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Human Rights Developments

Multiparty elections were held in March 1992, the second such elections since reforms began in Albania at the end of 1990. In the first elections, in March 1991, the communist Labor Party won the majority. In the recent elections, in March 1992, the opposition Democratic Party won a majority (67.7 percent) of the seats in the Albanian parliament and Sali Berisha became president of Albania. International observers described the 1992 elections as free and fair. However, ethnically based parties and groups were not permitted to field candidates, a ban that violates principles enunciated by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and serves to exacerbate tensions between Greek and Albanian communities in southern Albania. The Greek minority organization, Omonia, prevented from running directly, reorganized as the Union for Human Rights and won two seats in the parliament.

During the election campaign preceding the 1992 elections, the media became more open and reported on developments more accurately and objectively. However, not long after the Democratic Party came to power, some journalists and editors who wrote or printed articles that criticized the current government were dismissed, censored or harassed. Examples included the following:

· During the summer of 1992, Arian Melonashi, a television journalist, was dismissed from his job along with his sound and camera crew. Melonashi had prepared an interview with Azem Hajdari, a deputy chair of the Democratic Party and a critic of Berisha's government. Hajdari had been especially critical of a recently promulgated law that gave directors of enterprises the freedom to hire and dismiss workers without providing justification or recourse to appeal. The interview in question was never broadcast and Melonashi and his colleagues were dismissed because of their "absence" from work for several days, even though they were on assignment in Vienna for the television station. Melonashi and his colleagues took the case to court, which ruled in their favor. Despite the court's ruling, Melonashi's employer claimed that he would again dismiss Melonashi and his sound and camera crew if they returned to work.

· On July 20, Xhemal Lamcellari went on a hunger strike to protest his arrest. Lamcellari was a former lawyer and journalist for the paper Albapol, which was founded in 1991 by the Socialist Party as an official organ of the Ministry of Public Order but was banned in 1992 by the Berisha government. Lamcellari had criticized, among others, Pieter Arbnori, the president of the Albanianparliament and a former political prisoner under the dictatorial regime of Enver Hoxha.

· Several Democratic Party members who criticized the party's leadership in 1991 were later expelled from the party. In 1992, these former members founded a new political party, the Democratic Alliance, and established a semi-weekly newspaper entitled Koha Jone. The paper's editor-in-chief was arrested by local authorities in the town of Lezha and accused of lying and causing local unrest because in a campaign speech he quoted Blerim Cela, the Minister of State Control, as saying that Albanians "would be better off voting for [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic than for the [Albanian] Socialist [Party]," the renamed Labor Party.

The rehabilitation of former political prisoners in Albania remains a pressing problem. Many thousands during the Hoxha era were sentenced to exceptionally long terms of imprisonment followed by internal exile. Extended family members were caught in the web and sent into the harsh conditions of internal exile; many remained there for several generations. All of these prisoners have now been released. The government enacted a law on rehabilitation on September 30, 1991, which applies to about 15 to 20 percent of the former prisoners, those who were sentenced under Articles 53, 55 and 57 of the Penal Code for "agitation and propaganda," trying to cross the border illegally or engaging in anti-government activity. The law provides for the restoration of pensions, including time served in prison as working time. It also provides for the restoration of titles and honors, of homes and jobs, and of the right to seek higher education. The law also provides for compensation or return of confiscated property and for damages to be paid to former prisoners and their families. A draft law is now being prepared to deal with the remaining 80 percent of the former prisoners, those who were sentenced as war criminals, enemies of the people, or spies.

The government has provided some jobs in central and local government for former political prisoners. It also has arranged to waive the entrance examinations to higher educational establishments for 2,500 students from among the former prisoners and exiles. Yet, much remains to be done, and the government is handicapped by lack of funds. The former prisoners, most of whom have returned to major cities, live in squalid conditions in makeshift housing. Most of them have been unable to find jobs, and a large proportion are still in the process of proving that they are, indeed, former political prisoners.

After the Labor Party renamed itself the Socialist Party in mid-1991, hard-line Marxists founded the Communist Party and continued to follow the principles of Albania's former dictator, Enver Hoxha. On July 16, the Albanian parliament voted to ban the Communist Party and its newspaper, Zeri i se Vertetes (Voice of Truth). According to the Albanian Justice Ministry, the Law on Political Parties prohibits the existence of political parties whose aims and activities have "an anti-national, chauvinistic, racist, totalitarian, fascist, Stalinist, Enverist, communist and Marxist-Leninist character." Hysni Milloshi, the chairman of the Communist Party, was arrested on July 22 for illegal weapons possession. A law that took effect in June allowed leaders of political parties, members of parliament and government ministers to keep weapons; Milloshi lost that right after parliament banned his party in July.

