Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999.
Albania is a republic with a multiparty parliament, a prime minister,
and a president elected by the Parliament. The prime minister
heads the government; the presidency is a largely ceremonial position
with limited executive power. The Socialist Party and its allies
won 121 of 155 parliamentary seats in 1997 elections held after
a 5-month period of chaos and anarchy. Observers deemed the elections
to be acceptable and satisfactory under the circumstances. However,
the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party, boycotted
Parliament from October 1997 to March 1998 and again from June
1998 through year's end, charging unfair practices by the ruling
Socialists and their coalition partners. The Socialist Party chairman,
Fatos Nano, formed a government following the elections and remained
in office until September 1998, when he resigned following a series
of often violent demonstrations against his administration. The
Socialists then chose Pandeli Majko to serve as Prime Minister
in October 1998. A parliamentary commission drafted a new Constitution
that was approved in a national referendum in November; observers
found that the referendum in general was conducted fairly. The
Democratic Party boycotted the process of drafting the Constitution
and called for a boycott of the referendum as well. The judicial
system, inefficient and subject to corruption and executive pressure
in normal times, was undermined further by the country's continued
Local police units reporting to the Minister of Public Order are
principally responsible for internal security, but the officers
are typically untrained and often unreliable. The Ministry also
has a small force of well-trained and effective police officers
organized into special duty units. The looting of military arsenals
in 1997 put hundreds of thousands of weapons into the hands of
civilians. The police exercise only marginal control in some areas
of the country; government authority is particularly absent in
some areas along the northeastern border. The police are affected
by, and are sometimes a part of, the country's endemic corruption.
The national intelligence service (ShIK) is responsible for both
internal and external intelligence gathering and counterintelligence.
It and its predecessor organization also had a long history of
engaging in political repression under previous governments. Under
the Socialist Government, the ShIK has become smaller and less
active, and the organization apparently no longer has a political
role. A new law for the ShIK and an accompanying plan to restructure
the intelligence service was passed by Parliament in December.
The military has not had a role in domestic security until recently,
when a special 120-man "commando" unit was authorized
in October. Once organized, the new unit is to operate in an antiterrorist
role under the Minister of Defense, but during times of domestic
crisis the Minister of Public Order can request its transfer to
his authority directly from the Minister of Defense. The police
committed some human rights abuses.
Albania is a poor country in transition from central economic
planning to a free market system, and many issues related to privatization,
ownership claims, and the appropriate regulation of business are
not yet resolved. Economic recovery from the collapse of 1997
was slow, but inflation was about 10 percent during the year compared
with about 40 percent in 1997, and gross domestic product (GDP)
grew by about 10 percent. The official unemployment rate was 17
percent. With two-thirds of all workers employed in agriculture--mostly
at the subsistence level--remittances from citizens working abroad
are extremely important, as is foreign assistance. The GDP may
be underestimated because considerable income also is thought
to be derived from various organized and semiorganized criminal
activities. A variety of other unreported, noncriminal activities,
such as unlicensed small businesses, along with the Government's
inability to collect fully accurate statistics, also contribute
to the GDP's underestimation.
The Government's overall human rights record improved somewhat,
in hand with the gradual quieting of the massive civil unrest
of 1997; however, problems remained in several areas. The opposition
Democratic Party made numerous allegations that the Government
was responsible for the murders of various Democratic Party members
during the year, but the Party never produced evidence to support
these claims. The police beat and otherwise abused suspects and
prisoners. The Democratic Party often legitimately complained
about incidents of police harassment of its members and of the
dismissal of some of its members from official positions for political
reasons. The judiciary is inefficient and subject to corruption
and executive pressure. There were complaints of unqualified and
unprofessional judges and credible accounts of judges who were
intimidated or bribed by powerful criminals. The Government infringed
on citizens' privacy rights. Government respect for freedom of
speech and of the press improved; however, academic freedom was
constrained. Government respect for freedom of assembly improved.
The gains in human rights were largely offset by the Government's
stubbornly passive approach to basic law enforcement: in too many
instances crime, corruption, and vigilantism undermined the Government's
efforts to restore civil order. Violence and discrimination against
women are problems, and trafficking in women and children is a
significant problem. Child abuse is also a problem. The Government
took steps to improve the treatment of ethnic minorities; however,
societal discrimination against Roma remains a problem.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no confirmed cases of political killings by the Government,
despite repeated claims by the main opposition party that its
members were harassed, beaten, and sometimes murdered by government
agents. Democratic Party members were the victims of numerous
attacks and murders, but in the general atmosphere of lawlessness
and lax law enforcement, neither culprits nor motives were ever
found for most of these crimes. However, police investigation
of many of the cases was not aggressive.
