HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS REPORT OF ALBANIA
16 July 2013
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Albania on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Filloreta Kodra, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the report, said that, according to the Constitution the Covenant was part of the internal legal system. Institutional guarantees providing protection against discrimination, such as the Constitutional Court, the Ombudsman and the Commission for the protection against discrimination, had been strengthened. Taking into account the recommendations of the Committee, significant improvements had been made in legislation on gender equality and domestic violence, and a National Strategy on Gender Equality had been adopted. Enforcing the rule of law constituted a key priority for the Government. Justice reform aimed at ensuring access to justice and improving transparency. Increasing public awareness and fostering cooperation with civil society and the private sector on human rights issues were also among the priorities.
During the discussion, Committee Experts raised questions about the implementation of the Covenant. Concerning violence against women, Experts requested information about the magnitude of the problem, especially domestic violence, and about measures adopted to ensure that instances of domestic violence were effectively investigated and sanctioned. Experts also inquired about enforced disappearances, torture and other human rights violations perpetrated during the Kosovo War and the communist era. Other issues addressed during the interactive dialogue included the independence of the Ombudsman, human trafficking, asylum procedures and conditions of detention.
The delegation of Albania included representatives from the Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Directorate of Penitentiary Institutions, the Directorate of Equal Chances, the Directorate of Legislation Drafting, the Directorate for the Monitoring of Strategies, the European Integration Directorate, and members of the Office of the Commissioner for Protection against Discrimination.
Ms. Kodra, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue. The Government was committed to improving the human rights situation in the country and looked forward to the Committee’s recommendations.
Also in closing remarks, Nigel Rodley, Chairperson of the Committee, said problems of ill-treatment and violence against women, as well as human trafficking and impunity, had to be addressed. The Government showed that it was aware of these problems and that measures had been taken.
The concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee on the report of Albania will be released towards the end of the session of the Committee, which concludes on Friday 26 July.
The Committee will resume its work this afternoon, at 3 p.m. to begin its consideration of the third periodic report of the Czech Republic (CCPR/C/CZE/3).
Report of Albania
The second periodic report of Albania on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can be read here: (CCPR/C/ALB/2).
Presentation of the report
FILLORETA KODRA, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the report of Albania (CCPR/C/ALB/2), said that according to the Albanian Constitution the Covenant was part of the internal legal system; it was directly applicable and had priority over domestic laws incompatible with it. Albania had improved its legal system to protect individuals’ rights and freedoms. Institutional guarantees providing protection against discrimination, such as the Constitutional Court, the Ombudsman and the Commission for the protection against discrimination, had been strengthened. The Constitutional Court could review complaints filed by individuals and the Ombudsman mediated between citizens and the public administration. A law on protection from discrimination, adopted in 2010, established a Commissioner for the protection from discrimination with jurisdiction over both public and private sectors. An increasing number of complaints had been examined and, in 2012, the Commissioner had initiated 14 ex-officio investigations. The Commissioner had also adopted measures to prevent and punish instances of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual persons; and had proposed amendments to the Labour Code and to the Criminal Code, in order to ensure compliance with the law on protection from discrimination.
The Albanian Government and society had been engaged for years in the promotion of the role of women in society. Taking into account the recommendations of the Committee, significant improvements had been made in legislation on gender equality and domestic violence, and a National Strategy on Gender Equality had been adopted. Shelters for victims of violence had been improved and an awareness raising campaign on gender-based violence had been launched. A National Council on Gender Equality had been established, it worked as an advisory body for gender policies and gender mainstreaming, and its recommendations had been implemented by the relevant institutions. A mechanism had been established to refer cases of domestic violence at the local level. Albania had ratified the Istanbul Convention for preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, and domestic violence and marital rape were criminalized.
Women held 25 seats in Parliament (17.7 per cent) since the last parliamentary elections, and other key public positions, such as Speaker of Parliament, President of the Supreme Court, and Prosecutor General. Statistics showed that women made up 65 per cent of civil servants and occupied 43 per cent of positions at director level.
