COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS EXAMINES REPORT OF ALBANIA
6 November 2013
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the combined second to third periodic report of Albania on how the country implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Introducing the report, Filloreta Kodra, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that efforts undertaken by Albania to promote human rights included the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a series of amendments made to national legislation. Specific measures had been taken to facilitate the integration of Roma in Albanian society, and to empower women and promote gender equality in employment and other areas. Particular attention had been paid to social housing and steps had been taken to ensure food security and improve nutrition. Infant and maternal mortality had been significantly reduced in recent years.
The Committee commended Albania on its high-level, inclusive delegation which comprised a large number of women. Experts raised issues concerning the integration of Roma in society; the need to combat social stereotyping which affected women, especially in the area of employment; the lack of disaggregated data on unemployment; and the opportunities for children from major minority groups to receive teaching in their mother tongue. Questions were also asked about measures taken to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, particularly women and children with disabilities, the evaluation and monitoring of gender equality policies, and the impact of new legislation on the right of foreign citizens to live and work in Albania.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Kodra thanked the Experts for their comments and said that the recommendations of the Committee would be given serious consideration.
Aslan Abashidze, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the report of Albania, thanked the delegation for their answers and said that the delegation’s gender balance was commendable. The dialogue had been constructive and the Committee hoped that written replies to questions not answered today would be received in the next few days.
Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee appreciated the Albanian delegation’s sincere efforts to respond to all questions with openness and frankness, and looked forward to receiving written responses from the delegation within the next 48 hours.
The delegation of Albania included representatives of the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth, the Ministry of Education and Sport, the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Administration, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Commissioner’s Office against Discrimination, and the Permanent Mission of Albania to the United nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 7 November, when it will consider the fourth periodic report of Belgium (E/C.12/BEL/4).
The combined second to third periodic report of Albania can be read here: E/C.12/ALB/2-3.
Presentation of the Report
FILLORETA KODRA, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that in February 2013 Albania had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and that ratification of the Optional Protocol to that Convention and of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was currently under consideration. The Albanian Constitution provided that international agreements constituted part of domestic law and the Covenant had recently been referred to in three court decisions.
Other efforts to promote human rights included the establishment of the National Bureau of Investigation and a series of amendments made to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedural Code. Albania was committed to promoting the employment of persons with disabilities in the public sector. Also, during the elections of June 2013, measures had been taken to facilitate the access of persons with disabilities to the polling stations.
Concerning the Roma minority, a vocational training programme was implemented for members of the Roma community. In 2012, 166 unemployed Roma had received training in various areas. During the academic year 2011-2012, a “second chance” education project for school drop-outs had been successfully implemented, and 438 Roma children had been reintegrated in the education system.
Albania also worked to achieve greater gender equality. Many women in public administration held leading posts (43 per cent) and other high-level positions. Thirty-one per cent of the new Ministerial Cabinet consisted of women, and 30 per cent of Deputy Ministers were female. Albanian institutions were committed to taking concrete steps to empower women and girls through employment, entrepreneurship and training.
A new Labour Code had been drafted and was expected to be approved by Parliament. The new legislation included a definition of discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and protected the rights of pregnant women and the right to parental leave for men. Concerning the right to equal pay for equal work, the delegation said that at the legal level there was no difference between men and women. In practice, however, there was a significant difference in pay, which was mainly related to the types of work carried out by men and women. The ratio of the wage gap had been narrowed from 35 per cent in 2005 to around 18 per cent in 2012. The Labour Code sanctioned entities breaching the official minimum wage, with fines as high as 30 times the amount of the minimum wage.
The provision of social housing was one of the new Government’s priorities. Albania had also taken institutional, financial and economic measures to increase food security and improve nutrition. The design of the national nutrition action plan for 2014-2020 was one of several concrete steps taken in that direction.
The expenditure on education was currently 4.24 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. Albania was committed to providing quality education to all children, without discrimination based on origin, family background or economic status. Ninety-two per cent of students who completed the basic education entered the upper secondary education in 2012, compared to 77 per cent in 2005. In 2012, the number of students enrolled in vocational training programmes had increased by 23 per cent. Albania aimed to double the number of vocational schools operating in the country.
Infant and maternal mortality had been significantly reduced in recent years. Basic health care for mothers and children was offered through a network of 421 primary health care centres across the country. Albania would continue to promote a human-rights-based approach through better integration of human rights issues in the decision-making process and in policy implementation.
Questions by Experts
ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the report of Albania, commended Albania on its high-level, inclusive delegation. Bearing in mind that parliamentary elections had recently taken place in the country, the Committee expressed hope that Albania would continue to consolidate its democratic basis, which was a requirement for the consolidation of economic, social and cultural rights. Despite progress having been made in various sectors, nevertheless several reasons for concern remained.