The murder of Democratic Party Member of Parliament (M.P.) Azem
Hajdari by an unknown gunman in September 1998 was the most significant
of these incidents and set off days of protest marches and rioting
in the capital, which left at least four persons dead. In September
1997, Hajdari was shot and seriously wounded by a Socialist M.P.
after a scuffle inside the Parliament building; in March the Socialist
M.P., Gafur Mazreku, was subsequently convicted of attempted murder
and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The police, local human rights
organizations, and diplomatic representatives found no evidence
to back claims of government involvement in any of these incidents.
In January police officers in Fieri reportedly beat to death a
man after removing him from a hospital. In September 3 persons
were shot and killed when approximately 50 persons reportedly
tried to take over the police commissariat in Lezha.
The country continued to experience high levels of violent crime,
some of which was politically motivated. Antigovernment crowds
seized much of the city of Shkodra in February, for example, and
burned the city's main police station. In September rioters attacked
and burned government office buildings and the residence of the
Prime Minister after the murder of Democratic Party M.P. Hajdari.
In the 2 days of antigovernment violence, 2 protesters were killed
and 10 persons were wounded.
Many killings occurred throughout the country as the result of
individual or clan vigilante actions, or in conflicts involving
various criminal gangs.
There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated disappearances.
At least one prominent businessman disappeared; no information
on his fate emerged by year's end, and some observers claimed
that there might be a political connection.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
The Law on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms stipulates that "no
one can be subject to torture, or cruel and brutal treatment;"
however, the police often beat suspects in the process of arresting
them, and there were reports that the police beat or otherwise
mistreated prisoners. The Penal Code makes the use of torture
a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The Albanian Helsinki
Committee reported in June that major police stations were the
sites of the worst abuse of detainees, and that all stations were
overcrowded and some were "out of control." Local human
rights organizations also reported that police brutality often
occurred outside the police stations and therefore was more difficult
to detect unless reported by victims. Human Rights Watch reports
that in January, the police beat two Democratic Party activists
in Kutchova and Vlora. In February the police beat several journalists
(see Section 2.a.). Police officials typically do not investigate
and arrest the perpetrators. The Democratic Party also made credible
complaints of incidents of police harassment of its members.
According to Democratic Party representatives, six or seven demonstrators
were injured and five were arrested during a demonstration by
the Party in Tirana on August 27. According to the authorities,
six or seven police officers also were injured (see Section 2.b.).
The police were often unable to maintain public order. The police
station in the northern city of Shkodra was taken over on February
22, and 35 detainees were released. The city hall and local shops
were damaged and looted. The main bridge at the entrance to the
city reportedly was mined, apparently to prevent additional police
forces from reaching the city. During the funeral procession for
Democratic Party M.P. Hajdari on September 14 in Tirana, armed
antigovernment demonstrators attacked and looted the office of
the Prime Minister. The demonstrators briefly controlled the building
in which the Prime Minister's office is located, the Albanian
State Television and Radio Building, and other government offices
in central Tirana. In November a "training grenade"
was detonated in a café in front of Democratic Party headquarters
in Tirana, according to local police. No one was hurt and there
was no damage to the building.
The majority of police officers receive little or no training.
Western governments established police training programs that
aim at improving technical expertise, operational procedures,
and respect for human rights. Local nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's) also launched programs to educate police officers in human
rights. These training and education programs have begun to improve
the level of professionalism of the police, but the overall performance
of law enforcement remains weak. In February Parliament passed
an anticrime law that allows police officers to shoot without
warning at members of armed groups that resist the police.
Prison conditions vary from poor to harsh but generally were not
life threatening. All of the country's prisons were destroyed
or severely damaged in 1997 when armed groups stormed them and
released the prisoners. The Government has reopened 5 prisons
and returned to custody perhaps a quarter of the 1,200 inmates
who escaped, but the existing facilities are inadequate to house
properly all current prisoners. The overcrowding has created very
difficult living conditions, including the incarceration of juveniles
with adults. Three other facilities are under construction or
repair, including a prison for juvenile offenders, but despite
international financial assistance the projects are running many
months behind schedule. A riot took place at the Tirana prison
in February. Family visitation is allowed. The Government has
cooperated with the International Committee of the Red Cross and
with other NGO's and has improved access for prison inspections.