There are new political prisoners in Albania now. Nineteen former Labor Party leaders have been arrested and are awaiting trial on various charges, including corruption, abuse of privileges and appropriation and misuse of state property. Among them is Enver Hoxha's 71-year-old widow, Nexhmije Hoxha, who was arrested in December 1990 on charges of corruption and since has been held in prison. Some of the 18 other former Labor Party officials have also been in prison for periods of a year or more, awaiting trial; others are being held under house arrest. On September 12, former President Ramiz Alia was placed under house arrest in his daughter's home where he lives; the house is surrounded by armed guards.

Albania's public prosecutor, Maksim Haxhia, who reportedly went against the wishes of Democratic Party leaders by refusing to initiate criminal proceedings and for moving too slowly in the cases of former communists, was removed from his job. Haxhia also angered the Berisha government by opposing a parliamentary law giving police the right to search houses without a warrant and for challengingpolice for using excessive force in the crackdown on crime. En route to conferences in Cannes and London, Haxhia's diplomatic passport was confiscated at the Tirana airport and he has not been allowed to leave the country. Under Albanian law, the prosecutor can only be fired on grounds of mental incompetence or for committing a crime. Haxhia is now being investigated on charges of falsifying a document relating to the appointment of a prosecutor to a local government position. Some believe these charges have been trumped up to justify firing him.

Although Helsinki Watch believes that those guilty of past abuses should be brought to justice, we object to the lengthy incarceration of former communists without trial as a violation of due process and the freedom from arbitrary detention. The defendants should be tried by an impartial court, affording all due process rights, within a reasonable period.

Helsinki Watch continues to urge that the cases of all prisoners currently in detention for non-political crimes also be reviewed. Because defense attorneys were banned in most cases prior to 1990, prisoners sentenced before then did not receive due process.

In May 1990, the scope of the death penalty was restricted under amendments to the criminal code. Women may no longer be sentenced to death. According to Amnesty International, the number of offenses punishable by death has been reduced from 34 to 11. These include treason, espionage, terrorism and pre-mediated murder, as well as some economic, non-violent crimes.

The use of the death penalty for common criminals increased in Albania in 1992. The death penalty is apparently being used by the Albanian government as a deterrent to violent crime. According to Amnesty International, eight death sentences were passed during the first six months of 1992. Three of the eight were commuted to life imprisonment. Two executions took place on June 25, when two brothers, Ditbardh and Josif Cuko, were hanged in the main square of Fier (in central Albania) at 1:00 a.m. The execution itself was not public but the bodies of the two men were left on the gallows throughout the day while spectators, including many who had traveled to Fier for the execution, were allowed to gather in the square. The two men had been convicted of bludgeoning five members of one family to death during a robbery on May 29. In early June, they were shown on television confessing to the murders. On June 11, they were tried and convicted in a courtroom in which angry members of the public reportedly urged the judge to render a verdict of guilty and to sentence them to death. The rapidity with which the two brothers were tried, sentenced and executed, and the reports of the trial itself, suggest that there were inadequacies in the legal process that led to their execution.

The Right to Monitor

In December 1990, the Forum for Human Rights was established and was later renamed the Albanian Helsinki Committee after the organization joined the International Helsinki Federation in March 1992. In September 1992, the chair of the group, who had reportedly been critical of the Berisha government, was replaced by a new chair more favorably disposed toward the current government. There is also an Association of Former Political Prisoners that generally supports the Berisha government's policies. No direct government interference in the activities of either group has been reported.

U.S. Policy

The U.S. did not devote much attention to human rights in Albania, focusing instead on its economic needs. Secretary of State James Baker visited Albania prior to the Albanian elections in March. In April, the U.S. government approved an aid package of $35 million for Albania. In early May, the U.S. took steps to grant Albania Most Favored Nation trade status, which was granted on August 26. During a meeting between Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and Albanian Prime Minister Aleksandr Meksi in late May 1992, $10 million in food aid was promised. President Berisha met with President George Bush in June 1992 and was promised another $10 million in aid in raw materials. In all in 1992, the U.S. approved $83 million in aid for Albania.

During Secretary Eagleburger's meeting with Prime Minister Meksi in May, Eagleburger reportedly urged Albania not to adopt a militant position toward the status of Albanians in Kosovo, Yugoslavia. After the Albanian government drafteda law on religion in October, the U.S. protested several provisions. The draft law allowed the Albanian government to oversee the functioning of religious communities and to ensure that they do not violate "the constitution, the laws or the national interests" of the state. The law also required that the Albanian president approve the appointment of leaders of religious communities in the country. At the urging of the U.S., the Albanian government agreed not to endorse the law when it is brought before parliament for debate.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

Helsinki Watch continued to monitor the human rights situation in Albania throughout 1992. In October, two Helsinki Watch representatives traveled to Albania and met with government officials, human rights activists, members of the press and others. Helsinki Watch issued a protest about the removal from office of Attorney General Maksim Hoxhia. An article and a mission report were issued.

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