The distinction made between fundamental human rights and certain provisions of the Covenant placed under the chapter “objectives” of the Albanian Constitution was a matter of serious concern. As social objectives were not protected by the legislation, there was reason to believe that not all provisions of the Covenant could be invoked in national courts. No statistics had been provided on the general competences of courts. The issue of the independence of the magistrates and the existence of corruption remained unanswered. What concrete progress had been made in those areas?
In addition, questions about discrimination against Roma and about equality between men and women also remained unanswered, and, despite there being a number of institutions promoting economic and social equality, there seemed to be little or no coordination. What was Albania doing to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, such as the unemployed, and persons with disabilities, particularly children?
An Expert commended Albania on the strong presence of women in the delegation. The new equality laws adopted were a positive step towards trying to build an equal society, but no figures had been provided about the successful implementation of programmes benefiting school drop-outs. The positive impact of national policies needed to be illustrated with concrete data and examples, said the Expert. Recent initiatives to promote gender equality in the public sector were commendable but how were new and amended laws implemented on the ground? Was there an evaluation and monitoring system to oversee the progress of gender equality policies? Were sufficient resources allocated to such policies to make them truly effective?
Another Expert asked for concrete examples of the implementation of Committee recommendations previously accepted by Albania. Given the slow progress made in the integration of Roma into Albanian society, could the delegation offer an assessment of the situation? What were the remaining obstacles to achieving the full inclusion of Roma in society?
Noting that 70 per cent of the Albanian population was Muslim, an Expert asked whether Islamic Sharia law figured in the country’s legal system in any way and, if so, to what extent.
An Expert pointed out that the deficit of the general Government budget from 2000 to 2008 had increased, and asked whether that had affected the expenditure on economic, social and cultural rights. Noting that economic cooperation was very important to Albania, the Expert asked what amount of money the country received in foreign aid and what percentage of that aid was spent on economic, social and cultural rights.
A Committee Member said that the new law on foreigners, which was passed in 2013, may have made the situation of refugees worse because there were reports that foreigners found it extremely difficult to obtain work permits. Could the delegation comment on that point? Also, had civil society representatives been actively consulted in the preparation of the country report?
Responses by the Delegation
Responding to the questions asked by Committee Experts, the delegation began by saying that until 2001 Albania did not have the capacity to report on the implementation of international instruments to which it was party, which was why it had submitted a combined second and third report on the implementation of the Covenant.
The delegation stressed that the Albanian Constitution did not make a distinction between fundamental and other human rights presented as “objectives”, all of which were equally important in the country’s legal system. In the three cases where the Covenant had been invoked in the national courts, invocation had not been direct but, rather, through domestic law, which incorporated the provisions of the Covenant. The delegation said that Islamic Sharia law was not the source of Albanian legislation. Albania was a democratic, secular country, whose legislation was not based on any type of religious law. The 2011 census did not include a question on religion, so there was no recent information on the exact percentage of Muslims living in the country.
Albanian authorities were aware of the unusual sex ratio in the country, on which Committee Members had commented. The sex ratio overwhelmingly in favour of males may have been due to selective abortion and pre-natal selection based on sex, but there was not enough evidence to determine with precision the reasons behind that phenomenon. The Government had noted that there was such a tendency and had received specific recommendations on how to address the issue. Among other things, awareness-raising campaigns aimed to bring about a mentality change in the population, while further efforts were undertaken in other areas, such as reproductive health and abortion, with a view to improving the situation in the long term.
The budget allocated to the Ministry of Education had remained constant over the last three years and, despite the global economic crisis, there had been no drop in expenditure on education. Teachers’ salaries had been increased by an average of 2.4 per cent following a reassessment of the importance of the teaching profession. The provision of new school infrastructure and the renovation and modernization of existing school facilities had been a Government priority. Some 1,400 Information Technology suites with broadband internet connection were now available in Albanian schools. Albania continued to invest in the development of human resources in education and provided training to teaching staff. It also worked to make teaching more attractive as a professional career.
The national action plan for the Roma sought to ensure that basic education was provided to all Roma children. According to the latest census, there were an estimated 80,200 Roma living in Albania. Concrete steps were taken to eliminate social exclusion of, and discrimination against, the Roma and to help them preserve their cultural identity. The Ministry of Education was gathering information on Roma children currently in the education system so as to address their needs.
