Department of State: Albania lags behind in corruption, fighting impunity

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 18, 2019 14:53

Department of State: Albania lags behind in corruption, fighting impunity

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  • According to the State Department, impunity remains a problem in Albania. The criminal prosecution and especially the punishment of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and people with strong business interests were often able to avoid prosecution.

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TIRANA, Feb. 18 – The US Department of State published on Friday its annual report on the implementation of human rights in Albania where, once again during 2018, problems such as corruption, ballot-buying, the deadlock the judicial system is facing due to the justice reform, the impunity of senior officials and the threats to media freedom were reported.

Corruption and impunity

According to the State Department, impunity remains a problem in Albania. The criminal prosecution and especially the punishment of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and people with strong business interests were often able to avoid prosecution.

Although the government coined mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, the number of police corruption reports was 3,832 denunciations by phone calls on the green anticorruption line until August 2018 and 6,439 complaints in 2017. There were also 1,217 written complaints until August 2018 and 1,048 written complaints for 2017.

The fact that former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri remains under investigation – now is officially charged – for strong links to organized crime and abuse of office was also mentioned, with the report stating “a former interior minister remained under investigation for ties to organized crime and abuse of office.”

Meanwhile, the police continues to not always apply the law evenly. The report states that political, criminal and personal ties, poor infrastructure, lack of equipment and inadequate monitoring have often impacted law enforcement. However, the report says, the government’s efforts to fight corruption and its police vetting were hindered due to lack of funds.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

The report adds that although prosecutors have succeeded in condemning corruption cases at low levels, punishability on high levels of government remains rare as a result of fear of punishment, a general lack of human resources, and corruption in the judiciary itself.

 

Elections

The report’s executive summary states “the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported the elections respected fundamental freedoms but were marred by allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters.”

The OSCE further noted, “Continued politicization of election-related bodies and institutions as well as widespread allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters detracted from public trust in the electoral process.”

The report also quotes the OSCE mission in noting “an overall orderly election day” but found that “important procedures were not fully respected in a considerable number of voting centers observed.”

 

Justice reform and vetting

The State Department says that as of August, 44 percent of judges and prosecutors who had undergone vetting had failed and been dismissed. As a result, only two of nine judges remained on the Constitutional Court; the others had been dismissed during the vetting process or resigned before undergoing vetting, which deprived the court of a quorum.

Further on, as of August, 15 of the 19 seats on the Supreme Court were also vacant, and the court faced a considerable case backlog. The politicization of appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions.

As of October 24, the commission had dismissed 25 judges and prosecutors and confirmed 28, while 16 others had resigned from duty rather than undergo vetting.

 

Freedom of expression and the press

According to the report, “independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although there were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.”

Meanwhile, business owners freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses.

Further on, the report notes that political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Moreover, economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting.

The report also mentions that there were multiple reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure.

“On August 30, an unknown assailant shot 10 times at the home of crime reporter Klodiana Lala’s parents. No injuries were reported, but Lala’s two daughters were in the home at the time of the attack. Lala often reported on organized crime and law enforcement matters, including judicial reform,” the report states.

In September the chair of the Union of Albanian Journalists stated that 12 journalists had filed asylum requests in EU member states, citing threats due to their jobs, while in April the Union of Albanian Journalists expressed concern that during the first four months of the year, judges and politicians had initiated 14 lawsuits against journalists.

 

Domestic violence

The report says the government did not enforce the law on domestic violence effectively, and officials did not prosecute spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

The report also mentions the case of Xhisiela Maloku, who “alleged that Rexhep Rraja, her boyfriend and son of Socialist Party Assembly member Rrahman Rraja, had burned and kicked her in a hotel on July 19. Forensic experts verified the nature of the wounds. Maloku later claimed she fabricated the allegations because she was jealous, but members of the opposition Democratic Party asserted Rrahman Rraja had pressured police to force Maloku to recant, citing claims by former police officer Emiliano Nuhu.”

Meanwhile, the report says, a 2017 UN Development Program (UNDP) and state statistical agency (INSTAT) report estimated that more than 53 percent of women and girls in the country had been victims of domestic violence during the previous year.

 

Education

The report states that parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and other minorities, while many families also cited these costs as a reason for not sending girls to school.

Observers believed that child abuse was increasing, especially in schools.

According to a 2017 report by World Vision, 70 percent of children in the country reported experiencing some type of violence. The definition of violence in both these surveys included psychological violence, and was not limited to physical abuse. Services for abuse victims were not readily available.

The country also lack adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children. According to the NGO Terre des Hommes, as of July, 17 children were in pretrial detention and nine were incarcerated.

Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes, while the number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particular around the tourist areas.

 

Work conditions

Despite the government establishing a 40-hour workweek, the report says “the government has no standards for a minimum number of rest periods per week and rarely enforces laws related to maximum work hours, limits on overtime, or premium pay for overtime, especially in the private sector.”

“Working conditions in the manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors frequently were poor and, in some cases, dangerous. Violations of wage and occupational-safety standards occurred most frequently in the textile, footwear, construction, and mining industries.”

Lastly, workers often could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Employers did not effectively protect employees in this situation.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 18, 2019 14:53