Dear Prime Minister Berisha,

I write you on behalf of Human Rights Watch, in response to the broad anti-discrimination bill approved in the Albanian parliament on February 4, 2010. Human Rights Watch is an independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.

We wish to commend you for the leadership you have shown by introducing this legislation which protects people in Albania from all sorts of discrimination including on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The law is expected to take effect in March 2010.

One year ago the situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in terms of legal protection was dire. Human rights organizations in Albania expressed concern over the high level of homophobia within Albanian society.

In February 2009, Human Rights Watch organized a roundtable discussion in Tirana with ten Albanian human rights organizations to identify actual discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. As a top priority for government action, they identified the need for a broad anti-discrimination law including sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for protection.

After this discussion, Human Rights Watch met with you and, separately, with the ministers of justice and interior and the deputy prime-minister, as well as with several members of parliament, raising the need for such an anti-discrimination bill.

By introducing this broad anti-discrimination bill your government showed respect for Albanian civil society's concerns. It represents a significant step toward making Albania an open society where all people can live freely without fear of unequal treatment.

Chapter V of the law deals with the commissioner for protection of equality. This independent public institution will be a valuable instrument to protect the rights of those facing discrimination. We urge you to ensure that this office is appropriately staffed and supported.  Likewise, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities must be empowered to oversee the law's implementation throughout the government. Ensuring the legislation's effectiveness will require the work of dedicated and motivated officials.

Human Rights Watch commends you and the Albanian government for the leadership it has shown on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Boris O. Dittrich,
Advocacy director in the program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
Human Rights Watch

Cc:
Minister of Justice Bujar Nishani
Minister of Interior Lulzim Basha
Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Spiro Ksera
Minister of Integration Majlinda Bregu
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ilir Meta
Minister of State and Relations with the Parliament Genc Pollo