Nations in Transit
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Democracy Score(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Electoral Process(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Society(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Independent Media(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Judicial Framework and Independence(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Corruption(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Governance(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Although democratic institutions in the Republic of Albania continue to gain strength, their performance remains inadequate, and an overall lack of legislation enforcement critically challenges the rule of law. Moreover, there has been a growing popular distrust of public authorities in general and pessimism regarding the ability of political leaders to cope with the country's most severe problems. While the 2001 parliamentary elections in Albania reflected a deepening political maturity, they also were marked by serious irregularities in the later rounds. The ruling Socialist Party, which has led the government since 1997, retained power, yet bitter infighting within the party and subsequent crises have hindered successive governments from working coherently. The Socialists' division became predominant in the lead up to the June 2002 presidential election, the outcome of which was basically ensured after the two main political parties agreed, under international pressure, to achieve a consensual nomination. On June 24, Parliament elected Alfred Moisiu president.
Whereas civil society benefits from a strengthened legislative framework, it still lacks to some extent indigenous movements and public commitment. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been shaped primarily by the international community, and their ongoing dependency on foreign funding has hindered them from carrying out comprehensive and long-term programs. Therefore, despite the increasing contribution of NGOs to policy making, Albanian civil society as a whole is not yet able to balance and monitor government power independently and effectively.
Guaranteed by the 1998 Constitution, freedom of expression, press freedoms, and access to public information are regularly challenged by politicians and the judiciary. During the period covered by this report, critical media still faced direct or indirect forms of intimidation and retaliation. Media outlets, especially print media, are polarized between the two main political factions, and reporting is viewed as unfair, biased, and having questionable sources. Moreover, the Albanian media's critical financial situation makes it vulnerable to corruption and influence from political and business interests.
Despite solid constitutional and legal provisions, transparency and public input in the legislative process have progressed only modestly. Governance and public administration continue to struggle with inefficiency, partisanship, and subsequent poor public confidence. However, the national ombudsman may play a role in heightened government accountability. In 2001, a total of 2,194 complaints were sent to this newly established institution, a third of which were addressed to the Justice Ministry. With regard to local governance, the 2001 State Budget Law granted local authorities increased control of their expenditures and marked yet another step in the decentralization process.
The 1998 Constitution further reinforced the principle of separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, and mechanisms have been implemented to ensure respect of this principle. However, the undue prolongation of court proceedings and the problematic enforcement of civil judgments remain key problems in the Albanian judicial system. During the reporting period, serious violations of detainees' rights, including their right to legal defense, were brought forward, as were cases of ill-treatment perpetrated by police. The Ministry of Public Order disciplined or dismissed several police officers convicted of physical abuse against civilians. In September 2002, the Albanian government outlawed the death penalty under all circumstances.
In spite of a growing and formal denunciation of corruption in Albania, citizens' tolerance and practice of corruption is still high. The respondents to a survey carried out in 2002 ranked corruption first among the socioeconomic problems faced by the country, before political instability and unemployment. Although the government continues to strengthen the legal anticorruption framework and has ratified relevant international agreements, it acknowledges that implementing and enforcing legislation remains a challenge. In the course of 2002, several high-ranking officials were arrested for alleged abuse of power and embezzlement. With regard to trafficking in human beings, the government adopted a comprehensive action plan and conducted large antitrafficking operations. The latter were also meant to demonstrate to Western countries Albania's determination to combat human trafficking and the smuggling of narcotics and cigarettes.
Albania continues to experience a slow but stable economic transition to the free market. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an estimated 7.5 percent in 2001, while inflation was negligible; the official unemployment rate decreased slightly to 16 percent. However, about 29 percent of Albania's 3.5 million inhabitants live below the poverty level. Migration estimates suggest that nearly 15 percent of the population lives abroad. According to the International Monetary Fund, Albanian emigrants send home some $600 million a year, which amounts to a fifth of the country's GDP. During the period covered by this report, the European Union (EU) called on Albania to speed up reforms and boost domestic investment and job creation. The EU was expected to formally open negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Albania early in 2003, giving the country the long-term prospect of EU membership.
The parliamentary elections held in Albania in June, July, and August 2001 allowed the ruling Socialist Party, which has led the government since 1997, to retain power. Five rounds of voting were necessary to complete the process owing to mutual accusations of electoral fraud that highlighted structural weaknesses in Albania's mixed proportional system. While noting "serious irregularities" in the voting process, particularly in the later rounds, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) considered in its final report that "the 2001 parliamentary elections provided an opportunity for further consolidation of democratic standards after the local government elections in October 2000, which marked significant progress towards meeting the standards for democratic elections." However, the OSCE also noted that the election process was "protracted, litigious, uncertain, and fragmented."
During the campaign, political pressure at times appeared to compromise the performance of the Central Election Commission (CEC). In addition, coverage by Albanian Television (TVSH), the public television broadcaster, deteriorated after the first round in favor of the ruling Socialist Party. The Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) noted that many irregularities seemed to be related to the poor functioning of the zonal election commissions and polling stations. Following recommendations from the OSCE, the Parliament in 2002 established a bipartisan commission to investigate "concerns surrounding [the] elections" and propose remedies.
Although the CEC registered 38 parties, the 2 main political parties, the Democratic Party (DP) of former president Sali Berisha and the Socialist Party (SP), dominated the 2001 elections. The center-right New Democratic Party (NDP), a splinter group of former DP members led by Genc Pollo, emerged as the country's third political force. The SP won 73 seats in the 140-seat unicameral Parliament, the coalition led by the DP won 46 seats, and the NDP won 6 seats. Directly elected candidates filled 100 seats, and the remaining 40 seats were divided proportionally among party lists. To qualify, a party had to receive no less than 2.5 percent of the vote in the first round and party coalitions no less than 4 percent. Voter turnout was significantly lower than in previous parliamentary elections, perhaps indicating an increasing level of voter apathy.
