GENEVA (5 December 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined ninth to twelfth periodic report of Albania on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Brunilda Peçi Minarolli, Head of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, noted that during the reporting period, the authorities had taken a series of measures to improve the legal, policy and institutional frameworks, in accordance with the obligations under the Convention and specific recommendations provided by the Committee. Albania had significantly improved its legal and policy frameworks for the protection of national minorities by adopting on 13 October 2017 a specific Law for the Protection of National Minorities, which was based on European standards and international expertise through a comprehensive and transparent consultation process with different stakeholders, including minority representatives. The law for the first time stipulated formal and legal recognition of all existing minorities in the country. Turning to the situation of Roma and Egyptians, Ms. Minarolli said that they were among the poorest, most marginalized and socially excluded groups in Albania. The Government had made considerable progress in meeting the targets outlined in the National Action Plan for the Integration of Roma and Egyptians 2016-2020. Ms. Minarolli further informed that the Criminal Code had undergone several amendments with respect to criminal offences connected with gender-based violence and child protection. In view of the influx of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, Albania had developed a sustainable policy to combat illegal immigration and trafficking in persons.
In addition to observing the lack of input and presence by civil society organizations, the Committee Experts underlined the importance of accuracy of the 2011 census, which had been boycotted by minorities, and they asked the delegation to provide the results of that census. The Experts further noted the absence of criminalization of racist organizations, and stressed that the authorities needed to continue combatting Roma ethnic profiling by the police. In its periodic report, the State party had not at all addressed multiple forms of discrimination of minority women nor the absence of court cases on racial discrimination, the Experts noted. They also inquired about the forced evictions of Roma families due to the construction of the Tirana ring road, demand for social housing, civil registration of Roma and Egyptian children, hate speech by high-level politicians, ongoing judicial reform and the independence of the judiciary, cultural sensitivity training for the police, the declining population of the country and its effect on minority populations, the implementation of the Law for the Protection of National Minorities, reversal of the burden of proof, the percentage of minorities in the prison population, the political representation of minorities, the legal protection of refugees and migrants, and linguistic diversity in public television programmes.
In his concluding remarks, Gun Kut, Country Rapporteur for Albania and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, highlighted the need for the practical implementation of laws, and for having the proper infrastructure for the implementation and evaluation of the many new strategies and action plans. The State party would have to address the problem of forced evacuations and encourage more involvement by civil society in the next periodic report.
Ravesa Lleshi, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee Experts for all their questions and comments. The concerns raised were also the concerns of the State party. The delegation had taken careful note of them and it would try to follow up on them.
Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, thanked the head of the delegation for the manner in which she had led the work of the delegation.
The delegation of Albania consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the National Police Directorate, and the Permanent Mission of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the combined twenty-third and twenty-fourth periodic report of Norway (CERD/C/NOR/23-24).
The Committee has before it the combined ninth to twelfth periodic report of Albania: CERD/C/ALB/9-12.
Presentation of the Report
BRUNILDA PEÇI MINAROLLI, Head of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, noted that the engagement of the Committee Experts and their recommendations during the previous review had given the Government the right direction in improving the legal, institutional and policy frameworks for combatting racial discrimination. The reporting process and the dialogue with the Committee were an effective tool to ensure compliance with international obligations, and provided an opportunity to present progress, difficulties and challenges in the implementation of the Convention. During the reporting period, the authorities had taken a series of measures to improve the legal, policy and institutional frameworks, in accordance with the obligations under the Convention and specific recommendations provided by the Committee. The national Constitution and the domestic legal framework stipulated indispensable fundamental rights and freedoms. A large number of independent institutions were in place, such as the Constitutional Court, the courts of all levels, the General Prosecution, the Ombudsperson, and the Commissioner for Protection against Discrimination. Albania was taking concrete steps to implement justice reform, which would have a direct impact on strengthening the rule of law, the judiciary system, the consolidation of democracy, and human rights.
While inter-ethnic relations continued to be good, and a climate of respect and tolerance generally prevailed, Albania had significantly improved its legal and policy framework for the protection of national minorities by adopting on 13 October 2017 a specific Law for the Protection of National Minorities in the Republic of Albania, based on European standards and international expertise through a comprehensive and transparent consultation process with different stakeholders, including minority representatives. The adoption and implementation of that law constituted an important element of Albania’s progress in reinforcing the protection of human rights, as one of the key priorities for the opening of accession negotiations with the European Union. The law for the first time stipulated formal and legal recognition of all existing minorities in the country, based on modern concepts of identification recommended by the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Union. It aimed to ensure the full enjoyment and exercise of rights and freedoms of persons belonging to national minorities, namely Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs and Bulgarians.
