONS | TABLE OF CONTENTS
The fall of communism has brought monumental changes to Albania, long the most isolated and repressed country of the Eastern bloc. During the last four years, the tiny nation has taken significant steps towards establishing a multi-party democracy based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Despite these important achievements, a great deal remains to be done to overcome the brutal legacy of communist dictator Enver Hoxha. The complete absence under communism of independent courts, a free media and human rights mechanisms poses a serious challenge to Albanian democracy. In addition, Albanias sudden return from self-imposed isolation has brought a host of new problems for which the fragile political structures are not prepared. In particular, the war in the former Yugoslavia has placed a great strain on Albanias relations with its neighbors, notably with Serbia, Macedonia and Greece.
In addition to constant tensions with Serbia over the rights of Albanians in Kosovo, there has been a marked deterioration in relations between Albania and Greece during the last two years. An attack on an Albanian military post near the Greek border in April 1994 led to reciprocal accusations, diplomatic expulsions by both sides and increased tension along the common border. The conflict peaked in late August 1994 when five leaders of the Greek minority in Albania were tried and later convicted of espionage and illegal possession of weapons. Greece retaliated by expelling about 70,000 Albanians working in Greece and sealing its border with Albania.
At the center of the dispute between the two countries is the treatment of the Greek minority living in Albania. The Greek government claims that Albania is repressing the rights of ethnic Greeks, who live primarily in the south. The Albanian government claims these rights have been respected in accordance with international norms, and that Greece is fomenting separatism in the region. Despite these external pressures, relations between the local Greek and Albanian communities in Albania have, on the whole, been peaceful.
This report documents the current human rights situation of the Greek minority in Albania. The report is based on visits to Albania between July 1993 and January 1995 during which time Human Rights Watch/Helsinki consultants interviewed numerous individuals in the Albanian and Greek governments, representatives of the Greek minority, Albanian and Greek journalists, and human rights activists.
Based on its research, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki concludes that the Greek community in Albania has experienced an increase in minority rights, in accordance with the general democratic changes that have taken place in Albania since 1990. Political representation in local and national politics, the right to practice the Orthodox faith and some improvements in Greek-language education have all been a result of Albanias democratic reforms. In addition, ethnic Greeks living in Albania have benefitted economically due to the special relationship they enjoy with Greece.
Nevertheless, as with the general level of democracy in Albania, many serious problems remain. The organization representing the Greek minority, Omonia, and the predominantly Greek political party, Union of Human Rights, experienced some obstacles to fair participation in the 1992 national elections. There have also been restrictions on freedom of assembly, religion and expression for ethnic Greeks.
More serious, however, are the actions of the Albanian police and secret service in the south of Albania, where most ethnic Greeks live. Particularly before the trial of the five Omonia leaders charged with espionage, many people were improperly detained and interrogated, creating an atmosphere of fear among the Greek minority.
The trial itself, which began in August 1994, contained many violations of Albanian and international law regarding the conditions of arrest and treatment under detention, inadequate due process guarantees and denial of a fair and public trial. These violations lend credibility to the claim that the trial was a targeted attack against a legal organization representing the Greek minority.
The increased tensions between the Albanian government and the ethnic Greek minority are especially evident in areas of cultural and educational policies, particularly as they impact on education in the Greek language. While Human Rights Watch/Helsinki does not take a position on the specific remedies that the government must provide for minority language education, it is incumbent upon the Albanian government to address the concerns of the Greek minority in consultation with the Greek community, in order to reduce tensions in the region and to fulfill its obligations to promote and preserve the Greek minoritys culture.
The abuses of the Albanian government that are documented in this report, coupled with the Greek governments response, have served to increase tensions between the local Greek and Albanian communities in the south, and have also fostered a perception of actual and potential discrimination and hostility toward the Greek minority. In general, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki found that the two communities are committed to peaceful coexistence. However, many expressed a fear that external pressures, from Tirana and Athens, were creating artificial divisions between the two ethnic groups.
Based on the findings of this report, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls on the Albanian government to:
Assure that all minority members are granted equal rights without discrimination, as set forth in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the documents of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Strengthen legal mechanisms for protecting rights giving individuals greater access to courts to challenge the legality of government decisions and to obtain an adequate remedy for abuses committed by the state.
Investigate allegations of police abuse and improper treatment of all Albanians in detention, and particularly of members of the Greek minority. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki believes that there is sufficient evidence that individual police officers were responsible for violations of the law, and calls on the government to take appropriate measures, including criminal prosecution.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki believes that there is evidence that the five Omonia activists were denied due process protections, and that decisions related to the prosecution, trial and sentencing were motivated by bias. Therefore, we call for their convictions to be set aside and for a new trial to be held with scrupulous respect for all due process guarantees.
Accord the Greek minority freedom of expression, including fair access to state-run radio and television, without discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin.
Repeal or amend the law on public gatherings to ensure that the freedoms of assembly and expression are not unduly restricted and that permission to hold public gatherings is not determined by the content of the views of those wishing to assemble.
Ensure all Albanian citizens freedom of religion, including the freedom, either individually or in public or private, to manifest their religion or beliefs.
Guarantee the right of all Albanians to establish private schools, including schools in a minority language, without discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin.
Take affirmative action to improve inter-ethnic relations and reduce tensions between minorities and the Albanian majority. This could include an ombudsmans office to address cases of discrimination on ethnic grounds. Educational programs on minority rights, minority history and culture, as well as human rights, could be introduced in all Albanian schools, in order to fulfill Albanias international obligation to combat prejudice which leads to discrimination and to promote understanding and tolerance among nations, and racial or ethnic groups.
Provide police, government officials and teachers with special training regarding human rights and the rights protected in both national legislation and international documents.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Democratization Process
The Greek Minority Under Communism
THE GREEK MINORITY TODAY
The Omonia Five
Minority Language Education
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly
Restrictions on Minority Access to the Media
Human Rights Watch February 1995 Vol. 7, No. 4 (D)
To order the full text of this report click HERE.
For more Human Rights Watch reports on Albania click HERE.
Or, to return to the index of Human Rights Watch reports click HERE.