Enforcing the rule of law was a key priority for the Government. Justice reform aimed at ensuring access to justice and improving transparency. All judicial hearings were recorded at all courts. Amendments had been made to the law on legal aid to facilitate access to justice for vulnerable groups. Six legal clinics provided free legal aid to citizens who lacked the means to access justice. Amendments to the Civil Procedure Code allowed for shortening trial time limits, reducing judges’ workload, increasing their efficiency and enhancing the quality of their decisions.
Human rights in the penitentiary system served as an important criterion to assess how the State met international human rights standards. A law on the rights of prisoners had been adopted to protect the rights of pre-trial detainees and convicts. The use of physical force against inmates was prohibited. New correctional facilities had been built, allowing for a considerable reduction of overcrowding and improvements in the conditions of detention. Measures had been taken to guarantee an appropriate treatment for juveniles in preventive detention and detention facilities.
The Government would continue to implement its obligations in the field of human rights. Increasing public awareness and fostering cooperation with civil society and the private sector were among the priorities of the Government. The protection and promotion of the rights of persons belonging to minorities would also continue to be a priority. Progress had been made in the fields of education and participation in political life.
Questions by the Experts
Experts requested information about cases in which the provisions of the Covenant had been invoked before court. What remedies existed for individuals filing claims for the violation of rights contained in the Constitution and the Covenant? What measures had been taken to ensure the full independence of the Office of the Ombudsman? Was the Parliament exercising pressures on the Ombudsman?
Concerning violence against women, Experts also asked for information regarding the magnitude of the problem and about measures adopted to ensure that acts of domestic violence were effectively investigated and sanctioned. What impact did measures to address the plight of women, including in the context of the National Strategy on Gender Equality and Domestic Violence, have? What measures had been taken to address the dissemination of stereotypes against women by the media?
What measures had been taken to prevent and punish discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual persons? What was the interrelation between the two laws on equality and what institutional framework had been designed to monitor these laws?
Experts also requested information about enforced disappearances, torture and other human rights violations perpetrated during the Kosovo War and the communist era, which were now being dealt with by the courts. What criteria were used for reopening cases? To what extent had past cases of enforced disappearance been recognized as ongoing violations of rights guaranteed by the Covenant? How had acts of torture been prosecuted and punished under the law on torture?
Committee Experts also inquired about the problem of human trafficking and asked about the number of prosecutions and sentences imposed on convicted perpetrators. What measures had been taken to improve the identification of victims and to enhance the effectiveness of the national mechanism to protect, compensate and rehabilitate victims of trafficking?
Response by the Delegation
International instruments ratified by Albania were part of its domestic legislation and had priority over national laws that were incompatible with them. As such, the Covenant was directly applicable.
Around 200 families were affected by the issue of honour crimes. All feud-motivated crimes were detected and perpetrators were punished by the courts. The Criminal Code provided for the punishment of honour killings, as instances of premeditated murder, with prison sentences of at least 20 years. The Ministry of Education was coordinating an Action Plan to provide appropriate education to children confined because of blood feuds.
The delegation recognized that many recommendations from the Ombudsman had not been implemented. However, some of the recommendations did have an impact, such as those regarding the improvement of conditions of detention. The Ombudsman had published several reports on the situation of women and Roma persons, which had been very useful for the relevant authorities.
Concerning criminal matters, the principle of equality before the law was applicable to everyone, regardless of their legal status. Non-discrimination was one of the fundamental principles of the Criminal Code, which meant, according to case-law, that the same situations had to be handled in the same way.
The Commissioner for protection from discrimination had been established in May 2010. Citizens were protected from discriminatory practices in both public and private sectors and, if they wished so, the Commissioner could represent victims before a court. The Commissioner could also issue sentences, whereas the Ombudsman did not have the authority to do so. The Office of the Commissioner had existed for only three years and most of its current work consisted of awareness raising activities.