Turning to the situation of Roma and Egyptians, Ms. Minarolli said that they were among the poorest, most marginalized and socially excluded groups in the country. Albania had made considerable progress in meeting the targets outlined in the National Action Plan for the Integration of Roma and Egyptians 2016-2020. The national plan provided for measures to comprehensively address the situation of Roma and Egyptians in the field of education and inter-cultural dialogue, civil registry and justice, social protection, employment, education and vocational training, urban housing, and healthcare. The compulsory education enrolment rate of marginalized Roma children had increased significantly from 2011 to 2017, as well as school completion rates. In 2017, 13.5 per cent more Roma and Egyptian boys and girls had completed all levels of education compared with 2015. All Roma and Egyptian communities had access to healthcare, but more efforts needed to be made to involve Roma and Egyptians as employees in health institutions in order to increase the quality of delivered services. More Roma and Egyptian families were involved in housing and social programmes in 2017.
Moving to the recently adopted and amended laws in order to strengthen the human rights framework, Ms. Minarolli informed that the Criminal Code had undergone several amendments with respect to criminal offences connected with gender-based violence and child protection. The State party had amended the Law on the State Police, the Law on Social Care Services, the Law on the Rights and Protection of the Child, and the Law on the Family Code. In 2018, the Government had also adopted the Law on Legal Aid Guaranteed by the State, the Law on Social Housing, and the Law on Measures against Violence in Family Relations. Albania had recently adopted the National Agenda for Children’s Rights 2017-2020, the Social Protection Strategy 2015-2020, the National Action Plan on Juvenile Justice 2018-2021, the National Action Plan for Non-Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity 2012-2014, the National Action Plan for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons 2016-2020, and the Strategy and Action Plan on Gender Equality 2016-2020. The National Referral Mechanism for cases of violence in family relations had been set up at the local level in 61 municipalities. An online registration system capturing statistical data on domestic violence was also operational at the local level. Since its launch, it had registered 2,649 cases of domestic violence.
Albania had improved its legal and institutional frameworks with respect to trafficking in persons through amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code. The Law on Social Care Services placed a requirement on all institutions responsible for the treatment of trafficking victims to take all specific measures and actions for their assistance and support until their full recovery. The Law on State Police also provided for additional safeguards for the protection and comprehensive support for victims of trafficking, especially children. The National Strategy on the Fight against Human Trafficking 2018-2020 was organized around four main pillars: investigation and criminal prosecution, victim protection and assistance, prevention, and coordination. Since 2017, 12 regional anti-trafficking committees had been set up, comprising local officials and civil society organizations working on prevention and victim assistance. Roma and Egyptian children were more prone to the risk of trafficking and abuse as belonging to an ethnic minority group was associated with poverty. Domestic violence was also seen as a phenomenon related to trafficking.
Turning to asylum seekers, Ms. Minarolli noted that the Law on Asylum guaranteed the non-return policy, the right to be informed, the right to an interpreter, and the right to receive legal assistance at all stages of the interview. There had been no registered appeals to the asylum determination procedure. In view of the influx of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, Albania had developed a sustainable policy to combat illegal immigration and trafficking in persons. The Albanian migration norms (the Law on Foreigners) provided for treatment conditions for foreign nationals seized at the border. Most voluntary withdrawal procedures had been applied and partially dealt with in the closed centre for foreigners at Kareç, following the return procedures on the basis of bilateral agreements between Albania and countries of origins. Illegal immigration had increased significantly between January and June 2018, when the number of caught irregular immigrants had reached 3,160 persons (an increase of 200 per cent compared with 2017). Most of them came from Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, and Morocco.
Questions by the Country Rapporteur
GUN KUT, Country Rapporteur for Albania and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, observed that it would have been useful for the Committee if the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination of Albania had also spoken in the opening statement. He noted that he had not seen any input by civil society in the periodic report.
Mr. Kut informed that the Committee had flagged three issues for the State party’s follow-up report submitted in 2014. The first issue was the national census conducted in 2011 and indications that minorities had boycotted the census. The Country Rapporteur underlined the importance of accuracy of the census and he asked the delegation to provide the results of the 2011 census.
The second issue was the potentially discriminatory recognition of minorities (national minorities and ethno-linguistic minorities) and Mr. Kut commended that the Law for the Protection of National Minorities had successfully resolved the problem of recognition of Roma and Egyptians as national minorities on the same footing with other national minorities.
