Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and prisoners. Through September the Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to both administrative sanctions and criminal prosecutions. As of July, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) reported one case of alleged physical violence in a police facility.
The ombudsman reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse occurred during arrest and interrogation. Through August, the ombudsman received 104 complaints from detainees. The majority of complaints concerned the quality of health care. The ombudsman did not refer any case for prosecution.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Poor physical conditions and a lack of medical treatment, particularly for mental health issues, were serious problems, as were overcrowded facilities and corruption. The AHC and the ombudsman reported that conditions in certain detention facilities were so poor as to constitute inhuman treatment. Conditions remained substandard in police detention facilities outside of Tirana and other major urban centers.
Physical Conditions: The government, the ombudsman, and the AHC reported prison overcrowding continued and that the prison population was 3-5 percent greater than the design capacity of prison facilities. Overcrowding was worse in pretrial detention centers. Conditions in prison and detention centers for women were generally better than those for men.
The majority of the 104 complaints received by the ombudsman from prisoners through August dealt with the quality of health services. Prisoners also complained about access to special leave programs, delays in the implementation of prison transfer orders, and undesirable transfers to other prisons. The AHC also reported numerous complaints about the quality of health services and transfer/nontransfer between detention facilities. In some cases, prison officials placed inmates not subject to disciplinary measures in isolation cells due to a lack of space among the general prison population. The ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was wholly inadequate.
Prison and detention center conditions varied significantly by age and type of facility. The ombudsman, the AHC, and the Albanian Rehabilitation Center from Trauma and Torture identified problems in both new and old structures, such as dampness in cells, poor hygiene, lack of bedding materials, and inconsistent water and electricity supply.
Conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, were inadequate, except for regional facilities in Tirana, Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca. Some detention facilities were unheated during the winter, and some lacked basic hygienic amenities, such as showers or sinks. Facilities were cramped, afforded limited access to toilets, and had little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in the majority of police stations.
Administration: The Ministry of Justice managed the country’s prisons. The ombudsman reported prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. NGOs and the ombudsman noted inadequate recordkeeping in some institutions, particularly in small or rural police stations.
Corruption continued to be a serious problem in detention centers, particularly in connection with access to work and special release programs. NGOs reported that those involved in work programs received only 90 leks (about $0.80) per month and did not receive credit for social security. In July 2016 the deputy general director of prisons, Iljaz Labi, was arrested for his involvement in creating fake procurement documents for food-supply companies. In February police arrested on similar corruption charges former general director of prisons, Artur Zoto, who had voluntarily resigned a few days after Labi’s arrest. During the year several other senior prison staff were arrested and convicted for supplying drugs to prisoners or demanding payment for access to family visits.
The majority of prison directors in the country were fired during the year on grounds of corruption, abuse of office, and other violations of the law.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed local and international human rights groups, the media, as well as international bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture to monitor prison conditions. The ombudsman conducted frequent unannounced inspections of detention facilities.
Improvements: The General Directorate of Prisons indicated that by July overall prison overcrowding had been reduced from 9 percent in 2016 to 3 percent. Both the ombudsman and NGOs reported a decrease in cases of physical and psychological abuse from the previous year.
The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Interior oversees the Guard of the Republic and the State Police, which include the Border and Migration Police. The State Police are primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces, which also assist the population in times of humanitarian need. The State Intelligence Service (SIS) gathers information, carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities, and is responsible to the prime minister.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, the Guard of the Republic, the armed forces, and the SIS, although officials periodically used state resources for personal gain and members of the security forces committed abuses.
Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, poor infrastructure, lack of equipment, or inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Poor leadership and a lack of diversity in the workforce contributed to continued corruption and unprofessional behavior. Authorities continued to made efforts to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures.
Impunity remained a serious problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it, in particular by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct.
While the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, police corruption remained a problem. The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints received 3,811 telephone complaints via the anticorruption “green line” through July 31. The majority of the complaints involved “inaction of police officers,” “unjust fine/ticket,” or “violation of standard operating procedures.” The office filed 43 administrative violations, recommending 57 police officers for disciplinary proceedings. The cases of five officers were forwarded to the Prosecution Office. During the year the ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detention.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police may arrest a suspect on criminal grounds only with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. By law police must immediately inform the 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 decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police. Prosecutors requested, and courts ordered, detention in many criminal cases, although courts sometimes denied prosecutors’ requests for detention of well-connected, high-profile defendants.
