(New York) - The anti-discrimination bill approved by Albanian lawmakers on February 4, 2010, is an important step toward ensuring equality for all, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Sali Berisha. The bill, which Albania's government had proposed and promoted, is designed to protect Albanians from all forms of discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Albania's government has shown leadership in the fight for equality," said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender program of Human Rights Watch. "The bill's inclusive provisions, if carried out properly, will help build an open society where all can live freely."
For over a year, Human Rights Watch has worked to support changes in Albanian law that would offer anti-discrimination protections in keeping with international standards. In February 2009, Human Rights Watch organized a roundtable discussion in Tirana with 10 Albanian human rights organizations to talk about the issue.
The groups pointed to high levels of homophobia in Albanian society and a dire lack of legal protections. They concluded that a broad anti-discrimination law that would expressly protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Albanians against unequal treatment should be a top priority for government action.
Human Rights Watch reinforced this message in meetings with government officials, including Berisha. Albanian human rights organizations prepared a first draft of the bill, and discussed its contents with the government. It was passed with the prime minister's full support.
Article 1 of the bill defines equality, and includes sexual orientation and gender identity among the reasons equality should not be infringed upon. Article 3 defines discrimination, incorporating every ground mentioned in article 1.
In its letter, Human Rights Watch urged Albanian authorities to ensure that the new Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality and the Ministry of Labor have the staff and expertise needed to lead the fight against discrimination.
"This law is an important promise - but it is just the beginning," Dittrich said. "Now the government needs to see that its provisions are realized and enforced."