The main remaining challenge, said the delegation, was getting Roma children into school on a daily basis and keeping them enrolled in school. To encourage Roma children to attend school, school books were distributed to them free of charge as of 2011-2012. Moreover, a pilot project had been tested last year providing free lunches in schools where a significant number of Roma children were enrolled. If found to be successful, the programme would also be applied in other schools. It was positive that 97 per cent of Roma children were registered in school at the primary level. There was close, on going cooperation between Albania and other countries participating in the “Roma Decade” project.
Questions by Experts
A Committee Expert said that the unemployment rate for women was five per cent higher than that for men. Moreover, in rural areas there was a very high rate of unpaid family labour, which affected primarily women. All that clearly reflected societal views on what was the role of men and women in society, with women usually expected to stay at home and look after the family while men were seen as more suited to a professional career, especially in the public sector. It was essential for Albania to fight against notions of social stereotyping which were deeply rooted in society. Concerning the employment of persons with disabilities, had the Government set annual targets and quotas for employing persons with disabilities? Was there a timeframe in place for the adoption of measures concerning persons with disabilities?
The level of unemployment remained very high, said another Committee Member, which was a major concern. There was no data available on the unemployment rate for young persons and persons with disabilities, nor were there any statistics provided on unemployment levels among minority groups and populations living in rural areas. Could the delegation provide that information? Albania needed to make significant improvements to its data collection system.
An Expert asked for detailed information on adolescent abortion rates and medical services provided to teenagers. Concerning property and housing, what was the percentage of persons owning property in Albania? What were the existing problems concerning the current social housing programme and why did only very few Roma families benefit from that programme? The Expert said that there were many documented cases of forced evictions of Roma families who were not provided with alternative accommodation or social housing.
Another Expert wanted to know whether children of major minority groups, such as children belonging to the Greek minority, had the opportunity to be taught all subjects at school in their mother tongue, or whether Albanian was the main language of teaching. Also, was the Egyptian population in Albania recognized as an official minority? Was there a different treatment of religion in the two education systems, public and private?
A Committee Member remarked that Albania had improved its national strategy for science and innovation, whose goals were ambitious, and wanted to know how the strategy was being implemented. Regarding the dissemination of scientific knowledge among the general population, did Albania have specific policies in that area?
An Expert asked what percentage of men had applied to avail of parental leave for men, which had recently been introduced.
What were the mechanisms available to the Government to control the minimum wage? To what extent had Albania been successful in combatting child labour, particularly among the Roma population?
An Expert asked whether Albania was ready to move on to a minimum income benefit which would guarantee a minimum subsistence level for everyone living in the country.
A Committee Member commended Albania on its tax exemption strategy but said that indirect taxation, for example Value Added Tax, should also be given consideration to ensure that lower income earners did not pay the same as the super wealthy.
An Expert wanted to know the percentage of women in the scientific professions and also asked what percentage of the Government budget was allocated to scientific research.
Response by Delegation
Concerning the courts of justice, the delegation said that there was no overlap between the function of the administrative court, which handled disputes arising from the actions of the administration, and courts dealing with discrimination cases under the Labour Code.
In response to the comment about foreigners having difficulty obtaining a work permit in Albania, the delegation said that the new law on non-Albanian workers, which had been passed four months ago following intense consultations, took into account European Union and international standards, and only regulated the conditions of entry and stay in Albania. Once in the country, the rights of foreign workers were fully guaranteed by the Constitution on an equal footing with Albanian citizens.
The consultation process with civil society in Albania had been constructive and on going for at least six years. Policies for Roma people in the areas of employment and other social protection policies comprised programmes to promote employment for Roma women and young persons in particular. Vocational training courses were provided to the Roma free of charge.
In response to the questions about social assistance, the delegation said that no person in need remained uncovered by social support in Albania. The contributory scheme was a social security system which provided a pension to those who had worked for a number of years, while the non-contributory scheme (social aid) was funded by the central Government as well as by local Governments. The latter was undergoing reform and a new point system was being developed, which would allow for a better evaluation of each family and individual.
A separate scheme was in place to provide for persons with disability that underwent an initial assessment by a medical team. Albania was currently promoting community-based support schemes for those in need. An unemployment benefit was paid to persons who had lost their job for up to a year. Following the initial twelve-month period, if the individuals concerned were still unemployed, then they would switch to a social security benefit.
Surveys showed that officially far fewer women were employed than men. However, it should be borne in mind that there were a lot of small family businesses in Albania. In most cases women were heavily involved in such businesses but remained unregistered, which created a variety of problems, especially in terms of pension entitlements.
