HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
HUMAN RIGHTS IN POST-COMMUNIST ALBANIA
March 1996, ISBN: 1-56432-160-6
INTRODUCTION | RECOMMENDATIONS | TABLE OF CONTENTS
For nearly half a century Albania experienced a brand of communism unknown to the rest of Eastern Europe. A fateful blend of isolationism and dictatorship kept this tiny Balkan country the poorest and most repressive in all of Europe. During his forty-year reign, the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha banned religion, forbade travel and outlawed private property. Any resistance to his rule was met with severe retribution, including internal exile, long-term imprisonment and execution. His domination of Albanias political, economic and social life was absolute.
In light of this history, Albania has made substantial progress toward respect for civil and political rights in the past five years. Democratic elections in March 1992 swept the communist party from power, installed a new government led by President Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party, and paved the way for a series of liberalizing reforms.
Still, five years has not been enough to wipe away the legacy Hoxhas rule. The complete absence under communism of independent courts, a free media and human rights mechanisms poses a serious challenge to Albanian democracy today. More seriously, the one-party mentality is still deeply ingrained in many of the countrys new leaders: critics of the ruling Democratic Party are often regarded as critics of democracy.
As a result, Albanian citizens are still plagued by serious human rights violations, such as restrictions on freedom of expression and association, manipulation of the legal system and violence by the police. In part, these abuses are the result of Albanias Stalinist past. But in many cases, the human rights violations in Albania today are the direct result of specific actions on the part of the new government.
Of particular concern is the states continued interference in the judiciary. Despite many improvements, the court system is still used as an instrument of the state, especially against the political opposition. The leader of the largest opposition party is currently in prison after a trial fraught with due process violations. Since 1992, numerous other critics of the government have been harassed, tried, imprisoned or, in a few cases, physically attacked by unknown assailants usually without any response from the government. Judges who make independent decisions on sensitive cases are sometimes reassigned to lesser posts or fired. More than 400 persons, predominantly selected by the Democratic Party, were appointed as judges and prosecutors throughout the country, upon completion of a special six-month law course, thereby strengthening governmental influence over the judiciary and law enforcement officials.
Despite some positive developments - such as a new Bill of Rights - some of Albanias new legislation does not conform to international standards. Of particular concern is a new law that created a commission, appointed predominantly by the government, to review the communist-era secret police files. All those who were members of pre-1991 governments or found to have been collaborators with the former secret police are banned from holding elected office or other government-appointed posts until the year 2002. There is considerable fear that the law will be applied selectively against political rivals to the government.
The government has undertaken an ambitious effort to prosecute former communist officials who committed crimes during the previous regime. However, the process has been selective and, at times, in violation of international law. Some former communist officials were denied the right to a fair trial, while others have avoided prosecution altogether because of their ties to the current government.
Freedom of the press is also circumscribed. No legislation exists to allow for the transmission of private television or radio, leaving the state-run programs that favor the government as the sole provider of news for the majority of the population. While there are many private newspapers throughout the country, they are restricted by a repressive press law and obstacles to their distribution. Since 1992, a large number of journalists, including foreign correspondents, have been harassed, arrested or beaten by unknown assailants after writing articles that were critical of the government.
The rights of minorities have improved since the fall of communism. Nevertheless, problems do exist, particularly with the sizable Greek minority in the south of the country. In September 1994, five members of the ethnic Greek organization Omonia were tried and convicted on charges of espionage and the illegal possession of weapons in a case that was in violation of both Albanian and international law. The five defendants were later released but not before 70,000 Albanian guest workers had been expelled from Greece as retribution by the Greek government. Large-scale detentions of ethnic Greeks by the Albanian police and secret service before the trial created an atmosphere of fear in areas inhabited by Greeks. The issue of Greek-language schooling and the return of property owned by the Orthodox Church are also areas of concern.
Parliamentary elections are due in the spring of 1996 but, as of February 1996, no fixed date had been set. The closing months of 1995 saw renewed efforts by the state to silence independent voices in the judiciary and media, as well as those of opposition politicians. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki fears that these actions are an attempt by the government to eliminate its political rivals, thereby jeopardizing the fairness of the forthcoming elections.
Based on the findings of this report, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls on the Albanian government to:
Guarantee the independence of the judiciary as outlined in both Albanian and international law. In particular, the High Council of Justice should not appoint or dismiss judges, investigators or prosecutors solely on the basis of their political affiliations.
Guarantee the right to a fair trial in front of a competent and objective tribunal. In cases where this right has been violated, submit the case for retrial or release the defendant. No one should be detained solely for the non-violent expression of his or her political beliefs.
Conduct investigations into crimes committed during the communist regime with the strictest adherence to international standards of due process. Individuals should be charged with specific crimes, rather than association with a past group, and enjoy the right to a fair trial in front of an independent court.