However, the administration of the prison in Burrel retains a
reputation for not cooperating with human rights monitors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The 1995 Penal Procedures Code sets out the rights of detained
and arrested persons. By law, a police officer or prosecutor may
order a suspect into custody. Detained persons must immediately
be informed of the charges against them and of their rights. A
prosecutor must be notified immediately after a suspect is detained
by the police. Within 48 hours of the arrest or detention a court
must decide, in the presence of the prosecutor, the suspect, and
the suspect's lawyer, the type of detention to be employed. Legal
counsel must be provided free of charge if the defendant cannot
afford a private attorney.
Bail in the form of money or property may be required if the judge
believes that the accused otherwise may not appear for trial.
Alternatively, a suspect may be placed under house arrest. The
court may order pretrial confinement in cases where there is reason
to believe that the accused may leave the country or is a danger
The Penal Procedures Code requires completion of pretrial investigations
within 3 months. The prosecutor may extend this period by 3-month
intervals in especially difficult cases. The accused and the injured
party have the right to appeal these extensions to the district
court. In practice lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. There
is also a serious problem with delayed investigations, and the
cases of many detained persons exceed the time limits set by law.
On November 10 police in Shkodra arrested three Democratic Party
supporters under a warrant signed by the military tribunal for
participation in the mid-September unrest. The most prominent
of the three was a bodyguard for slain Democratic Party M.P. Hajdari
(see Section 1.a.) and another is a distant cousin of former president
Sali Berisha. All were released the same day, except for Hajdari's
former bodyguard, after armed men negotiated with the Shkodra
prefect for a number of hours. Armed men apparently blocked off
the main street in Shkodra on which the police commissariat is
located for an extended period. The office of the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Shkodra was attacked
the same day, an event which local observers believe was connected
to the arrests (see Section 4).
There were no clear cases of detainees being held for strictly
political reasons, but several notable arrests appeared to be
motivated by politics as well as law enforcement reasons. In August
the police arrested six individuals who had held positions in
the previous government, including the former Ministers of Defense
and Interior and the former head of the State Control Commission.
Prosecutors charged them with "crimes against humanity"
in connection with their actions during the massive civil unrest
of 1997. The Democratic Party complained that the arrests were
purely political, and that the charges of "crimes against
humanity" were concocted to get around the amnesty signed
by the 10 major political parties in March 1997 for all actions
concerning the unrest. Many international observers believe that
the accused persons might be serving as political scapegoats and
noted that almost all political factions in 1997 appeared to have
contributed to the misjudgments and illegalities that marked the
crisis. In September the chairman of the Monarchist Legality Party
was arrested and charged with participating in the armed uprising
earlier in the month, when antigovernment rioters seized and then
burned several public buildings. Neither this case, nor the case
of the six Democratic administration officials had come to trial
by year's end, and the Government had not released any information
on the basis for the charges.
The Government does not use forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The new Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however,
continued political instability, limited resources, political
pressure, and endemic corruption have all weakened the judiciary's
ability to function independently and efficiently. Corruption
remains a serious problem, especially with the growth of organized
crime, and judges are subjected both to bribery attempts and intimidation.
On November 11, a bomb destroyed much of the home of the Chief
Justice of the Constitutional Court. No one was injured. The Chief
Justice previously had served as a Socialist Party M.P. and was
named to the position following a long, public, and highly politicized
struggle between the Speaker of the Parliament and the previous
Chief Justice, who had been appointed by the previous Democratic
Many court buildings were destroyed in 1997's civil unrest, and
although all have been reopened, important records and legal materials
were permanently lost. Serious case backlogs are typical. The
Government made limited progress toward building an independent
judiciary by moving the judicial budget out of the Ministry of
Justice in October and into a separate account and by establishing
a magistrates' school. However, it was accused of trying to stack
the court system when Parliament passed a law in December to dismiss
those judges who did not meet new educational requirements. The
opposition Democratic Party claimed that the proposal was aimed
specifically at judges named by the previous (Democratic) government
and vigorously protested. Many of the judges who were likely to
be affected by the measure went on a protracted hunger strike
in September 1997 before the government backed down.
The judicial system comprises district courts of the first instance,
military courts, six courts of appeal, and the Court of Cassation.
There is also a separate and independent Constitutional Court.
