The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. On June 25, the country held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported the elections respected fundamental freedoms but were negatively impacted by allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included limitations on expression and the press, including self-censorship and intimidation of journalists driven by financial and political interests; and pervasive corruption in all branches of government.
Impunity remained a problem. Prosecution, and especially conviction, of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and those with powerful business interests often were able to avoid prosecution. Authorities took technical measures, such as electronic payment of traffic fines and body cameras, to improve police accountability and punished some lower-level officials for abuses.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions.
During the year authorities took additional steps to combat corruption. Starting in February, members of the International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, began assisting the government in the establishment of new anticorruption institutions, and by July the Assembly had nominated all members of trial and appellate court vetting commissions, as well as the public commissioners. On October 30, the vetting commissions publicly announced the start of their work.
A number of government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations. In selective instances involving international actors, anticorruption agencies cooperated with civil society.
Corruption: Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government. Between January and August, the prosecutor general’s office registered 185 new corruption investigations. During the same period, 122 persons went to trial for corruption offenses and 99 were convicted. Through August, 17,752 complaints had been submitted through the online portal stopkorruption.al, approximately 8 percent of which contained information on alleged corrupt practices. In October prosecutors announced an investigation of a former interior minister for ties to organized crime and abuse of office.
While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level crimes remained elusive due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a general lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself. During the 2016-17 period, the First Instance (i.e., trial) Court for Serious Crimes convicted three judges, two prosecutors, and one high-level official of corruption. The mayor of Dibra municipality, Shukri Xhelili, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison after the broadcast of a video in which he appeared to solicit sexual favors from a woman in exchange for a job. In May the Appellate Court for Serious Crimes changed the decision, convicting Xhelili of sexual relations in abuse of official duty and reducing his sentence by one year.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their assets to the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI), which monitored and verified such disclosures and made them available to the public. The law authorizes HIDAACI to fine officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements or refer them to the prosecutor.
As of August HIDAACI had fined 426 individuals for not disclosing their assets, conflicts of interest, or violating the law on whistleblower protection. HIDAACI reported that by August it had referred 31 new cases for prosecution that involved six Assembly members, one deputy minister, one mayor, six tax inspectors, six customs officials, and 11 other government officials on charges including refusing to declare, hiding, or falsifying asset declarations, money laundering, falsification of documents, and corruption.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime. Penalties for rape and assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the prison term is three to 10 years. The law includes provisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment and makes the criminalization of spousal rape explicit. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Officials did not prosecute spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Police often did not have the training or capacity to deal effectively with domestic violence cases. The government operated three shelters to protect survivors of domestic violence, and NGOs operated six others
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, although officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection against discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and may impose fines of up to 80,000 leks ($700) against individuals or 600,000 leks ($5,300) against enterprises.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms depicting women as subordinate to men. There were reports of discrimination in employment.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the government’s statistical agency, the ratio of boys to girls at birth in 2016 was 107 to 100, which indicated that gender-biased sex selection was possibly occurring. The government did not take any steps to address the imbalance.
Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children.
Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families, or those returning from abroad frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to services.
Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and other minorities. Many families also cited these costs as a reason for not sending girls to school.
Child Abuse: Observers believed that child abuse was increasing, especially in schools. Services for victims of abuse were not readily available.
Child protection units in municipalities reported 104 cases of physical violence against children in 2016.
Early and Forced Marriage: Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. According to data released by the Albanian Institute of Statistics, the number of early marriages (under the age of 19) decreased significantly in 2016 from 2015.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law, and the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances, the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography; penalties are a prison sentence of three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is illegal.
Authorities generally enforced laws against the rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography. The government reported that, as of July, six children had been sexually exploited, but there were no cases involving pornography. A total of 39 child victims of trafficking and potential victims of trafficking were identified through October.
Displaced Children: There continued to be numerous displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Street children begged or did petty work. These children were at highest risk of trafficking, and some became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children under age 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes.
The State Agency for the Protection of Children’s Rights reported that by June, authorities had assisted 441 children in a street situation. Some 64 children were referred to shelters while 15 were referred to prosecutors for having been mistreated.
Institutionalized Children: The migrant detention facility in Karrec was considered unsuitable for children. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There were reportedly only a few hundred Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the law. During the year the government adapted the premises of eight schools to accommodate persons with disabilities and eight others were in progress.
The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies traditionally lacked funding to implement their programs. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were located in facilities lacking accommodations for such persons.
The government opened two new development centers for persons with disabilities in Pogradec and Bulqiza, supported by the UN Development Program, and three day-care centers for children with disabilities in Pogradec, Saranda, and Bulqiza.
The ombudsman regularly inspected mental health institutions. Both the admission and release of patients at mental health institutions were problematic due to inadequate psychiatric evaluations. There was societal discrimination and stigmatization of persons with mental and other forms of disability.
There were allegations of discrimination against members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. Some schools resisted accepting Romani and Balkan-Egyptian students, particularly if they appeared to be poor. Many mixed schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.
Romani rights NGOs criticized the Tirana municipal government for delaying the building of new homes for Romani families removed from their homes in 2016. In December 2016 the municipality evicted 76 Romani families from the Bregu i Lumit neighborhood of Tirana, which is prone to flooding in the winter. Sixty of the families were moved into a temporary warehouse, where NGOs reported they lived in dire conditions without sanitation or electricity. The municipality delayed the transfer of the families to more permanent housing until the final week of December.
In October the government adopted new legislation on minorities. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The new legislation provides minority language education and dual official language use for local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside, or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate-crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. The NGO Streha reported that many young LGBTI individuals had experienced domestic violence upon coming out.
As of August, the Commission for Protection from Discrimination (CPD) had received three complaints alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. The CPD ruled in favor of one of the cases.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. The Albanian Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported that discrimination and stigmatization of persons with HIV/AIDS was widespread in the country.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Alleged incidents of societal killings, including both “blood-feud” and revenge killings, occurred during the year, but as of August authorities had reported only one case of a blood-feud killing. The ombudsman reported that authorities’ efforts to protect families or prevent blood-feud deaths were insufficient, although the government increased efforts to prosecute such crimes.