Although no legal impediments hinder the full participation of women in politics and government, their current representation is low. Albanian women first entered Parliament in 1945 and garnered about one-third of all parliamentary seats during the period from 1974 to 1990. This ratio has decreased since 1991, and in the 2001 parliamentary elections, women won only 5.7 percent of seats (8 out of 140), down from 7.1 percent in 1997 and 15 percent in 1996. Moreover, no woman is a full member of the Central Electoral Commission, and only a few are members of local commissions. Despite their constitutional right "to unite in organizations and associations for the protection of their interest and identity," in some cases national minorities may also be inadequately represented. Ethnic Greeks constitute the largest minority group in Albania and are particularly active in the Human Rights Union Party.
The 1998 Constitution guarantees the right of Albanian citizens "to organize collectively for any lawful purpose." However, it prohibits the formation of any political party or organization that is totalitarian; incites and supports racial, religious, or ethnic hatred; uses violence to take power or influence state policies; or is nontransparent in character. Passed in February 2000, Law No. 8580, For Political Parties, detailed new procedures for the organization and registration of political parties. The law authorizes parties to receive funds from the state budget, membership fees, and donations from businesses, but it prohibits funding from state-run companies and foreign governments. Party newspapers and the rental of party-owned real estate are the only businesses political parties are now allowed to maintain. According to the Finance Ministry, the government in 2002 funded 32 parties, down from 35 in 2001. Some 70 percent of those funds, amounting to $1.15 million in 2002, went to the SP and the DP, which have 65,000 and 60,000 registered members, respectively. Newly formed parties receive initial state aid.
The relationship between the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party is characterized by polarization, and conflicts within the ruling SP became predominant in the lead up to the June 2002 presidential elections. This bitter infighting led to the resignation of Prime Minister Ilir Meta on January 29, 2002, and left the country without a government for four weeks. Meta blamed unacceptable pressure from SP chairman Fatos Nano, who had accused his government of cronyism and his ministers of corruption, forcing four key ministers to resign in December 2001. Nano had sought Meta's support in his bid for the presidency, but Meta refused, arguing that Nano would concentrate too much power and eventually isolate the country. On February 6, 2002, the party leadership named Defense Minister Pandeli Majko, who was prime minister during the 1998-1999 Kosovo crisis, as Meta's successor. The two main rival factions within the SP were represented in the new cabinet--one around Majko and Meta and the other around Nano--yet Majko's government became hostage to developments within the SP.
The vote on March 19, 2002, to dismiss Arben Rakipi, the prosecutor-general, further exposed the division between SP parliamentarians and allowed the main opposition Democratic Party to exploit the feuding. Meta's supporters voted with the opposition to oust Rakipi--considered a supporter of Nano--against meager votes from parliamentarians loyal to Nano. Rakipi was replaced by Theodhori Sollaku. Never before in Albania's post-Communist history had members of the ruling party joined with the opposition against another faction of the ruling party. Sali Berisha blamed Rakipi for failing to curb corruption, while Meta accused him of succumbing to political influence. Rakipi had started several corruption investigations against Meta supporters, including former ministers. Nano called the motion against Rakipi "antidemocratic and unconstitutional." The Constitutional Court on April 25 ruled that the Parliament's decision to dismiss Rakipi was illegal, prompting the Parliament Speaker, Namik Dokle, to resign. Dokle was replaced by Servet Pellumbi. Later, Parliament rejected the Court's ruling.
On June 24, the Parliament elected 73-year-old Alfred Moisiu as Albania's new president. Head of the Albanian North Atlantic Association that supports the country's bid to enter NATO, Moisiu served briefly as defense minister in 1991 and 1992 and advised the DP on defense from 1992 to 1997.
Moisiu succeeds Rexhep Meidani, who was elected president by the SP-controlled Parliament in July 1997. Under the 1998 Constitution, "only an Albanian citizen by birth who has been a resident in Albania for not less than the past 10 years and who has reached the age of 40 may be elected President." The president is elected with a three-fifths majority vote of Parliament--84 out of 140 votes--to serve a five-year term and is eligible for reelection only once. Five unsuccessful attempts to elect a president triggers early parliamentary elections within 60 days.
The outcome of the June 24 vote--Moisiu gathered 97 votes--was basically assured after the SP and the DP agreed to present a single candidate. The agreement came under international pressure to achieve a consensual nomination and barred both Nano and Berisha from the presidential bid. The European Union made the election of a consensual president one of its requirements before opening negotiations that would lead to a Stabilization and Association Agreement. Moisiu's candidacy was put forward after Artur Kuko, Albania's ambassador to the European Union, turned down the nomination.
Some observers hailed Moisiu's joint nomination and election as spelling the end of 12 years of political deadlock. Others questioned whether he could resist pressure from the two leading political parties. Still others feared Moisiu might be only a puppet president. Shortly before he was elected, Moisiu said he would work to further unify political forces and establish the rule of law. Albanian political leaders said the election marked a historic change, "an irreversible path of cooperation to achieve national development and Euro-Atlantic integration," Nano noted. The U.S. International Research and Exchange Board (IREX) in Albania also welcomed the consensual move as something that could "distance Albanian politics from the psychology of war and confrontation."