The Court of Cassation hears appeals from the Courts of Appeal,
while the Constitutional Court reviews those cases requiring constitutional
The President heads the High Council of Justice, which has authority
to appoint, discipline, and dismiss judges of the courts of first
instance and of the courts of appeal. Judges who are dismissed
have the right to appeal to the Court of Cassation. In addition
to the President, the Council consists of the Minister of Justice,
the head of the Court of Cassation, the Prosecutor General, three
judges (chosen by sitting judges), two prosecutors (selected by
the prosecutors), and four independent, well-known lawyers named
by the Parliament.
The President proposes the president and vice president of the
Court of Cassation, and the Parliament elects all of the justices
of that court. Four of the nine members of the Constitutional
Court are selected by the President; five are elected by the Parliament.
Parliament has the authority to approve and dismiss the judges
of the Constitutional Court and the members of the Court of Cassation.
According to the law, dismissal only may be ordered after conviction
of a serious crime or for mental incompetence. In March the chief
of the Constitutional Court was dismissed for allegedly having
been an informer for the Communist-era state security service;
no trial was held, and the dismissal appeared to be at least partially
motivated by political considerations. The dismissal was initiated
after a struggle between the Parliament and the Constitutional
Court on the issue of the rotation of the judges of the Court.
During the controversy, both sides engaged in a heated public
exchange with clearly political overtones. In March representatives
of the Government sharply attacked the Chief Justice of the Court
of Cassation. Although the progovernment media accused the Chief
Justice of corruption and attacked the integrity of the Court
of Cassation, the Chief Justice was not removed from office.
Constitutional Court justices in theory serve maximum 9-year terms,
with three justices rotating every 3 years. Justices of the Court
of Cassation serve for 7 years.
Under the new Constitution, the President appoints the general
prosecutor with the consent of the Parliament. The President appoints
and dismisses other prosecutors on the recommendation of the general
Parliament approves the courts' budgets and allocates the funds.
Each court may determine how it wishes to spend the money allocated
to it. The Justice Ministry provides and approves administrative
personnel, and jurists complain that the arrangement produces
inadequate support and compromises their independence.
Courts operate with very limited material resources, inadequate
legal libraries, and often do not have copies of recently passed
legislation. The destruction of many court and police records
in 1997, together with continued civil unrest, seriously impaired
the ability of prosecutors and police to investigate and prepare
cases properly. As a result, the court system was unable to process
cases in a timely fashion. Despite these many handicaps, the court
system continued to function and to engage in debate on issues
of judicial independence and administrative procedure.
The state provides all citizens the right to a fair, speedy, and
public trial, except in cases where the necessities of public
order, national security, or the interests of minors or other
private parties require restrictions. All proceedings are conducted
in the Albanian language; defendants, witnesses, and others who
do not speak Albanian are entitled to the services of a translator.
If convicted, the accused has the right to appeal the decision
within 5 days to the Court of Appeals.
There were no reports of political prisoners. However, opposition
political leaders frequently charged that the Government arbitrarily
arrested and detained its supporters on political grounds. There
is little solid evidence to back up these claims, and most international
observers believe they are baseless.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for
the inviolability of the individual person, of dwellings, and
of the privacy of correspondence; however, the Government sometimes
infringed on these rights. Police often conduct searches without
first obtaining warrants. The Democratic Party made credible complaints
of the dismissal of some of its members from government or military
positions for political reasons.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for
freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally
respected these rights. The media are active and unrestrained
but have developed little sense of journalistic responsibility
or professional integrity. Sensationalism is the norm in the newspapers,
and the political party-oriented newspapers in particular print
gossip, unsubstantiated accusations, and outright fabrications.
A survey conducted early in the year by the Albania Media Institute
showed that 63 percent of readers believed the press was itself
causing problems for ordinary citizens, and only 18 percent thought
that the press was making a positive contribution to the life
of the nation. Some publications appear to be making efforts to
improve professional standards and to provide more balanced and
Political parties, trade unions, and various societies and groups
publish their own newspapers or magazines, and competition between
the commercial publications is very keen. At any time, an estimated
200 different publications are available, including daily and
weekly newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and pamphlets. Three
Greek minority newspapers are published in the Greek language
in southern Albania. Difficult economic times, coupled with readers'
distrust of the press, resulted in a significant drop in newspaper
sales during the year. Total daily circulation of all newspapers
dropped from about 85,000 copies to about 75,000 copies.
