Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
In December 2020, State Police shot and killed a man in Tirana who was violating a COVID-19 curfew. The officer who shot him was arrested, tried, and convicted for the killing. The minister of internal affairs resigned following protests in response to the killing. There were no other reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Civilian law enforcement agencies such as the State Police investigated whether civilian security force killings were justifiable and pursued prosecutions for civilian agencies. Military law enforcement conducted investigations of killings by the armed forces.
The Office of the Ombudsman reported that the high number of persons taken into custody by police resulted in overcrowding of detention facilities. For example, on December 9 and 13, police temporarily detained 357 persons, 126 of them minors, during street protests following the December 20 police shooting death of the unarmed man in Tirana breaking COVID curfew.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were allegations that police sometimes abused suspects and prisoners. For example, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) reported a case of physical abuse of a minor while in police detention. Medical staff did not report the corroborating physical examination showing bruising to the head and arm to the prosecutor’s office. Responding to the incident, the general director of police mandated training focused on criminal procedural rights of juveniles.
Prisoners engaged in hunger strikes on several occasions in 2020 to protest COVID restrictions limiting contacts with outside visitors, new legislation tightening prisoner privileges in high-security regimes, and allegations of corruption related to the quality of food, and access to medicine.
The Ministry of Interior’s Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to investigations of police actions. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse during the year occurred during arrest and interrogation, especially in cases of public protest.
The government made greater efforts to address police impunity, most notably in the single case of excessive use of deadly force. The SIAC recorded an increase in the number of investigations, prosecutions, and sanctions against officers for criminal and administrative violations. The December 2020 deadly police shooting of a COVID curfew violator who fled arrest led to widespread protests, some violent. The officer involved was arrested soon after the shooting and was convicted of homicide in July, receiving a 10-year prison sentence, reduced from 15 years due to his guilty plea.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Poor physical conditions in some prisons and a lack of medical care, particularly for mental-health conditions, were serious problems, as was corruption. Conditions remained substandard in some police detention facilities in remote locations.
The General Directorate of Prisons issued several decisions to manage the spread of COVID-19 within the penitentiary system. The AHC reported that in March through May 2020, authorities identified 21 cases of positive infection in prisons, while from July 2020 to February 2021, 140 cases were reported. Only five cases were treated in civil COVID medical treatment facilities, Covid 1 and Covid 2. Shen Koll prison in Lezhe and the Prisons’ Hospital in Tirana dedicated some of their facilities to treating COVID-19 patients only. Authorities continued to prohibit meetings with families. In October 2020, inmates at the Peqin and Shen Koll prisons and their families protested the restrictions on visits.
Physical Conditions: While overcrowding was not a problem in most facilities, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) and the Office of the Ombudsman reported overcrowding in the Zaharia prison in Kruje, the Jordan Misja prison, and the Durres prison. The General Directorate of Prisons reported sporadic overcrowding in several other prisons as populations fluctuated. Prison facilities in Kruja, Durres, Rrogozhina, Saranda, Lezha, Kukes, Ali Demi and Tepelena were reported by the Office of the Ombudsman and the AHC to have urgent infrastructure problems.
The Office of the Ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was inadequate. Since 2018 the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health have tried to accommodate Zaharia inmates and detainees in the prison in Lezha. The AHC and the ombudsman reported the government had not completed turning buildings in the Lezha prison into a special medical institution to which Zaharia inmates could be transferred, in part due to anti-COVID restrictions. In November 2020 the Ministry of Justice announced it was constructing a prison for inmates older than 60 with a capacity of 120 beds that was to be completed in 2022. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited the country on November 23-26 to assess progress on closing the Zaharia facility and transferring forensic psychiatric patients to a specialized forensic psychiatric facility. Following the visit, the minister of justice announced the government had closed the Zaharia prison, and the 319 inmates there were transferred to the reconstructed Shen Kolli prison blocks.
Except for regional facilities in Tirana (excluding its commissariats, which are smaller units falling under regional police directorates) Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca, conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, did not meet the required standards. Some detention facilities in remote areas were unheated during the winter and lacked basic hygienic amenities and sanitizers as measures against COVID-19. Facilities were cramped, provided limited access to toilets, and had little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in most police stations. The ombudsman reported that detention facilities operated by the Interior Ministry were overcrowded due to the increased number of arrests during the year and because of delays in the admission of new inmates in the penitentiary system. The ombudsman reported a high percentage of prison inmates were pretrial detainees. Criminal proceedings were generally delayed by shortages of judges resulting from the high number of those who failed vetting and were not yet replaced.
Administration: The ombudsman reported that prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. The General Directorate of Prisons received 20,065 complaints and requests through August, mostly regarding employment decisions, health-care services, and COVID-related prohibitions on in-person inmate contact with family and visitors that continued to July. The ombudsman received 60 complaints from detainees and inmates through August but did not refer any cases for prosecution.
In 2020 the Berat prison director was suspended and later dismissed following charges of abuse of duty and corruption. Through August the General Directorate of Prisons reported that it had carried out disciplinary proceedings against 112 prison staff and had fired 26.
Through August four inmates remained under a legal regime adopted in July 2020 to minimize communications between organized crime and gang members in prison and their outside contacts, to prevent them from running criminal organizations while incarcerated.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed local and international human rights groups, media, and international bodies such as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture to monitor prisons and detention facilities.