The third issue was the use of special measures, namely the absence of criminalization of racist organizations, achieving the planned outcomes of the National Action Plan for the Integration of Roma and Egyptians 2016-2020, and issuing of identity documents to Roma and Egyptians.
Turning to the prevention of Roma ethnic profiling, Mr. Kut stressed that the authorities needed to continue working to combat that phenomenon.
He further observed that the State party had not at all addressed multiple forms of discrimination of minority women and absence of court cases on racial discrimination.
Mr. Kut also highlighted the problem of Albanian nationals forced to beg in neighbouring countries. What could be done to prevent that problem?
The Tirana ring road construction had led to the forced evictions of Roma communities. What were the immediate plans to address that issue with the recent adoption of the Law on Social Housing?
What was the situation with respect to hate speech by high-level politicians in public discourse?
Questions by Other Committee Members
While certain parts of the State party’s report were excessive and not entirely relevant to the Committee’s work, some other parts were not informative enough about the situation of ethnic, national and linguistic minorities, an Expert observed. The Committee had expected that the current periodic report would contain the results of the 2011 census. What did the disaggregated data on minorities, religions and languages spoken in the State party indicate?
Was there a difference between Roma and Egyptians? Were there any ties between the State and the old Albanian diaspora (the Arnauts and Arbëresh)?
Turning to the unemployment of Roma and Egyptians, one Expert reminded that the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance had pointed out the lack of comprehensive and coherent data to evaluate the outcome of the National Action Plan for the Integration of Roma and Egyptians.
What was the demand for social housing in the country? Had racism as an aggravating factor been invoked in cases of hate crimes and hate speech? Had there been developments with codes of conduct for the media in order to fight racial discrimination?
Given the link between poverty and minorities, an Expert asked about the representation of minorities in the prison population.
The High Council of Justice appointed and dismissed judges. What were the criteria for its work? The Committee needed to receive more information about the appointment of judges in order to ascertain the independence of the judiciary.
The Experts reminded that the number of asylum applications had risen from some 300 to more than 4,000 recently. How many of them actually stayed in Albania? Was Albania only used as a country of transit?
The police were too often accused of racist behaviour. To what extent did they receive cultural sensitivity training? The number of discrimination complaints had increased between 2010 and 2014 to 164. Why was it that not many of them had reached the stage of conviction?
Considering that the population of the country had dropped from 3.1 million in 1991 to some 2.8 million in 2011, an Expert wondered whether the country was being emptied of its minorities. Did media broadcasts reflect the linguistic diversity of the country? How were national minorities represented in the Government and the police?
Finally, the Experts observed the conspicuous absence of Albanian civil society organizations in the dialogue.
Replies by the Delegation
BRUNILDA PEÇI MINAROLLI, Head of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, clarified that there was no distinction between the nine minorities with the adoption of the Law for the Protection of National Minorities. They were all treated equally. The law also opened the possibility for the recognition of other minorities. It did not deal with specific issues with respect to minorities; it was a framework law. The authorities were preparing a secondary set of laws to deal with specific minority issues, such as education of minorities, the use of national minority languages, and the display of names and toponyms in minority languages.
The Law for the Protection of National Minorities for the first time stipulated that in areas where minorities made up at least 20 per cent of the population, they would be granted specific rights, Ms. Minarolli explained. The law prohibited any act of discrimination based on a person belonging to a minority.
The delegation said that the Government had begun implementing the Decade of Roma Inclusion several years ago and based on gathered data on education and employment, it had tried to come up with targeted policies. Since Roma and Egyptians had been recognized as two separate minorities, the authorities had begun gathering disaggregated data on the two communities. The Government had published two reports on the National Action Plan for the Integration of Roma and Egyptians, including indicators on housing and health. The aim was to introduce services close to the Roma and Egyptian communities, the delegation explained.
RAVESA LLESHI, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the delegation had taken careful note of all the questions put forth by the Committee Experts, and she assured the Experts that the delays in the submission of the follow-up and periodic reports did not in any way diminish the Government’s commitment to the Convention and the Committee’s work. Public consultations were increasingly becoming part of decision-making in Albania, the Ambassador stressed.
As for the 2011 census, Ms. Lleshi explained that accuracy and legitimacy were critical in drafting and adopting policies on minorities. The questionnaire had been drafted in line with the Eurostat standards. Since the authorities had imposed a fine of 1,000 Albanian lek ($ 9.15) in case of incorrect replies, namely providing information that was not in line with the civil registry, some minorities were of the view that the fine curtailed the right to self-identification. The next census would take place in 2020 and the Government was seeking to rectify some of the flaws in the previous census.