In July 2002, the SP leadership elected Fatos Nano as prime minister. Nano became Albania's third prime minister since the 2001 general elections and replaced Majko, who had agreed to resign. The SP's internal crisis had hindered the ability of successive governments to work coherently and led to growing pressure from the opposition and public opinion to call early elections. Nano persuaded his party to nominate him to lead a cabinet that would effectively tackle corruption and trafficking, reform public administration, improve the economy, and work more closely with the opposition. Analysts stress that the Socialists must settle down to the task of government if they want to stay in office until their term expires in 2005. The election of Nano as prime minister, with Ilir Meta as deputy prime minister and foreign minister, might mark some reconciliation within the SP. Furthermore, after years of extreme confrontation between the SP and the DP, a more normal government opposition relationship has started to develop. However, it remains to be seen whether Nano will be willing and able to work in the long run with his old rivals, both in his own party and in the Democratic Party.
Although there may be as many as 800 NGOs in Albania, their impact on daily life is limited. International donors primarily have shaped local NGOs, and the harsh competition for funding has often led groups to imitate inadequate models and to neglect the needs they are intended to serve. Moreover, dependency on foreign funding often hinders the ability of NGOs to set long-term strategies. The Albanian Institute for International Studies stresses that civil society in Albania lacks indigenous "popular movements" and that NGOs are "fashioned according to the availability of foreign donors' funds."
A survey carried out by Partners Albania, an Albanian NGO focused on civil society development and conflict management, in late 2001 shows the uneven geographical distribution of NGOs throughout the country. Yet both the overall number of NGOs and the number of NGOs outside Tirana have increased over the past five years. In 2001, democracy-related NGOs ranked first in number and received the most substantial foreign funding. In addition, there has been an increase in the number of and funding for NGOs dealing with women, youth, health and social issues, business, and the environment. According to the report, the scope of Albanian NGOs' activities changed with the 1999 Kosovar refugee crisis, when groups turned largely to the provision of services, as opposed to information dissemination activities.
The new legislative framework adopted by the Parliament in 2001-- including Law No. 8788, On Nonprofit Organizations, and Law No. 8789, On the Registration of Nonprofit Organizations--defines legal forms for nongovernmental organizations, sets ground rules for the registration and internal governance of nonprofits, recognizes the right of NGOs to receive international funding, and protects NGOs from governmental interference. NGOs are entitled to tax exemptions on profits and face no legal restrictions on income generation, membership fees, or other forms of fund-raising. The registration of NGOs is now centralized at the Tirana Municipal Court, and a national registry is being developed.
Nevertheless, most NGOs still lack the institutional capacity to develop, carry, monitor, and lobby adequately for their work. Their management structures usually include a board of directors responsible for strategic planning and decisions and an executive staff responsible for implementing activities. Yet an organization's lack of staff and resources is often an obstacle to a clear division of responsibilities, as well as to the fulfillment of its mission statement. Less than half of all NGOs operate with permanent staffs, and hiring is done on an ad hoc basis. Furthermore, NGOs often lack offices and equipment. Little is done to encourage or build upon volunteerism, which has been discredited by decades under communism of forced participation in so-called voluntary activities.
Cooperation among NGOs is increasing, and networks, including crossborder networks, have been set up to enhance effectiveness and share strengths. Overall cooperation with central and local governments is also improving, and there is now a core group of approximately 40 public policy NGOs that work regularly with the government to set policy priorities and draft laws. Other NGOs have developed watchdog programs. Most NGOs surveyed by Partners Albania considered their relations with media outlets as unsatisfactory and criticized the sensationalist nature of media coverage. Cooperation with businesses was considered very limited.
The 1998 Constitution is, in part, responsible for the progress in civil society's access to government. The section on fundamental rights guarantees the rights of Albanian citizens to attend meetings of elected bodies, organize for "any lawful purpose," and petition organs of government. Article 81 of the Constitution stipulates that any group of 20,000 voters may initiate legislation at the national level. Supplementing the right to propose laws is the right, upon the motion of 50,000 voters, to call a national referendum on the abrogation of a law. However, despite NGOs' increasing contribution to policy making, Albanian civil society as a whole is not yet able to independently and effectively balance and monitor the power of government.
According to the Open Society Institute's Women's Program, Albania currently maintains about 120 women's NGOs focused on women's rights and gender issues, domestic violence, and trafficking in women. The Women's Program has supported the launch of a reintegration program for trafficked women, in cooperation with the Albanian government and the International Organization for Migration, as well as the first telephone counseling line for women in Albania. It also strongly supports networking and cooperation among women's NGOs. In March 2001, the Albanian women's movement celebrated its 10th anniversary with the opening of the first Gender Studies Center at the University of Tirana.
The 1998 Constitution provides for the right to unite freely in labor organizations (Article 50) and grants employees the right to strike (Article 51) within some boundaries (to ensure essential social services). Also, the 1995 labor code sets forth legal requirements for unions pertaining to registration, the ability to represent employees' interests in court, the raising of tax-exempt funds, and the right of unions to operate without interference from the government, employers, or employer organizations. The two main trade unions in Albania are the Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania (KSSH) and the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Albania (BSPSH). Despite a large (but declining) membership, trade unions have lost power, and their influence is now limited primarily to state-owned companies.
In its country assessment report for the year 2002, the Albanian Center for Economic Research noted the existence of hundreds of rural associations. Yet there is a low level of understanding of the need for organization and for pooling resources. The report also emphasized that rural business associations tend to be more established than farmers associations. It recommended setting up resource centers in rural areas to provide associations with accurate information, targeted training, and funding opportunities.