The law on gender equality had not tasked specific authorities with implementation, whereas the anti-discrimination law empowered several authorities to enforce its provisions. The implementation of quotas had allowed for an increased participation of women in politics but much remained to be done in order to attain equal opportunities for men and women. Legislation required that 30 per cent of candidates in the list for parliamentary elections were women. Statistics showed that the gender pay gap stood around 17 per cent and measures had been taken to narrow it.
Regarding the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual persons, the Commissioner had recommended the relevant authorities to ensure that documents used in educational settings did not contain discriminatory content. Amendments had been made to the law on protection from discrimination, in order to prohibit acts of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Several measures had been taken to combat domestic violence, which was a widespread problem in Albania, although statistics were not available. Twenty-four shelters supported by non-governmental organizations existed across the country, in addition to a national centre supported by the Government. A Governmental decree providing a share of its budget to gender issues would be adopted in the near future and new State-run shelters would be built. Domestic violence was now criminalized and the number of persons responsible for reporting instances of domestic violence had been extended. The media and the Government had launched an awareness raising campaign on the issue of domestic violence.
Cases regarding events in Kosovo were pending and information would be provided in writing to the Committee as soon as it was available.
Albania had ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which entered into force in 2011, and discussions on issues related to enforced disappearances were ongoing. It was recognized that human rights violations had occurred during the communist era, and a law on compensation for persons imprisoned during the communist era had been adopted. Enforced disappearances were criminalized and were not subject to time limitations.
Response by the Delegation
The Criminal Code included a definition of torture in line with the Convention against Torture; and acts of torture were criminal offences with serious consequences. According to a report from the European Union, Albania was not a transit country for human trafficking anymore but remained a source country. A National Action Plan had been implemented to combat all forms of trafficking in human beings.
Questions by the Experts
Experts requested clarification concerning the respective mandates of the Ombudsman and the Commissioner, what was the division of work and the cooperation between the two institutions? Experts also inquired about the protection of victims of domestic violence, what measures had been taken to prevent re-victimisation? Experts also asked for statistics on sanctions for crimes committed in the context of blood feuds.
What measures had been taken to protect victims of human trafficking acting as witnesses in court proceedings? Was it true that some victims of human trafficking had been prosecuted for prostitution? What was the reason for the low number of convictions for human trafficking?
Legislation protecting the rights of children against all kinds of violence was commendable. The Children’s Rights Units and the Child Protection Units monitored the situation of children at risk at the local level, and a national agency organised training for local authorities. Experts asked for statistics regarding the number of children victims of corporal punishments. How severe were the sentences imposed on perpetrators of acts of violence against children?
What was the maximum detention period allowed for in a police station? When were detainees brought before a court, did they have the right to appeal the decision of detention and to freely contact a lawyer? According to reports received by the Committee, half of the people held in detention centres had not been able to contact a lawyer in 2009. Reports indicated that many detainees had been classified as mentally ill in order to benefit from lower sentences. Victims of arbitrary detentions were entitled to compensation and remedies, what was the procedure in this regard, and what safeguards existed against arbitrary detentions?
Reports showed that some children were pushed into begging because of poverty. What kind of support was provided to families in need? Was it true that children placed in institutions were not supported after the age of 15?
Experts requested information regarding allegations of secret detentions carried out in the context of Albania’s cooperation in counter-terrorist activities. Was it the case that persons entering the country illegally were kept in detention until deportation, including children? What measures had been taken to ensure that persons with international protection needs were identified and referred to asylum procedures? What procedure was in place for unaccompanied children and what kind of support was provided to them?
What measures had been taken to secure the quality, efficiency and independence of the judiciary, and to combat the alleged widespread corruption? What measures had been taken to address the overlapping of inspection powers of the High Council of Justice and the Ministry of Justice, and why did these two bodies have similar powers?
What steps had been taken to implement strategies and policies for the elimination of discrimination and the social exclusion of persons belonging to ethnic and national minorities, and to combat the negative stereotypes of the Roma minority? School attendance levels among Roma children were low compared to the rest of the population, what had been done to address this situation? How was the Roma National Action Plan funded? Was it true that members of the Roma community had been subjected to forced evictions and house demolitions, while no adequate housing alternative had been provided? Were there legal norms protecting families from forced evictions, and how were they implemented?