As for the implementation of the Law for the Protection of National Minorities, the delegation said that the Government had organized a public hearing during 2018 with national minority representatives, especially with representatives of the Greek minority in southern Albania (the city of Gjirokaster). The authorities had already passed two bylaws, whereas they hoped to soon pass the remaining ones. The Fund for National Minorities had already been set up.
Turning to the 2011 census, the delegation clarified that minorities could choose whether or not to respond to questions about national origin and religion, in line with the principle of self-identification, in line with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe. In view of the upcoming local elections, the authorities would inform minorities about the election process.
On the lack of criminalization of racist organizations, the delegation noted that it was impossible to establish such organizations under Albanian law. The prohibition was further reinforced because the statute of non-governmental organizations needed to be approved by courts.
RAVESA LLESHI, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, confirmed that several examples of racist speech by high-ranking politicians had been registered in Albania, and that the Internet was increasingly used to spread hate speech. Some information was outright slander and the ownership of websites that spread such information was unknown and extended as far as to Colombia. The Government was thus working to better regulate the registration of online portals. The new bill on defamation was in preparation and the fines would be forwarded to specialized education funds. The whole process was expected to begin in 2019.
With respect to the construction of the Tirana ring road, the Ambassador explained that the Mayor of Tirana had set up a working group in October 2017, based on the Law on Local Self-Government and the Law on Social Housing, in order to assess the impact of the project on families benefiting from social housing. The municipality had identified families that could not benefit from the expropriation of buildings, but it had provided them with the possibility to apply for social housing. Those persons who did not have legal ownership documents could take part in Tirana’s social housing programme and they were encouraged to apply for sustainable housing. Only five Roma families had the ownership documents and they would be treated in line with the Law on Expropriation, Ms. Lleshi explained.
The comprehensive justice reform was advancing quickly, with some 17 laws adopted. The reform would improve the rule of law, fight against corruption and organized crime, and ensure the enforcement of civil contracts, Ms. Lleshi said. Until the new institutions were in place, the High Council of Justice would continue to oversee the performance and activities of judges.
The delegation noted that the Law on Social Housing was one of the most important legal developments in the country, especially for the Roma communities because they were the main beneficiaries along with Egyptians. The law precisely stipulated conditions for eviction. The National Strategy for Social Housing aimed to deliver concrete housing solutions for Roma and Egyptians.
Turning to civil registration, the delegation clarified that Roma and Egyptian families were concentrated in certain towns of the country. In order to have better mapping of the population, the Ministry of the Interior, municipalities and civil society had worked to increase the registration of Roma and Egyptian children. The process would also be extended to returnees.
The authorities had provided economic aid to Roma and Egyptian women as vulnerable groups and judging from the feedback provided by the beneficiaries, the impact had been positive. The authorities had also provided a child support scheme and health services to Roma and Egyptian women. On the political representation of Roma and Egyptians, the delegation said that their representatives were in local government and on the National Minority Council. There were also university quotas for Roma and Egyptian students.
With respect to the prosecution of hate speech, there had been nine cases in 2017 and one case in 2018. As for racial hatred, there had been one case in 2017 and no cases in 2018. In 2015, 10 offences had been committed by the police, six in 2016, five in 2017, and one in 2018.
On the entry of illegal immigrants, the delegation informed that 4,106 identified migrants had entered Albania during 2018, out of which 2,956 had applied for asylum. Albania was mostly a transit country for the migrants who were on their way to European Union countries.
Follow-up Questions by Committee Members
GUN KUT, Country Rapporteur for Albania and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, commended the will of the authorities to incorporate minority stakeholders in the conduct of the 2020 census.
What laws existed for the registration of non-profit associations? Had courts ever banned the registration of racist organizations? Mr. Kut stressed that hate speech by high-raking politicians was a serious matter because they could open the way for a large number of people to follow suit. It was the Government’s responsibility to refrain from such behaviour. When xenophobia started garnering votes, then the matter became even more dangerous because it could lead to a democratically elected racist Governments.
Mr. Kut observed that the information provided by the delegation did not match the information that the Committee had received indicating that forced evictions mostly affected Roma families. Were Roma disproportionately affected by the construction of the Tirana ring road?
The Country Rapporteur noted that the statistics provided by the delegation on the prosecution of hate speech and hate crimes indicated that the law was not applied. The delegation should provide information on whether the police was prevented from conducting ethnic profiling.
Were positive measures envisaged for the Egyptian community and other vulnerable groups? Did the State party have any means or mechanisms to address multiple discrimination?