Prime Minister Pandeli Majko created a new Ministry of Information
when he came to office in October. The Ministry is tasked with
implementing the law on press freedom, which originally was passed
by Parliament in 1997 but has not yet been implemented. The licensing
board, whose creation was mandated by the law, had yet to start
functioning or issuing private commercial broadcasting licenses.
State-run radio and television provide the most widespread and
universally accessible domestic programming, and the wide availability
of satellite dishes has provided citizens with easy access to
international programming. Numerous small private radio and television
stations are in operation around the country. However, they are
unregulated, and the Government established new licensing procedures
to promote a more stable broadcasting environment. Despite frequent
complaints by opposition politicians that the state-run media
do not give their parties fair coverage or equal access, most
international observers agree that the current Government's record
is a significant improvement over past practice. However, a Society
for a Democratic Culture media monitoring project from March to
July showed that state-run television's news coverage is lopsided
in favor of the Government. According to international observers,
the state television channel gave balanced coverage on the constitutional
referendum campaign up until a few days before voting, when it
began to give more coverage to government positions.
Attacks on journalists continued-both beatings by the police
and attacks by unknown assailants. According to human rights NGO's,
in February police officers in Librazhdi beat two journalists,
reportedly because of the stories they had written. Also in February
police officers in Elbasani beat a reporter for the daily Republika.
In May a bomb exploded at the home of a journalist for the newspaper
Koha Jone and injured her two children and two neighbors.
Academic freedom continues to be limited. University professors complain that some faculty members are hired or fired for political reasons and that students who have the right political connections get preferential treatment regardless of their personal qualifications. Some international monitoring of the magistrates' school ensured selection on the basis of merit. The Government maintains that changes to university staffing are made on the basis of merit.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for
the right of peaceful assembly and states that "no one may
be denied the right to collective organization for any lawful
purpose;" the Government generally respected this right in
practice. According to the law, organizers must obtain permits
for gatherings in public places, which the police may refuse to
issue for reasons such as security and traffic. In practice rallies
and demonstrations were very common, and the Government usually
made no concerted efforts to prevent them even when violence seemed
possible, or when permits had not been issued. However, during
a Democratic Party rally in Tirana on August 27, six or seven
demonstrators were injured and five were arrested. Six or seven
police officers were also injured (see Section 1.c.).
The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for
the right of association, and the Government generally respects
this right in practice. A political party must apply to the Ministry
of Justice for official certification. It must declare an aim
or purpose that is not anticonstitutional or contrary to law,
and it must describe its organizational structure and account
for all public and private funds it receives.
c. Freedom of Religion
According to the new Constitution, the state has no official religion,
and all religions are equal. The majority of citizens are secular
in orientation after decades of rigidly enforced atheism. Muslims,
who make up the largest traditional religious group, adhere to
a moderate form of Sunni Islam. The Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox
and Roman Catholic Churches are the other large denominations.
The Albanian Orthodox Church split from the Greek Orthodox Church
early in the century, and adherents strongly identify with the
national church as distinct from the Greek Church. The current
archbishop is a Greek citizen, even though the Albanian Orthodox
Church's 1929 statute states that all its archbishops must be
of Albanian heritage, because there are no Albanian clerics qualified
for this position.
Foreign clergy, including Muslim clerics, Christian and Baha'i
missionaries, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many others freely carry
out religious activities. The Religious Council of the State Secretariat,
an office that functions under the Prime Minister's authority,
but has no clear mandate and is unable to make decisions on its
own, estimates that there are 20 different Muslim societies and
sects with around 95 representatives in country. There are more
than 2,500 missionaries representing Christian or Baha'i organizations.