In the May 2002 Albanian Response to the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations Development Program and the Albanian government set concrete targets for improving standards of living, health, and education to be achieved by 2015. First among those goals is the reduction by half of the number of Albanians who live in poverty, which is estimated to be a third of the overall population. Education is also identified as a major challenge. Primary school enrollment has been declining steadily since 1990 (falling to 81 percent in 2000), while illiteracy is on the rise, especially in younger age groups. However, overall literacy was still 87.7 percent in 2000. State financing of the public education system has remained at 9-10 percent of annual public expenditures over the past 10 years, with some 75 percent of those funds covering salaries. The Albanian government's National Strategy for Socioeconomic Development also identified increased school attendance and teaching quality as key objectives.
Freedom of expression and freedom of print and electronic media are expressly guaranteed by Article 22 of the Albanian Constitution, which also prohibits "prior censorship of a means of communication." The right to access information about "the activity of state organs, and of persons who exercise state functions" is provided for by Article 23. But access to information in Albania is often and arbitrarily denied to journalists in apparent retaliation for critical reporting. In 1996, the Albanian Parliament ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), under which the media are entitled to the greatest protection when they cover matters of public interest. In case of conflict, Albanian judges must theoretically apply the provisions of the ECHR and give them priority over domestic laws. In practice, however, the incapacity or unwillingness of the Albanian judiciary to enforce the guarantees set forth in the Constitution and in international conventions ratified by Albania is of serious concern.
In May 1997, Parliament passed Law No. 8221, On Public and Private Radio and Television in the Republic of Albania, which sanctioned private broadcasting for the first time. This law was replaced in September 1998 by Law No. 8410, which provides for a politically diverse National Council on Radio and Television to regulate and supervise broadcasting and reiterates guarantees of freedom and independence. The regulatory body, both by reputation and deed, has so far acted as an independent organization devoid of political influence. The 1998 Law on Electronic Media also protects private electronic media and the public broadcaster Albanian Radio and Television (RTSH), which consists of Radio Tirana and TVSH, from external interference and prohibits censorship. In addition, the law prohibits advertisers from interfering with the content and scheduling of programs (Article 61) and bans political parties, religious organizations, and state bodies from operating a private radio or television station (Article 26).
The 1995 criminal code includes several provisions that can be characterized as criminal defamation laws and are particularly threatening to a free press. Insult and libel against public officials and the president of the republic, as well as defamation of national symbols, are punishable with fines and/or up to three years' imprisonment. "Calls for national hatred" and the propagation of false information can result in penalties ranging from fines to sentences in prison of five years. These provisions and subsequent trials foster self-censorship, blur the limits of legitimate criticism, and thus undermine good governance in general. In its 2002 report The Cost of Speech: Violations of Media Freedom in Albania, Human Rights Watch (HWR) called for the repeal of all criminal defamation laws in force in Albania, noting that these laws "are frequently used and abused by governments and the powerful to harass, intimidate, and punish the critical media."
Intimidation, unlawful arrests, and physical attacks against journalists are still widespread throughout the country and go largely unpunished. Carried out by police officials and organized crime groups, the attacks usually respond to press criticism of politicians and government officials. "The rise in violent attacks and defamation actions against the press by state officials accused of corruption appears also to coincide with an increased maturity, courage, and investigative capacity of the Albanian media in general," HRW noted. In late October 2002, the Koha Jone media company became the target of government pressure following the publication of commentaries critical of Prime Minister Nano. Shortly after the articles were published, several government agencies sent inspectors to check the group's compliance with financial, labor, and other regulations. The timing of the inspections has raised suspicions that they were being used for retaliation.
The 2001 Media Sustainability Index developed by IREX rated Albanian journalists' professional and ethical standards as low and the overall news coverage as politically based and biased. Media outlets, especially print media, are polarized between the two political factions, and reporting is viewed as unfair and lacking in objectivity; their sources are also questionable. "Each news facility prepares its own news agenda following the ideology of the ownership," the report noted, adding that "the oligarchs are in control and disinclined to change." Moreover, "The government blatantly manipulates content by using supportive media as advertising outlets" for government-controlled companies.
State advertising in Albania accounts for a major share of the total advertising space sold by newspapers, and its allocation is often used by the government to pressure the media or to influence their editorial line. Such advertising is particularly critical to the financial survival of press outlets that are not subsidized by political parties. A study conducted by the OSCE mission in Albania in November 2001 found that on average, 45.4 percent of all advertising space sold by the press was state advertising. The ratio reached 72 percent for Zeri i Popullit, the Socialist Party's newspaper.
All broadcast media in Albania are private except RTSH, which became an independent public entity in May 2000 but is still considered excessively pro-government. Three television channels broadcast at the national level--Albanian Television, TV Klan, and TV Arberia--and another 50 channels operate at the local level. Radio Tirana, a public broadcaster that operates 3 different channels, and Top Albania Radio operate nationally, while another 31 stations operate locally. There are 4 cable operators in Albania, providing between 18 and 25 channels each. In September 2002, the National Council on Radio and Television introduced a new mobile frequency control center that will locate unauthorized transmitters and monitor the transmission quality of local operators. A Department of Program Monitoring was also established to assess the programs' content from a legal point of view.
The printed press currently includes 16 daily newspapers, of which 15 are distributed nationwide, and about 150 weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines that are either local or national. Political groups, labor unions, associations, and other groups publish their own newspapers and magazines. With a daily circulation of more than 22,000 copies, the unaffiliated Shekulli is the largest Albanian newspaper. It is followed by the dailies Gazeta Shqiptare, Korrieri, Koha Jone, and Albania, also unaffiliated. The partisan newspapers include Rilindja Demokratike (DP), Zeri i Popullit (SP), and Republika (Republican Party), each with an average daily circulation of 5,200 copies. There are several minority-language newspapers, including Greek, Vlach, Romanian, and Roma.