Repeal or amend the Law on Genocide and the Law on the Verification of the Moral Character of Officials, which create a commission, appointed predominantly by the government, to review the communist-era secret police files of all future elected officials and senior government employees. Examinations of the secret police files should be conducted by an objective, non-partisan commission to avoid the possibility of political discrimination. Individuals should be guaranteed the right to defend themselves, including a proper procedure for appeal.
Repeal or amend article 24 (1) of the Law on Labor Relations which allows for the firing of state employees in the name of reform. Since 1992, the law has been used as a basis for justifying the large-scale firings of state employees on political grounds.
Guarantee that people with diverse viewpoints are given appropriate access to state-owned radio and television, especially in anticipation of the forthcoming elections.
Pass a broadcast law that allows for private ownership of radio and television and that guarantees the non-discriminatory allocation of frequencies.
Repeal or amend the press law to guarantee freedom of expression. Specifically, eliminate provisions in the law that allow for the imprisonment of journalists and editors because of reporting that may be critical of the state.
Investigate allegations of police abuse and improper treatment of those in detention, and hold accountable those found responsible.
Guarantee that prisoners rights are respected in accordance with international law. This includes the right to be free from torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, the right to adequate medical and sanitary facilities and the right to written materials. Prisoners under the age of eighteen should be kept separate from adults.
Provide police and government officials with special training about human rights standards and protections.
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.
Assure that members of minority groups are granted equal rights without discrimination, in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent agreements of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Respect the right of Albanias minority populations to preserve, develop and express their ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity. The government should be particularly sensitive to the need for education in the mother-tongue, an adequate number of classes and properly-trained teachers, and the need for an appropriate curriculum and textbooks to ensure the fulfillment of this constitutional right.
Take reasonable steps to prevent domestic violence. These steps should include, at a minimum, criminalizing all forms of domestic assault and prosecuting and punishing those identified as responsible.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IV. THE LEGAL SYSTEM
The Referendum of November 1994
INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY
The High Council of Justice
Law Courses in Durres
The Case of Maksim Haxhia
The Case of Zef Brozi
Laws Regarding Communist-Era Secret Police Files
Law on Labor Relations
Law on Police Searches
Ban on the Communist Party
VIOLATIONS OF THE RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL
V. ACCOUNTABILITY AND IMPUNITY
THE TRIALS OF FORMER COMMUNIST OFFICIALS
LAW ON GENOCIDE AND THE LAW ON THE VERIFICATION OF MORAL CHARACTER
IMPUNITY FOR PAST AND CURRENT CRIMES
VI. POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AND THE ELECTORAL PROCESS
HARASSMENT OF THE POLITICAL OPPOSITION
Physical Attacks Against the Political Opposition
The Murder of Gjovalin Cekini
The Attack on Teodor Keko
Attacks on Gjergji Zefi
Attacks Against Members of the Socialist Party
Legal Cases Against the Political Opposition
The Case of Fatos Nano
Political Discrimination in State Employment
THE RIGHT TO PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
Socialist Party Rally
Association of Former Political Prisoners
Property Through Justice Hunger Strike
Demonstration for Archimandrite Maidonis
THE RECOGNITION AND REGISTRATION OF POLITICAL PARTIES
FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
IMPROPER USE OF THE SIGURIMI FILES
VII. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN THE MEDIA
Closures of Private Radio
Legal Restrictions: The Press Law and Penal Code
Trials of Journalists
The Trial of the Koha Jone Journalists Aleksander
Frangaj and Martin Leka
The Trial of Blendi Fevziu
The Trials of Gjergji Zefi
Printing and Distribution
Access to Information
ALBANIAN TELEGRAPHIC AGENCY (ATA)
JOURNALISTS HARASSED, ASSAULTED OR IMPRISONED
VIII. ILL-TREATMENT, DEATHS IN CUSTODY AND ARBITRARY ARRESTS
KILLING IN DISPUTED CIRCUMSTANCES
DEATHS IN CUSTODY
ILL-TREATMENT AT THE TIME OF DETENTION
Gay Club Albania
THE ILL-TREATMENT OF PRISONERS
IX. MINORITY RIGHTS
DOMESTIC LEGAL PROTECTIONS
INTERNATIONAL LEGAL PROTECTIONS
THE GREEK MINORITY
The Greek Minority Under Communism
The Greek Minority Today
The Trial of the Omonia Five
Minority Language Education
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly
Restrictions on Minority Access to the Media
OTHER ETHNIC MINORITIES
X. THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN
WOMENS RIGHTS UNDER COMMUNISM
WOMENS RIGHTS TODAY
XI. THE RIGHTS OF HOMOSEXUALS
XII. UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT POLICY
XIII. EUROPEAN POLICY
APPENDIX A: LAW ON GENOCIDE
APPENDIX B: LAW ON THE VERIFICATION OF MORAL CHARACTER
APPENDIX C: LAW ON THE PRESS
Human Rights Watch March 1996 ISBN: 1-56432-160-6
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