Recent surveys had shown that the employment of persons with disabilities was about two per cent. Obstacles to the employment of persons with disability related to the low qualifications of those persons and to problems of accessibility to work. The action plan which had been drawn up for the period 2013-2022 would tackle, among other things, the issue of the employment of persons with disabilities. Free training courses had been put in place for persons with disabilities.
The delegation said that agriculture constituted 48.3 per cent of employment in the country. Albania aimed to increase diversification in employment. Only about 5 per cent of employees earned the minimum wage, while all other employees were paid more than the minimum wage.
Health centres providing healthcare were available in all communes and cities. Specialized programmes were also in place, while a system of home visits, which had recently been tested in certain areas, would soon be implemented across the country. Marginalized persons had been suffering because of the ineffectiveness of the old health insurance system, so the new Government was implementing a new system which would offer free healthcare to all citizens within the next four years.
In response to questions about Albania’s taxation system, the delegation said that low salaries were exempt from the national income tax of 10 per cent. The Taxation Inspectorate was in charge of reviewing taxation issues and tax rates on a regular basis.
Through its social benefit scheme the Government ensured a minimum level of income for everyone in the country. The exploitation of minors had been criminalized and the issue of child labour was being closely monitored by the Ministry of Interior in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth. At least 30 children, who were forced to beg in the streets, had been recovered and placed in foster care.
Poverty and extreme poverty in Albania had increased in recent years. Some 14.3 per cent of the population now had a low income. The population living in extreme poverty was 2.2 per cent and comprised both urban and rural populations. The capital Tirana had experienced a significant increase in poverty levels.
Concerning reproductive health, the number of adolescents giving birth had steadily decreased in recent years. The number of abortions was higher in urban areas than in rural areas. The majority of abortions were carried out in the capital Tirana, where there was thought to be a higher degree of confidentiality in comparison to smaller rural communities. The number of adolescent abortions had been steadily decreasing in recent years. Healthcare services were introduced in schools, particularly in urban areas, and awareness-raising efforts were also undertaken to educate teenagers on reproductive health matters.
Progress had been made in the implementation of programmes in the area of social housing. Recent reforms had not resolved all outstanding issues but had addressed problems facing the Roma community and issues to do with eliminating barriers for persons with disabilities. A draft housing strategy which established long-term goals had been drafted. In 2008 a new social housing project had begun and since 2009 a mortgage subsidy programme was being implemented. Remaining challenges included housing options for the Roma population and for orphans. Small amendments would be made to the relevant laws to reflect the priority given to Roma for social housing, and the issues of Roma living conditions and the conditions in which forced evictions could occur were being reviewed.
A series of measures had been taken to tackle domestic violence, while efforts were also made to help police officers familiarize themselves with the new and amended laws relating to incidents of domestic violence. Marital rape was sanctioned as a criminal offence. There was currently one such case under prosecution and the alleged perpetrator remained in custody. The first shelter for the protection of victims of domestic violence had been built thanks to a civil society initiative; it was now receiving Government funding.
The overall school drop-out rate was less than 0.5 per cent, but the rate was higher for boys than for girls. Concerning the language of teaching, the delegation said that minority children were free to choose their language of instruction but a minimum number of 22 to 27 pupils was needed for a minority class to be authorized. In primary and secondary schools classes were given in major minority languages, Greek and Macedonian, in addition to Albanian. Improving education was an on going process and the Ministry of Education had taken measures to facilitate the process. All school curricula had been reviewed and reformed to ensure that they catered to the individual interests of students.
The Ministry of Culture had been working to protect minority languages but more could be done in that area. Initiatives to promote and preserve minority languages included organizing multi-cultural festivals and promoting various cultural activities relating to minority communities. A recent census had shown that a number of persons identified themselves as Egyptians, so the Government was currently considering recognizing Egyptians as a minority in accordance with international instruments.
The delegation said that Albania had felt the impact of the global economic crisis but its Gross Domestic Product had not been affected too much, so the Government had not decreased social benefits. Overall, the economic crisis had not had a significant negative impact on public spending on economic, social and cultural rights.
FILLORETA KODRA, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Experts for their comments and patience and expressed hope that the delegation had answered their questions. The recommendations of the Committee would be given serious consideration by Albania.
ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Albania, thanked the delegation for their answers and said that the delegation’s gender balance was commendable. The dialogue had been constructive and the Committee hoped that written replies to questions not answered today would be received in the next few days. Mr. Abashidze wished Albania well in its efforts to continue to improve the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights for the benefit of all Albanians.
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee appreciated the Albanian delegation’s sincere efforts to respond to all questions with openness and frankness, and looked forward to receiving written responses from the delegation within the next 48 hours.
For use of the information media; not an official record