Circulation for the printed press as a whole has been declining since 1998, owing to the low purchasing power of the population, a general distrust in papers, and the rise in popularity of electronic media. Albania's two major distribution companies are private, but they are allegedly corrupt and mishandle deliveries. The country's poor road infrastructure also adds to distribution problems. There are no legal restrictions on Internet access, and to date 15 newspapers and broadcasters have their own home pages. However, the number of Internet users is very limited, especially in rural areas.
In terms of printed press ownership, the figures gathered by the Albanian Media Institute for the year 2001 show that private companies, associations, and individuals own the great majority of titles, while about a fifth are owned by political parties and state institutions. None of the private print or electronic media are financially viable on their own, which makes them vulnerable, to say the least, to corruption and influence from political and business interests.
In 2001, the Albanian print and electronic media employed approximately 2,365 people full-time, compared to 1,830 the previous year. The gender distribution is more balanced in electronic media. Over 70 percent of Albania's print and electronic journalists work without a contract, which makes their situation highly insecure. Moreover, in the absence of a contract, employers do not make social insurance contributions, and journalists tend to move frequently from one media outlet to another to obtain higher salaries. The Koha Jone media company, which owns two newspapers, one television station, one radio station, and the daily newspaper Gazeta Shqiptare, has recently settled its employees' contracts. However, further decisive improvements might require the creation of a journalists trade union. The influence of the two main press associations in Albania--the Albanian Professional Journalists Association and the Albanian Journalists League--is limited.
In its 2002 Annual Survey of Press Freedom, Freedom House rated Albania's media as "Partly Free." In the period from 1994 to 1996, Albania's rating was downgraded to "Not Free" owing to continued government control over the media, including legal restrictions on private electronic media and threats against journalists. Albania's rating has remained "Partly Free" since 1997.
After its change to pluralism in 1991, Albania operated on the basis of interim constitutional provisions. These were replaced in 1998 by the Constitution of the Republic of Albania. Passed in a national referendum and broadly praised by the international community, the new Constitution further reinforced the principle of separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers.
Albania has a Constitutional Court and a three-tiered judicial system: courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and a Supreme Court. The nine-member Constitutional Court has jurisdiction primarily over cases involving the compatibility of the law with the Constitution's provisions and with international agreements. It is charged with making the final interpretation of the Constitution, and its decisions are binding on other courts. Courts of first instance operate in 36 judicial districts throughout Albania, while courts of appeal sit in 6 different regions. The Supreme Court is the highest appellate body in Albania. Judges of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court are appointed for fixed nine-year terms by the president with the consent of Parliament. Judges of the courts of first instance and courts of appeal are appointed for indefinite terms by the president upon the recommendation of the High Council of Justice. Judges enjoy immunity, which can be lifted only by the organ that appointed them.
The majority of judges now being appointed in Albania have completed a three-year program at the Magistrates School. The 2001 Judicial Reform Index for Albania developed by the American Bar Association's Central and East European Law Initiative (ABA-CEELI) rated positively the appointment of judges: "While there is a possibility of undue political or personal influence in some appointments, the system currently operates to provide a check on appointments through either the High Council of Justice or the Assembly." Under the law, cases are assigned to judges by random lottery, within the relevant subject matter division of the courts. While assignment rules seem largely to be respected, many judges interviewed by ABA-CEELI "believed that the process is manipulated in some high-value cases."
The undue prolongation of investigation and court proceedings is a key problem in the Albanian judicial system. Even simple cases often last for several months owing to the failure of the prosecution, lawyer, defendant, or witnesses to show up in court. In addition, while the situation has improved in recent years, the enforcement of civil judgments, particularly monetary judgments against the government, is still extremely problematic. Many civil judgments go unenforced.
Although judicial salaries overall have increased significantly since the year 2000 and salaries of judges and prosecutors were raised by 12 percent in July 2002, most judges still consider them inadequate and often resort to bribes and other illicit sources of income. Judicial corruption in Albania is rampant, and attempts to influence court cases aim predominantly at private gain. Governmental pressure, however, has become uncommon. The High Council of Justice has taken steps to curb corruption but has faced both a lack of resources and resistance by prosecutors and police in pursuing violators. The offer of a bribe sometimes accompanies threats, which ABA-CEELI said are still common in Albania. Yet such threats often go unreported. ABA-CEELI's 2001 index also emphasized that current resources are insufficient to protect judges and their families.
Despite legal provisions that provide for public and media access to court proceedings, mainly only high-publicity cases are open; access to average cases is more limited owing to the lack of courtroom space and insufficient notice of public access procedures. Moreover, judicial decisions are extremely difficult to obtain, and records of court proceedings are often inaccurate, incomplete, or not readily available to the public. Only decisions of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, along with laws and ministerial decisions, are published in the monthly Official Gazette.
Established in December 1999, the National Judicial Conference (NJC) is a voluntary, professional association of judges that aims at "strengthening the rule of law" and "the efficient functioning of the judiciary." The NJC holds annual national meetings that include educational seminars and has the constitutional mandate to elect 9 of the 15 judges of the High Council of Justice. In December 2000, the NJC adopted the code of judicial ethics, which addresses issues such as conflicts of interest, ex parte communications, and inappropriate political activity. However, sitting judges are not required to receive training in the code, and the NJC has no authority to sanction judges for misconduct. Unlike its predecessor, the National Judges Association, which became inactive in 1995, the NJC to date has not encountered interference from the executive branch. However, the NJC lacks any real enforcement power and has yet to become an active player in the judicial reform process.