The constitution requires authorities to inform detained persons immediately of the charges against them and their rights. Law enforcement authorities did not always respect this requirement. Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) that entered into force on August 1 imposed additional obligations on law enforcement regarding the rights of defendants and detained persons. The same amendments established a new system for handling the monetary aspect of bail. Courts 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, NGOs reported interrogations often took place without the presence of a lawyer. Authorities placed many suspects under house arrest, often at their own request, because if convicted they received credit for time served.
By law police should transfer detainees to the custody of the Ministry of Justice, which has facilities more appropriate for long-term detention, if their custody will exceed 10 hours. Due to overcrowding in the penitentiary system, detainees, including juveniles, commonly remained in police detention centers for long periods.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Although the government generally observed these prohibitions, there were instances when police detained persons for questioning for inordinate lengths of time without formally arresting them.
Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period to two years or longer. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years; the government reported five cases of pretrial detentions exceeding this limit. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The amendments to the CPC that entered into force during the year included provisions intended to put an end to the existing inability of judges to prevent such delaying actions by holding the offending attorney in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff, and failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of September, 44 percent of the prison and detention center population was in pretrial detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The CPC requires that the court examine the necessity of a detention within three days. If the detention is not revoked, the detainee may appeal up to the Supreme Court. If no decision is made within a prescribed period, the detention becomes void. The CPC also requires the prosecutor to provide the court bi-monthly updates regarding information obtained following detention. A judge may revoke detention based on new information.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. Court hearings were often not open to the public. Court security officers frequently refused to admit observers to hearings and routinely telephoned the presiding judge to ask whether to admit an individual seeking to attend a particular hearing. Some agencies exhibited a pattern of disregard for court orders. The politicization of appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions. As of October there were 10 vacancies on the Supreme Court, which faced a considerable backlog of cases.
The Ministry of Justice generally did not vigorously pursue disciplinary measures against judges. When it did so, the High Council of Justice (HCJ) was reluctant to enact those measures. During 2016 the Ministry of Justice initiated disciplinary proceedings against nine judges. During the same year, the HCJ dismissed one judge after she was convicted of corruption and transferred another to a different court. During the year the Ministry of Justice did not pursue disciplinary actions against judges due to the entry into force of new legislation on justice organization, and the HCJ did not rule on any pending requests. The HCJ ordered the suspension of a trial court judge following a decision of the First Instance (i.e., Trial) Court for Serious Crimes. The case was pending at year’s end.
The law presumes defendants to be innocent until convicted. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, and to have a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, consult an attorney and have one provided at public expense if they cannot afford one. 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 a lawyer was at times problematic. Following the entry into force of amendments to the CPC, the prosecutor has to apply before a preliminary hearing judge to send the case to trial. This reform was intended to be a further guarantee for the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them.
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, courts were susceptible to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tampering. Judges held many court hearings in their offices, demonstrating a lack of professionalism and providing opportunities for corruption. These factors undermined the judiciary’s authority, contributed to controversial court decisions, and led to an inconsistent application of civil law. Despite the statutory right to free legal aid in civil cases, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from this during the year.
Persons who have exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many instances authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings, especially those concerning the right to a fair trial.
Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. On several occasions groups of former political prisoners protested the government’s failure to pay them legally mandated compensation. The government made some progress on disbursing compensation during the year. By June the government had paid the eighth and final compensation installment to the former political prisoners who were still alive. The government also agreed to include 320 former political prisoners who had not submitted their papers in time to benefit from the compensation.
Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the government’s Agency for Property Treatment. The ombudsman reported that to date the government had not yet executed 26,000 court rulings nor reviewed 11,000 claims dealing with property rights. Claimants may appeal cases to the ECHR, and during the year hundreds of cases–many of them related to property–were pending ECHR review.
Albania endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Albania does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscations of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. Since becoming a signatory to the Terezin Declaration in 2009, Albania has not passed any laws dealing with restitution of heirless property. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.
The government’s National Inspectorate for the Protection of the Territory (NIPT) demolished some homes without due legal process as part of a wider campaign to demolish illegally constructed buildings. Through July the ombudsman received seven citizen complaints against the local inspectorates and three against the NIPT, including for failure to provide sufficient warning in writing, failure to consider a homeowner’s application for legalization of a property, and lack of transparency.
Throughout the year, residents of the Himara region continued to complain of targeted heavy-handedness by the government that resulted in the partial or complete demolition of numerous houses and businesses with little warning and no legal recourse for adequate compensation. In October the government demolished several uninhabited structures in Himara as it implemented an urban development plan about which residents complained they had not been adequately consulted by municipal authorities. The demolition of a further 12 structures was halted because residents filed a court case against the authorities. Municipal authorities defended the demolitions as necessary for commercial development.