Improvements: The ombudsman and the AHC confirmed an overall decrease during the year in prison overcrowding due to new infrastructure and amnesties. Nevertheless, some penitentiary facilities were still overcrowded.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police arrest a suspect on criminal grounds with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. The law provides that police must immediately inform a prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must also decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police.
By law and based on a prosecutor’s request, the court has 72 hours to review pretrial detention status of a court-ordered arrest. Police may detain rather than formally arrest a suspect for a period not exceeding 10 hours. The ombudsman and the AHC found several procedural irregularities with the detention of individuals for longer than 10 hours, mainly following the December 2020 protests.
The constitution requires authorities to inform detainees immediately of their rights and the charges against them. The law provides for bail, and a system was operational; police frequently released detainees without bail, on the condition that they report regularly to the police station. Courts also often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, the ombudsman reported instances of interrogations taking place without the presence of legal counsel. The AHC and the ombudsman expressed concerns regarding the absence of family members during medical examinations and the absence of legal counsel and a psychologist during preliminary investigation processes involving minors.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these prohibitions.
Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The law authorizes judges to hold offending attorneys in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff (including judges who had failed vetting and had not yet been replaced), and the failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of July pretrial detainees accounted for just over 51 percent of the prison and detention center population.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, corruption, and limited resources prevented the judiciary from functioning fully, independently, and efficiently. Court hearings were generally open to the public unless COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for journalists or the public to enter court premises. In such cases, media submitted complaints to the court, which reviewed them on a case-by-case basis and generally allowed journalists and the public to attend hearings if the case was of interest to the general public.
The government continued to implement an internationally monitored process to vet judges and prosecutors and dismiss those with unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. As of September, 42 percent of the judges and prosecutors vetted had failed and been dismissed, 36 percent passed, and 22 percent resigned or retired. During the year the number of vetted Supreme Court judges grew to fill nine of the 19 seats on the court. Assignments of vetted judges were sufficient to establish administrative, civil, and penal colleges and allow courts to begin adjudicating cases. The Supreme Court, however, must have at least 10 judges to be able to elect the remaining three Constitutional Court judges. As of July 31, the Supreme Court had a backlog of 36,608 cases pending adjudication.
The politicization of past appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court at times threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions.
The implementation of justice reform provisions led to a pause in normal disciplinary processes while the country established independent disciplinary bodies. From January through September 8, the country’s High Justice Inspectorate received 875 complaints that resulted in the issuance of 740 decisions on archiving and 120 decisions on the verifications of complaints. It also administered 24 disciplinary investigations, nine of which were carried over from the previous Inspectorate at the High Judicial Council. The High Justice Inspectorate also submitted nine requests for disciplinary proceedings against magistrates to the High Judicial Council and High Prosecutorial Council.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney. If they cannot afford one, an attorney is to be provided at public expense. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to interpretation free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to an attorney was at times problematic. To protect the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them, a prosecutor must petition a preliminary hearing judge and make a request to send the case to trial.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, instances of judicial corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tempering were reported. Courts took steps to address the problem by using audio-recording equipment. Despite having a statutory right to free legal aid in civil cases, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from such aid during the year. To address the problem, the Ministry of Justice established the Free Legal Aid Directorate, law clinics at state universities, an online platform during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a telephone line to request free legal aid. The ongoing vetting process and legal mechanisms put in place by the high justice inspector to regulate the disciplining of judges also aimed to mitigate such problems.
Claimants who had exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many cases, authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings. The Office of the Ombudsman expressed concern about the country’s low rate of compliance with judicial decisions and its failure to execute the final rulings of courts and the ECHR. The ombudsman cited the state attorney’s reporting that millions of euros in compensation had yet to be paid by the government to successful complainants.
Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. The government did not make progress on disbursing compensation during the year. The Institute for Activism and Social Change and the Authority for Information on Former State Security (Sigurimi) Files raised concerns regarding unresolved missing persons cases dating from the former communist regime.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The Office of the Ombudsman and NGOs reported that property rights remained problematic, particularly the prolonged compensation process and low levels of compensation for expropriated property. Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the Agency for the Treatment of Property and were sent back to the claimants to pursue their cases in court. Claimants may appeal to the ECHR after exhausting domestic legal recourse, and many cases were pending ECHR review. The ombudsman reported that as of March, more than 66 cases against the state were before the ECHR, involving millions of euros in claims. The ombudsman reported that the government owed millions of euros for judgements since 2015. The ombudsman reported that because of the ECHR judgement in the 2018 case Sharxhi et al vs. Albania, among others, the government owed more than 13.4 million euros ($15.4 million) to plaintiffs. The ombudsman and the AHC alleged that the Cadaster Office was unresponsive to inquiries, hampering administrative investigations of property rights. In December the government announced a two-year project to digitize all property archives, enabling online access.
The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. It does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscation of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but there were reports that the government failed to respect those prohibitions. During the year’s parliamentary election campaign, it emerged that a database with the personal information and contact details of approximately 900,000 citizens as well as their likely voter preferences, leaked into the public domain, potentially making voters vulnerable to pressure. A criminal investigation was launched by the Specialized Anticorruption Body (SPAK).