The 1998 Constitution guarantees all individuals, Albanian or foreign, with fundamental human rights and freedoms and makes the European Convention on Human Rights, which Albania signed in 1996, directly applicable. The adjudication of most alleged human rights and fundamental freedoms violations can initially take place in the regular court system.
In 2002, the Albanian Helsinki Committee noted serious violations of detainees' rights, including the failure to inform detainees of their rights, prohibiting their lawyers from being present during interrogations, and holding individuals in custody in excess of the legal detention period. Yet in 2000, the government passed Law No. 8570, For Some Changes to the Penal Procedure Code, which limits the extension of detention periods. The right to a legal defense, guaranteed by Articles 255 and 256 of the criminal procedure code, is frequently ignored, and numerous detainees interviewed by the AHC had made statements without the presence of a lawyer. Furthermore, the constitutional right of persons accused of crimes to a "free defense when [they do] not have sufficient means" is not yet properly upheld. The rights of minors are also violated. In all police stations monitored by the AHC, minors' parents had not been contacted and no legal or psychological support had been offered, despite the provisions in the criminal procedure code.
The Constitution also stipulates that no one can be subjected to torture or cruel and inhuman treatment. Yet one of the most serious human rights violations in Albania is grave misconduct by the police. Illegal arrests are frequently carried out, and suspects are held in detention for periods exceeding the legal time of custody without charges being raised. Despite steps taken by the government to improve the professional and human rights training of police, Amnesty International has expressed serious concerns that torture and ill-treatment remain widespread in Albania and that few police officers responsible for these violations of human rights are brought to justice. According to the Albanian ombudsman's report for 2001, the People's Advocate Office received 198 complaints against the police, of which 49 were complaints concerning ill-treatment. The complaints that were found to be justified generally led to lenient disciplinary measures against the officers. The ombudsman's report recommended that more severe measures be taken in the future, in addition to drafting a code of conduct for police interrogations, monitoring police work during investigation proceedings, and improving conditions for detainees in police custody.
In September 2002, the Albanian government outlawed the death penalty by approving Protocol No. 13 of the ECHR. In 1999, the Albanian Constitutional Court stated that the death penalty is unconstitutional in times of peace, but it was still permitted during a state of war. Protocol No. 13 prohibits the death penalty under all circumstances.
With regard to minority rights, the Constitution provides for the equal treatment of all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on "gender, race, religion, ethnicity, language, political, religious or philosophical beliefs, economic conditions, education, social status, or ancestry." It also prohibits discrimination in property holding, or social protection, on the basis of ethnicity. Established in 2000, the Office of National Minorities monitors the country's conformity with minority-related international commitments such as the European Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Although the overall climate in Albania is predominantly tolerant of minorities, much remains to be done to better integrate the Roma community, which is regularly discriminated against.
The Regional Corruption Monitoring System analysis completed in spring 2002 by the Southeast European Legal Development Initiative (SELDI) revealed the overall perceptions of and attitudes toward corruption of 1,037 Albanian adults surveyed. The respondents ranked corruption first among the socioeconomic problems faced by the country, before political instability and unemployment. In 2002, 68.4 percent of those surveyed rated corruption as the top problem, compared to 60.8 percent in 2001. There is no similar increase in the Balkan region. In both 2001 and 2002, Albania rated the highest among Balkan countries in terms of public tolerance toward corrupt practices, yet its tolerance level decreased the most in the one-year period. Despite a growing formal denunciation of corruption in Albania, citizens' susceptibility to--but not necessarily involvement in--corrupt practices has increased, whereas public officials' pressure to engage citizens in corrupt behavior has declined.
The SELDI survey emphasized that "in the Balkan societies corruption continues to be perceived as an efficient mechanism of addressing problems and a convenient way of bypassing the bureaucracy." The vast majority of respondents cited customs and police officers; doctors; municipal, tax, and court officials; and government ministers as the most corrupt occupational groups. Found at the bottom of this rating are teachers, journalists, and NGO representatives. Among the main factors influencing the spread of corruption, respondents identified the low salaries of public officials and the striving of those in power to make fast money. The survey also registered public skepticism about the ability of Albanian authorities to cope with the problem of corruption. In Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for the year 2002, Albania scored 2.5 out of a clean score of 10. The CPI reflects levels of corruption among politicians and public officials as perceived by businesspeople and country analysts.
The first document reflecting Albania's strategy to combat corruption was finalized in 1998 with the support of the World Bank. It focused primarily on the prevention of corruption through public administration reform, but it lacked implementation. The plan was reviewed in late 1999, and in April 2000 the government adopted a revised anticorruption plan that integrated the requirements of the Stability Pact Anti-Corruption Initiative. The government subsequently established the interministerial Anti-Corruption Commission and the Anti-Corruption Monitoring Group as state mechanisms to ensure and monitor the implementation of the national anticorruption strategy.
At the international level, Albania ratified the Council of Europe's Civil and Criminal Law Conventions on Corruption in 2000 and 2001, as well as the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of Proceeds of Crime. In June 2002, the Parliament ratified the Convention on Cybercrime and the second additional protocol to the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.
In the first serious effort to curb widespread corruption within the judicial system, the government in 2001 launched successful disciplinary actions before the High Council of Justice against more than a dozen judges and prosecutors. An attempt by the government in May 2001 to impeach three judges of Albania's highest court for having allegedly favored a suspected drug dealer failed to pass a vote in Parliament. This was in part due to the government's inability to substantiate the allegations, Human Rights Watch noted in its 2002 World Report.