An Expert asked whether the State party would consider reversing the burden of proof when prosecuting hate speech and hate crimes. The same Expert reiterated his question about the percentage of minorities in the prison population.
What could Albania do to address racial discrimination in the school? Did the State party consider it important to educate its population about anti-black racism? Such education and the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent was a global concern, one Expert underlined.
Another Expert inquired whether the State party had laws to protect refugees and migrants? What was the situation regarding stateless persons?
Could the national plan for the protection of Roma and Egyptian minorities also be extended to some other minorities in the country? How was linguistic diversity respected in public television programmes?
What was the proportion of minorities among those persons leaving the country? Were they fleeing persecution? Would the country be emptied of its minorities?
Replies by the Delegation
RAVESA LLESHI, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stressed that the Committee’s work contributed to the betterment of the situation of citizens of Albania. The implementation of laws was often an issue, and that was also true of the implementation of the Law for the Protection of Minorities. Accordingly, the Albanian authorities were beginning to consult with relevant stakeholders in a systematic manner, and they relied on the Council of Europe in the design of relevant bylaws.
Ms. Lleshi noted that there was a fine line to draw between the protection of freedom of expression on the one hand and of protection from discrimination on the other hand. The current defamation package therefore envisaged to encompass every actor involved in inciting hatred, including high-raking politicians. The target of prosecution would not be the media themselves, but the authors of hate speech. The fines charged for hate speech would be used to educate the public, especially the young, about the dangers of racist speech.
On the criminalization of racist organizations, the delegation reiterated that any organization that wanted to be registered needed to have its statute approved by a court before being officially registered. Any espousing of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination by non-governmental organizations was banned by law.
Going back to the forced evictions due to the construction of the Tirana ring road, Ms. Lleshi clarified that the delegation had provided figures of affected families based on the findings of the working group established by the Mayor of Tirana. She warned that the media reports did not always reflect the true situation on the ground. The authorities were faced with a conundrum of dealing with the issue of illegally constructed housing. That problem did not concern exclusively Roma. In fact, very few Roma lived in the concerned buildings.
The Government had adopted a measure to facilitate the civil registration of children from Roma and Egyptian communities born abroad. The Ministry of the Interior had registered about 70 per cent of these children. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection, together with the Ombudsperson and the Commissioner for the Protection against Discrimination had drafted a national strategy for the protection from discrimination. In addition, Parliament had recently issued a resolution to increase the staff of the Commissioner for the Protection against Discrimination from 23 to 34 staff members. The budget of the Commissioner would be increased to 43 million lek (about $ 400,000).
During 2018, the Commissioner for the Protection against Discrimination had reviewed 40 cases of racial discrimination, out of which the Commissioner had confirmed racial discrimination in six cases. The Commissioner had also found that Roma and Egyptians were not well informed about their rights. More than 35 cases of discrimination involved children in the field of education, namely the refusal to enrol children with disabilities or those from the Roma community, segregation of Roma students, and the provision of school textbooks.
Albania had the Law on Protection from Discrimination, which also contained a provision on indirect discrimination. The law encompassed discrimination in the labour market, as well as in State institutions. Persons who claimed to have been discriminated against could present a complaint together with the available proof to the Commissioner for the Protection against Discrimination. The new Code of Administrative Procedure contained a provision according to which the burden of proof in cases of discrimination would be on the perpetrator.
As for the inclusion of education on racial discrimination in the school curriculum, the delegation informed that police officers had been trained in identifying and addressing hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons during 2018, based on the Council of Europe standards. All United Nations conventions on human rights were a mandatory part of training for judges and magistrates.
On reflecting the linguistic diversity of the country in public television programmes, the delegation reminded that the Law on the Protection of Minorities stipulated that minorities should be able to receive public information and cultural content in their mother tongue. Accordingly, there was 20 minutes of daily broadcasts per each minority language.
GUN KUT, Country Rapporteur for Albania and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, thanked the delegation for its constructive participation in the dialogue. He highlighted the need for the practical implementation of laws, and for having a proper infrastructure for the implementation and evaluation of the many new strategies and action plans. Mr. Kut stressed that the State party would have to address the problem of forced evacuations. He also suggested an update of the core document. With a view to the next periodic report, the Country Rapporteur recommended that the State party encourage more involvement by civil society.
RAVESA LLESHI, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee Experts for all their questions and comments. The concerns raised were also the concerns of the State party. The delegation had taken careful note of them and it would try to follow up on them.
NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the head of the delegation for the manner in which she had led the work of the delegation.
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