In 1967 the Communists banned all religious practices and expropriated
the property of the established Islamic, Orthodox, and Catholic
churches. The Government has not yet returned all the properties
and religious objects under its control that were confiscated
under the Communist regime. In cases where religious buildings
were returned, the Government often failed to return the land
that surrounds the buildings. The Government also is unable to
compensate the churches adequately for the extensive damage that
many religious properties suffered.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
The Law on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms provides for
freedom of movement within the country and for freedom to travel
abroad and return, and the Government respects these rights in
Citizens who fled the country during or after the Communist regime
are welcomed back, and if they lost their citizenship they may
have it restored. Albanian-born citizens who emigrate may hold
The new Constitution, approved in November, gives foreigners the
right of refuge in the country, and an asylum law passed in 1996
includes provisions for granting refugee/asylee status. The Government
accepts the entrance of refugees, does not expel those with valid
claims to refugee status, and works with the international community
to provide housing and support for them. It also provides first
asylum. Over 20,000 Kosovar Albanians were afforded refuge in
Albania during the year, finding shelter with extended family
or in facilities operated by the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) or other international entities. The Government
cooperated with the UNHCR and others to provide support to the
refugees, but its efforts were limited by a lack of resources
Organized criminal gangs have made the smuggling of illegal immigrants--Albanians,
Kurds, Pakistanis, Chinese, Turks, and others from the Middle
East and Asia--into a lucrative business. Italy is the most common
destination. Although some of these illegal immigrants might meet
the criteria for refugee status, many were attempting to enter
Western Europe for economic reasons. Individuals who become stranded
in Albania while trying to use this illegal pipeline are eligible
for a "care and maintenance" program run by the UNHCR
and the Albanian Red Cross and can have their cases evaluated
by UNHCR officials.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country
where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The new Constitution states that "Governance is based on
a system of elections that are free, equal, general, and periodic."
Citizens elected a government in 1997 in what international observers
considered to be a satisfactory process, given the preceding months
of chaos and anarchy. However, in the by-election in Vlora in
June for mayor one polling station was closed due to ballot stuffing.
As in other elections in the past 2 years, local election commissions
permitted family members to vote on behalf of relatives who were
not present. Similar infractions again occurred in the referendum
held in November on the new Constitution, but international observers
judged that they had no impact on the result.
The main opposition group, the Democratic Party, boycotted the
Parliament throughout the year and refused to participate in virtually
all government functions at the national level. The leader of
the Democratic Party, former president Sali Berisha, maintained
that the boycott was a necessary response to intolerable provocations
by the Government, including alleged assault by its agents. Over
the course of the year, international observers increasingly questioned
this rationale for withdrawal from the political process and called
on the Democrats to end their boycott.
In August and September, the police arrested six leaders of the
Democratic Party, including former ministers, and a leader of
the Monarchist Legality Party. Three Democratic Party supporters
were arrested in November in Shkodra and two were released the
same day. These arrests may have been in part politically motivated
(see Section 1.d.).
The new Constitution prohibits the formation of any party or organization
which is based on totalitarian methods, which incites and supports
racial, religious or ethnic hatred, which uses violence to take
power or influence state policies, as well as those with a secret
character. In October Parliament amended the law on referendums
to require only a simple majority, rather than a majority of all
registered voters, for the vote on the new Constitution.
No legal impediments hinder the full participation of women and
minorities in government. The major political parties have women's
organizations and have women serving on their central committees.
However, women continue to be underrepresented in both politics
and government. In Parliament 11 of 150 M.P.'s are women, 1 of
whom is a deputy speaker. In the Government, two ministers and
three deputy ministers are women. Ethnic Greeks constitute the
largest minority. They are well represented in the current Government
and participate actively in various political parties.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government generally permitted human rights and related organizations
to function freely, although the lawlessness in some areas of
the country severely limited the practical access of some of these
organizations. The Albanian Helsinki Committee, the Albanian Human
Rights Group, the Albanian Human Rights Documentation Center,
the Society for Democratic Culture, and the Albanian Institute
for Contemporary Studies were among the most active local NGO's
involved in human rights activities. Despite the assistance of
international donors, the work of all of these organizations is
hampered by a lack of funds and equipment. The Government meets
with the representatives of these domestic NGO's and generally
is responsive to their inquiries. While government-NGO relationships
often are strained over particular issues, virtually all domestic
NGO leaders report that the current Government gave them significantly
greater access and cooperation than they received from previous
A wide variety of international human rights NGO's visit or operate
within the country with the cooperation of the Government and
generally without restriction. These organizations are free to
publish and disseminate their findings, including criticisms of
the Government. The Government also cooperates with the United
Nations and other international entities on human rights issues.
The OSCE office in Shkodra was attacked on November 10, probably
in retaliation for the arrests of three Democratic Party supporters
that day, according to local observers (see Section 1.d.). Masked
attackers armed with rifles smashed a computer and other equipment
and stole personal valuables, cash, and OSCE vehicles. Democratic
Party leaders sharply criticized the OSCE for its support of the
new Constitution. The chief OSCE official in the country reported
that he was told that organizers of a Democratic Party rally in
Gjirokastra told the crowd that he would be welcomed with gunfire
if he were to travel to Gjirokastra. Prior to the constitutional
referendum in November, he received a death threat, and OSCE offices
in Kukesi and Gjirokastra also received threats.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions prohibits discrimination
based on sex, race, ethnicity, language, or religion. However,
women and some minority groups complain that in practice some
discrimination continues, and trafficking in women for prostitution
was a significant problem.