In its 2002 anticorruption action plan, the Albanian government identified the fight against corruption as a top priority, "the objective being to reduce corruption to the point where it no longer undermines what Albania tries to achieve." While Albania has strengthened its anticorruption legal framework and ratified relevant international agreements, the government acknowledges that implementing and enforcing legislation remains a challenge. The 2002 anticorruption action plan and related matrix were discussed during the Second National Conference on Anticorruption, which was held in Durres in June. The matrix comprises over 160 objectives and measures, with deadlines, responsible institutions, expected outcomes, risks, and success indicators. Its objectives fall into five areas: public administration reform, improvement of legislation and consolidation of the rule of law, management of public finances, promotion of transparency and integrity in business operations, and public information and promotion of an active civil society.
In June 2002, the government approved the draft Law on Declaration of Assets and Liabilities of Public Officials and Politicians, which foresees the creation of a special oversight body empowered to investigate the declared property holdings of some 5,000 high- and medium-ranking officials. This body, whose members will be elected by Parliament, will enjoy broad jurisdiction extending all the way to the president's office. Since 1993, politicians and top state officials have been obliged to declare their property holdings; however, there has been no verification mechanism. The draft law, which Parliament had not adopted by year's end, was prepared in close cooperation with the Albanian Coalition Against Corruption (ACAC), which emphasized the principles of transparency and impartiality. Established under the umbrella of the ACAC in October 2001, the Citizen Advocacy Office provides legal support to victims of corruption and excessive bureaucracy. It is assisted by Management Systems International within a U.S. Agency for International Development--funded anticorruption project.
In terms of criminalization of corruption and money laundering, Albanian legislation does not yet fully comply with international standards. The criminal code classifies active and passive bribery of public officials and trading in influence as criminal offenses and stipulates fines of 3 to 10 years in prison; it does not cover all forms of corruption. With respect to money laundering, the legislation does not provide for a separate criminal offense and focuses on prevention instead. Yet the criminal code foresees the confiscation of proceeds of crime to some extent.
In October 2002, the vice governor of Albania's Central Bank was arrested on corruption charges. The alleged abuse of power relates to irregularities in granting a French company a contract to print bank notes for the Central Bank. Shortly after, the deputy minister of public order, the head of the police directorate, and the former head of the National Procurement Agency were also arrested for alleged abuse of power and embezzlement. The allegations relate to an international tender in 2001 for producing new Albanian passports, which cost the government an additional $2.8 million.
With regard to trafficking in human beings, Albania is considered a key country in southeastern Europe as a country of origin, transit, and, to some extent, destination. However, in its second annual report on human trafficking, released in June 2002, the U.S. State Department promoted Albania to a "Tier 2" country, indicating Albania's significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with international standards. Albania had previously been listed in "Tier 3," the lowest category.
In December 2001, the government adopted the National Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings. This plan of action, to be implemented until September 2004, sets a number of objectives, for each of which the responsible institution and a timetable for completion have been identified. The plan led to the creation of antitrafficking units in police districts around the country and of the Regional Center for Anti-Trafficking, based in Vlora. In August 2002, Albanian law enforcement officials carried out the largest antitrafficking operation ever held, expanding efforts from the port city of Vlora to the entire coastline. The operation was intended to demonstrate to Western countries Albania's determination to combat human trafficking and the smuggling of narcotics and cigarettes.
Parliament passed new legislation in 2001 establishing trafficking in human beings as a serious criminal offense. However, bilateral cooperation agreements concluded among relevant ministries, public prosecution services, the police, and NGOs do not provide an answer to the main obstacles: protection of trafficked persons, length of investigations, and prosecution of traffickers. Moreover, there is a general perception of impunity of traffickers owing to corruption or inefficiency by the police or the judiciary. More criminal charges are brought against victims of trafficking, who are prosecuted for prostitution, than against traffickers.
In June 2002, a regional seminar organized in Slovenia by the Council of Europe's Program Against Corruption and Organized Crime in Southeastern Europe gathered over 100 judicial and law enforcement officials, representatives of NGOs, and experts from international organizations to discuss enhanced cooperation in the fight against corruption and organized crime. The meeting's final report stressed that "actual corruption or the perception of corruption among law enforcement and other criminal justice institutions is considered a major obstacle preventing cooperation and thus effective measures against trafficking in human beings." The recommendations that emerged for Albania included the removal of immunity from prosecution of judicial officials following an allegation of corruption, the classification of corruption as a form of severe crime to be dealt with by special courts, and the improvement of witness protection programs. Albania joined the Council of Europe's Group of States Against Corruption in May 2001. The country also participates in the Anti-Money Laundering Monitoring Mechanism.
Although Parliament is the chief rule-making organ in Albania and passes legislation, the majority of the actual drafting takes place in the various ministries. Under Article 81 of the 1998 Constitution, it takes a three-fifths majority vote of all members of Parliament to approve or amend certain organic codes--that is, laws on elections or public functionaries. The president has the right to return legislation for review, but a majority of Parliament can overturn the veto. Articles 92-94 of the 1998 Constitution also restrict the president's power to issue decrees on a discrete list of topics that involve the traditional duties of a head of state or constitutional guardian.
