US State Department Report finds issues with Albania's Human Rights Practices

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 11, 2020 10:43

US State Department Report finds issues with Albania's Human Rights Practices

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  • In some sections of the report Albania performed well during the last year, as there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings and there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.Other major human rights practices sectors, however, outlined significant violations.

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In some sections of the report Albania performed well during the last year, as there were no reports that  the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.and there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.Other major human rights practices sectors, however, outlined significant violations. 

TIRANA, March 11 - The US Department of State published on Wednesday its annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices, where it said Albania's human right issues during 2019  included "restrictions on free expression and the press, including the existence of criminal libel laws, and pervasive corruption in all branches of government and municipal institutions."

Further on, the report says "impunity remained a serious problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it. Prosecution, and especially conviction, of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and persons with powerful business interests often were able to avoid prosecution."

In some sections of the report Albania performed well during the last year, as there were no reports that  the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.and there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

Other major human rights practices sectors, however, outlined significant violations. 

Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, 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.

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. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters' independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some instances of up to 10 months. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions of integrity. 

NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views.

Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in May found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. About 78 percent of media professionals thought that there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.

The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($27,800), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant's criminal record, undermined freedom of expression. 

Elections and Political Participation

The most recent national parliamentary elections took place in 2017. The OSCE observation mission for the elections reported that contestants "were able to campaign freely and fundamental freedoms were respected." The OSCE further noted the "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." Regarding voting itself, the OSCE mission noted "an overall orderly election day" but found that "important procedures were not fully respected in a considerable number of voting centers observed."

Local elections took place on June 30. Several opposition parties boycotted the elections, claiming concern about government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud. The OSCE election observation mission reported that "voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options" and "there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both sides."

Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional proficiency. The Independent Qualification Commission conducted vetting, and appeals were heard by an appeals chamber. The International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, oversaw the process. As of November the commission had dismissed 81 judges and prosecutors and confirmed 67, while 23 others had resigned rather than undergo vetting.

Several government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations. In selective instances involving international actors, anticorruption agencies cooperated with civil society.

Between January and June, the prosecutor general's office registered 63 new corruption investigations. During the same period, 34 individuals were convicted on corruption charges, and trials began against an additional 51 individuals. The Department of Administration, Transparency, and Anticorruption had investigated 29 cases, resulting in 115 administrative and 153 disciplinary measures.Police corruption remained a problem. The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received 1,211 written complaints through August, compared with 1,978 in all of 2018. Most of the complaints alleged a failure to act, arbitrary action, abuse of office, or a violation of standard operating procedures. Through August, SIAC filed 70 administrative violations, recommending 116 police officers for disciplinary proceedings. SIAC referred two cases for prosecution in relation to three officers accused of arbitrary actions and forgery of official documents. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.

You can read the full report at the US Department of State website 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 11, 2020 10:43