Violence against women and spousal abuse still occur in this traditional
male-dominated society; cultural acceptance and the lax police
response result in most abuse going unreported. For the second
half of the year the Tirana police deployed a (female) sex crimes
officer. No government-sponsored program protects the rights of
women. An NGO maintains a shelter in Tirana for abused women,
but the facility can hold only one or two women at a time. The
NGO also operates a hot line that women and girls can call for
advice and counseling; it received some 4,000 calls during the
Many men, especially those from the northern part of the country,
still follow the old traditions known as the kanun, in which women
are considered chattel and may be treated as such. The concepts
of marital rape and sexual harassment are not well established,
and most such acts would not be considered crimes.
Trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution is a significant
problem. Criminal gangs recruit or coerce women into working as
prostitutes abroad, most often in Italy and Greece. There are
also reports of traffickers kidnaping women for prostitution and
of family members selling daughters, sisters, and wives to traffickers
against their will. There are no laws that criminalize trafficking
in women. The Government has had only periodic success in arresting
the criminal organizers, and there are no reports of any convictions
for trafficking in women in recent years. But there is rising
awareness of the issue.
Women are not excluded, by law or in practice, from any occupation;
however, they do not typically rise to the top of their fields.
The Labor Code mandates equal pay for equal work, but no data
are available on how well this is implemented in practice. Women
enjoy equal access to higher education, but they are not accorded
full and equal opportunity in their careers, and it is common
for well-educated women to be underemployed or to work outside
the field of their training. An increasing number of women are
beginning to venture out on their own, opening shops and small
businesses. Many are migrating along with men to Greece and Italy
to seek employment.
The Government's commitment to children's rights and welfare is
codified in domestic law and through international agreements.
The law provides for the right to a free education that lasts
at least 8 years and also authorizes private schools. School attendance
is mandatory through the eighth grade (or age 18, whichever comes
first). In practice many children leave school earlier than allowed
by law in order to work with their families, especially in rural
Child abuse is a little-reported problem, but authorities and
NGO's believe that it exists. Trafficking in children is a serious
problem. Criminals may kidnap children from families or orphanages
to be sold to prostitution or pederasty rings abroad. Within the
country, Romani children often are used as beggars, and the police
generally ignore the practice.
People With Disabilities
Widespread poverty, unregulated occupational hazards, and poor
medical care combine to account for the condition of a significant
population of disabled persons. The disabled are eligible for
various forms of public assistance, but budgetary constraints
mean that the amounts that they receive are very low. No law mandates
accessibility to public buildings for people with disabilities,
and little has been done in that regard.
The Government played a constructive role in maintaining the nation's
generally positive record on the treatment of minorities. There
are two main minority populations, ethnic Greeks and Macedonians.
While no recent official statistics exist regarding the size of
the various ethnic communities, ethnic Greeks are the most organized
and receive the most attention and assistance from abroad. Unknown
numbers of ethnic minorities have left the country due to civil
unrest or economic stagnation; many ethnic Greek villages in the
south are reported to have virtually emptied in recent years.
Relations between Albania and Greece continued to improve in 1998,
as did the status and rights of ethnic Greeks in the country.
Greek-language public elementary schools are now common in much
of the southern part of the country (where almost all of the ethnic
Greek minority lives). However, there are no Greek-language high
schools. A Greek-language public primary school was opened in
Tirana in September, and also during the year Parliament approved
Greek as one of the foreign languages that may be offered as a
course in any public school. There is a Greek chair at the University
of Girokastra. New immigration procedures were agreed upon by
Albania and Greece to allow residents of the border areas easy
access for day-to-day travel across the border for business or
Classes in the Macedonian language are available to students in
the districts of Pogradeci and Devolli bordering the Former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The FYROM Government provides texts
for these classes. There is a small group of ethnic Montenegrins
and ethnic Serbs in the north. No discrimination was reported
against the Vlachs, who speak Romanian as well as Albanian, or
against the Cams, non-Orthodox ethnic Albanians who were exiled
from Greece in 1944. Both groups live mainly in the south.