In spring 1998, Parliament adopted new rules of procedure that strengthen transparency and public input in the legislative process. The new parliamentary rules define more clearly the process for reviewing draft laws, allow the public and the media to attend plenary sessions, and permit the latter to be broadcast. Access to information on draft laws and to parliamentary reports is granted to the public and the media, and NGOs and interested parties may attend the meetings of parliamentary commissions. These commissions may also hold public hearings to gather comments on draft legislation or other issues. Despite these provisions, there has been no systematic or consistent consultation among the public, interested parties, and Parliament.
In June 1999, Parliament adopted Law No. 8503, On the Right of Information for Official Documents, which allows anyone to request official information from the state and obligates the government to make official information public. In 2001, the government issued a number of new rules outlining how one obtains a security clearance and how the state classifies and declassifies information. In order to ensure proper publication and distribution of legal information such as High Court decisions and commentaries on all organic laws, legal indexes, and legal reviews, a State Publications Office was established in 2000. The office currently publishes the Official Gazette but does not yet fulfill its mandate.
Reform of public administration and the civil service has been given high priority, with a view to improving professionalism and efficiency, reducing partisanship, and increasing public confidence in government. The 1999 Law on the Status of the Civil Servant (No. 8549), which sets forth uniform regulations for civil servants, and the improving performance of the Civil Service Commission contribute to that objective. Furthermore, the people's advocate, or national ombudsman, is explicitly empowered to "defend the rights, freedoms, and lawful interests of individuals from unlawful or improper actions or failures to act of the organs of public administration." Foreseen by the 1998 Constitution to increase government transparency and accountability, the People's Advocate Office was established by Law No. 8454 in February 1999. The institution's independence was reinforced with the adoption in April 2000 of Law No. 8600.
In 2001, the People's Advocate Office dealt with a total of 2,194 complaints, requests, and notifications, a third of which were addressed to the Justice Ministry. The extensive annual report presented in March 2002 by Ermir Dobjani, who was elected people's advocate in February 2000, reviews all cases, specific achievements, and obstacles, as well as further objectives. Among the shortcomings listed in the report is the lack of awareness and adequate compliance by public administrations, with recommendations submitted by the People's Advocate Office. The report also notes "the lack of entitlement to carry out inspections in places where human rights are eventually violated, such as prisons, police stations, mental hospitals."
The provisions on local governance in the 1998 Constitution sanction the principles of political and administrative autonomy of the European Charter for Local Self-Government (ratified by the Albanian Parliament in November 1999) and therefore represent an important step in the decentralization and overall transition process in Albania. Given high priority, decentralization is designed to bring appropriate services closer to local communities and to improve overall efficiency, democratic control, and citizens' involvement.
The National Committee for Local Government Decentralization was established in February 1999 to define a long-term and comprehensive strategy for local government in Albania and monitor its implementation. Using a participatory and consensus-building approach, a task force drew up the National Strategy for Decentralization and Local Autonomy, which was adopted by the government in January 2000. Two laws passed in July 2000 regulate the organization and functioning of local governments (Law No. 8652) and the territorial and administrative division of local governments (Law No. 8653). Law No. 8652 clearly defines the functions of local governments (own, shared, and delegated) and states their substantial autonomy in the fields of public services, economic development, social and cultural activities, public order, and civil protection. In February 2001, Parliament passed Law No. 8743, which determines the immovable state property rights and management, and Law No. 8744, which regulates the transfer of state properties to local governments.
Until now, local governments have relied on national funds for about 95 percent of their total revenues. Moreover, local bodies have had almost no autonomy in determining the use of state funds. This situation changed in 1999, though, with the implementation of the block grant, which gives local governments some discretion in the allocation of operating expenditures. Since then, the share of local expenditures allocated to investment has increased significantly. Following a new provision introduced in the 2001 State Budget Law, local governments have obtained full control of 18 percent of their expenditures, which are to be funded through unconditional transfers from the state budget and revenues raised locally. In 2002, about 24 percent of local governments' revenues were raised locally. This ratio is expected to increase further in 2003.
Albania is divided into 65 municipalities and 309 communes at the first level of local government and 12 regions, which are further subdivided into 36 districts, at the second level. The elected bodies of local governments are the commune, municipal, and regional councils and the chairs of communes and municipalities. Municipal councils are elected directly, while regional councils are elected indirectly by the commune and municipal councils. Local government elections are held every four years.
The last local elections took place in October 2000 and according to the OSCE marked overall progress toward international standards. Like national voting, local voting favors the two main political parties--the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party--that to date gather the vast majority of councils' seats and chairs. In several southern communes, however, the Union for Human Rights Party, which represents the Greek minority, is well represented.
Three associations correspond to the various levels of local government: the Association of Albanian Municipalities, the Albanian Association of Regional Councils, and the Albanian National Association of Communes. Established in 1993, the Association of Albanian Municipalities is by far the most developed, and about 75 percent of all Albanian mayors are members. It aims at promoting the common interests of Albanian municipalities and at facilitating contacts with the government, Parliament, and foreign municipalities. With respect to promoting local government in Albania, the question of state-local authority relations is one of the most important issues to be addressed.
Although the law provides for the right of the public to attend local councils, its participation is very limited, and elected officials do not necessarily encourage public involvement in the decision-making process. The lack of information on council functions and activities, as well as the overpoliticization of local bodies, explains the public's low participation. Projects undertaken by NGOs are intended to reverse that trend. In 2001, the Albanian Helsinki Committee carried out a fact-finding mission in Elbasan, central Albania, focusing on the efficiency of local self-government. Among the negative aspects pointed out by the respondents were the local authorities' failure to handle complaints in a timely manner, the practice of corruption, the poor dissemination of information on issues of public interest, and the local administration's dependence on political parties.