What measures had been taken to ensure the independence of the Commissioner for Protection against Discrimination and that it counted with adequate financial and human resources? Experts asked whether the recommendations of the Ombudsman on the minimum standard of living had been implemented. Was it the case that persons with disabilities did not receive the allowance to which they were legally entitled? What types of restrictions on the right to vote were imposed on persons with disabilities?
What legal regime regulated the ownership and licensing of the press and broadcasting media? How did the press and broadcasting media promote freedom of expression? Was it correct that the media did not count with a self-regulatory body? Allegations of acts of intimidation and physical attacks against journalists had been reported to the Committee, had perpetrators been brought to justice? Was it true that the Parliament had sought to obtain journalists’ phone records?
Experts also inquired about efforts to reduce prison overcrowding and to improve the infrastructure and sanitary conditions in detention facilities, including in the women’s prison in Tirana. How were juveniles treated in detention and police facilities? What was the age of criminal responsibility? Had the Government been undertaking long-term rehabilitation programmes for children in conflict with the law? Experts also asked for information on specific legal provisions for juveniles regarding legal aid.
Response by the Delegation
The mandates of the Ombudsman and of the Commissioner on discrimination overlapped, and a cooperation agreement between the two institutions was under discussion. The High Council of Justice was a Constitutional authority supervised by the Ministry of Justice, whereas the Ombudsman was an independent institution. Legislation established that specific cases should be submitted to the institution that best protected the interests of the victim.
Victims of trafficking who testified before a court were protected by specific legislation. The anti-mafia law provided for compensation and free health services to victims of human trafficking. The authorities identified and registered victims of human trafficking in order to provide them with the appropriate assistance. The system of witness protection had been reformed and enhanced; the witness protection unit counted with its own budget and operated independently. The Criminal Procedure Code established that civil parties in criminal proceedings could receive administrative compensation. Victims of organized crime were excluded from criminal prosecutions.
A robust social protection system provided support for vulnerable persons. The system was currently being assessed and significant results had been obtained by pilot projects, especially for children in public institutions. The former director of a shelter had been convicted for ill-treatment, had been dismissed as a result, and a new director had been appointed. The Committee would be provided with statistics regarding corporal punishments in writing.
For petty offences, such as public drunkenness, detentions for a maximum of ten hours in police facilities could be imposed. In the context of criminal proceedings, suspects could be held in police custody for up to 28 hours. Individuals deprived of their liberty had to be sent to a judge within 28 hours, who would decide on their detention or release. Police officers had to take into account any mental disability faced by detainees. In case of the arrest of a minor, parents had to be notified. If necessary, the police had to provide prisoners with appropriate medical treatment. Detainees had the right to appeal the judge’s decision. In all other cases, persons in detention could seek the decision of a judge on the legality of their detention and it was possible to seek compensation for undue pre-trial detention. Individuals deprived of liberty had the right to humane treatment and respect for their dignity.
No cases of illegal renditions had been known to the authorities and no secret detention facilities existed in the country. Asylum-seekers were not systematically detained and the only limitation provided by the Constitution in this regard was that asylum-seekers had to remain in the country during the asylum procedure. Integration programmes had been implemented to support refugees. Unaccompanied minors requesting asylum were considered vulnerable and a legal tutor was appointed to represent them; and they were placed in the national shelter during the asylum procedure.
Written responses would be provided to the Committee regarding the appointment of judges and other remaining questions.
FILLORETA KODRA, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue. The Government was committed to improving the human rights situation in Albania. Ms. Kodra looked forward to the Committee’s recommendations, which would help Albania in its efforts to protect and promote human rights for all.
Also in closing remarks, NIGEL RODLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the amount of information presented to the Committee. Mr. Rodley said that significant progress had been achieved since the communist era. Problems of ill-treatment and violence against women, as well as human trafficking and impunity, had to be addressed. The Government showed that it was aware of these problems and that measures had been taken.
For use of the information media; not an official record