Two distinct groups of Roma, the Jevg and the Arrixhi (Gabel),
are established in the country. The Jevg tend to be settled in
urban areas and are generally more integrated into the economy
than the Arrixhi. Roma are clearly the most neglected minority
group. Broadly speaking, they suffer from high illiteracy, poor
public health conditions, and marked economic disadvantage. Roma
encounter much societal discrimination, but generally neither
the police nor individuals target the Roma for violence. In the
past, NGO's have reported severe hazing of Roma in the military.
According to a human rights NGO, four Romani police officers in
Levan lost their jobs in April. The police force hired the Roma
in the aftermath of the 1997 civil violence, when both Roma and
non-Roma died in Levan. The Ministry of Interior waived certain
conditions to hire the Roma in the interests of preventing intercommunal
violence. The Levan police chief fired the Roma police officers
reportedly because he believed that Roma no longer were in danger
of violence from non-Roma and that the police department was able
to protect them. However, Roma living in Levan still fear revenge
from the families of the non-Roma who died during the unrest.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers obtained the right to form independent trade unions in
1990. The 1993 Labor Code established procedures for the protection
of workers' rights through collective bargaining agreements. Two
federations act as umbrella organizations for most of the country's
unions: The Independent Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania
claims over 200,000 members, and the Confederation of Trade Unions
claims over 100,000 members. Some unions have chosen not to join
either of these federations. No union has an official political
affiliation, and the government does not provide any financial
support for unions.
The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions and other legislation
provide that all workers except the uniformed military, the police,
and some court officials have the right to strike. The law forbids
strikes that are openly declared to be political or that are judged
by the courts to be political. A number of strikes took place
during the year.
Unions are free to join and maintain ties with international organizations.
Government statistics indicated that 410,400 workers were formally
employed (211,800 in the private sector and 198,600 in the public
sector) and that an additional 750,000 persons worked in agriculture.
A total of 226,400 persons were registered as unemployed.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Citizens in all fields of employment, except uniformed members
of the armed forces, police officers, and some court employees,
have the right to organize and bargain collectively. In practice
unions representing public sector employees negotiate directly
with the government.
Labor unions do not operate from a position of strength, given
the country's current conditions--very high unemployment, slow
recovery from the economic collapse of 1997, and extensive destruction
of economic infrastructure due to recurrent episodes of violence
and looting. Effective collective bargaining in these circumstances
is very difficult, and agreements are hard to enforce.
There are no functioning export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Law on Major Constitutional Provisions and the Labor Code
prohibit forced or compulsory labor, and generally it is not known
to occur. However, there were reports that traffickers kidnap
women for prostitution, and that family members sell daughters,
sisters, and wives to traffickers against their will. The law
also forbids forced or bonded labor by children, and the Government
generally enforces these prohibitions; however, there were reports
that children are forced to work abroad as prostitutes or beggars.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Labor Code sets the minimum age of employment at 16 years
and limits the amount and type of labor that can be performed
by persons under age 18; children between the ages of 14 and 16
legally may work in part-time jobs during summer vacation. Primary
school education is compulsory and free through age 18 or the
eighth grade, whichever comes first. In rural areas, children
continue to be called on to assist families in farm work.
The Ministry of Labor may enforce the minimum age requirements
through the courts, but no recent cases of this actually occurring
were known. In Tirana and other cities it is common to see children
selling cigarettes and candies on the street, regardless of the
season or hour. The law forbids forced or bonded labor by children,
and although the Government generally enforces these prohibitions,
there were some reports of such practices (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The legal minimum wage for all workers over age 16 is approximately
$40 (5,800 lek) per month. This is not sufficient to maintain
a decent standard of living, especially for a worker and family.
Many workers look for second jobs, which are difficult to find.
Remittances from those working abroad are very important for many
families. The law provides for social assistance (income support)
and unemployment compensation, but these are very limited, both
in terms of the amounts received and the number of persons actually
covered. The average wage for workers in the public sector is
approximately $69 (10,015 lek) per month. No data are available
for private sector wages, but the average is believed to be considerably
higher than in the public sector.
The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, although in practice hours
typically are set by individual or collective agreement. Many
workers work 6 days a week.
The Government sets occupational health and safety standards,
but it has limited funds to make improvements in the remaining
state-owned enterprises and limited ability to enforce standards
on the private sector. Actual conditions in the workplace are
generally very poor. The Labor Code lists the safety obligations
of employers and employees but does not provide specific protection
for workers who choose to leave a workplace because of hazardous
[end of document]
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