Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Recent Elections: The most recent national parliamentary elections took place in 2017. The OSCE observation mission for the elections reported that contestants “were able to campaign freely and fundamental freedoms were respected.” The OSCE further noted the “continued politicization of election-related bodies and institutions as well as widespread allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters detracted from public trust in the electoral process.” Regarding voting itself, the OSCE mission noted “an overall orderly election day” but found that “important procedures were not fully respected in a considerable number of voting centers observed.”
Local elections took place on June 30. Several opposition parties boycotted the elections, claiming concern about government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud. The OSCE election observation mission reported that “voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options” and “there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both sides.”
Political Parties and Political Participation: Media outlets reported allegations of the use of public resources for campaign purposes in the 2017 parliamentary and 2019 local elections, and there were reports of undue political influence on the media. There were also reports of limited access to voting for persons with disabilities.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following the 2017 elections, the share of Assembly members who were women increased to a record 29 percent. Following a government reshuffle in December 2018, the share of ministers who were women increased from 47 percent to 53 percent. The law governing the election of Assembly members requires that 30 percent of candidates be women and that they occupy 30 percent of appointed and elected positions. According to the OSCE final report on the elections, however, the largest parties did not always respect the mandated 30 percent quota in their candidate lists. The Central Election Commission (CEC) fined the parties but nonetheless accepted their lists. While there is no quota for mayoral candidates, the law requires that the city council candidate lists include candidates of both genders; 13 percent of the mayors-elect in local elections were women.
Members of national minorities stood as candidates in both minority and mainstream parties in the 2017 parliamentary elections and 2019 local elections, and campaigning in the Greek and Macedonian languages without incident was observed. Nevertheless, observers reported that some minorities remained vulnerable to vote buying. Due to the CEC’s replacement of members of the opposition who resigned from the Assembly in February, one Balkan-Egyptian candidate joined the Assembly as a member.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, and the law also prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government.
The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional proficiency. The Independent Qualification Commission conducted vetting, and appeals were heard by an appeals chamber. The International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, oversaw the process. As of November the commission had dismissed 81 judges and prosecutors and confirmed 67, while 23 others had resigned rather than undergo vetting.
Several 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: Between January and June, the prosecutor general’s office registered 63 new corruption investigations. During the same period, 34 individuals were convicted on corruption charges, and trials began against an additional 51 individuals. The Department of Administration, Transparency, and Anticorruption had investigated 29 cases, resulting in 115 administrative and 153 disciplinary measures.
While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level crimes remained rare due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a general lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself. In September a former interior minister was convicted of abuse of public office and received a five-year prison sentence that was reduced to three years’ probation because he accepted an expedited trial.
Police corruption remained a problem. The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received 1,211 written complaints through August, compared with 1,978 in all of 2018. Most of the complaints alleged a failure to act, arbitrary action, abuse of office, or a violation of standard operating procedures. Through August, SIAC filed 70 administrative violations, recommending 116 police officers for disciplinary proceedings. SIAC referred two cases for prosecution in relation to three officers accused of arbitrary actions and forgery of official documents. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.
Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, deficient infrastructure, lack of equipment, and inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Poor leadership contributed to continued corruption and unprofessional behavior. Authorities continued to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures. The Ministry of Interior has established a system of vetting security officials and was vetting the first tranche of 30 high-level police leaders.
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.
HIDAACI reported that through August it had referred 60 new cases for prosecution, involving 12 Assembly members, four ministers and deputy ministers, six mayors, one CEC member, 17 general directors and deputy general directors of public agencies, four advisors to ministers and Assembly members, one judge, and 15 other government officials on charges including refusing to declare, hiding, or falsifying asset declarations, money laundering, tax evasion, falsification of documents, and corruption. Through August, HIDAACI fined 39 individuals for not disclosing their assets or conflicts of interest or for violating the law on whistleblower protection. Courts generally upheld the fines imposed by HIDAACI.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is the main independent institution for promoting and enforcing human rights. It is authorized by law to monitor and report on prisons and detention centers. The office may initiate an investigation based on complaints or on its own authority. Although the Office of the Ombudsman lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of human rights violations. The Office of the Ombudsman was underfunded and understaffed.
The Assembly has committees on legal issues, public administration, and human rights, which review the annual report of the Office of the Ombudsman. The committee was engaged and effective in legislative matters.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime. Penalties for rape and sexual assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the penalty is three to 10 years in prison. The law includes provisions on sexual assault and criminalizes spousal rape. The government did not enforce the law effectively, and authorities did not prosecute spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.
In July 2018 the Assembly amended the law on domestic violence to extend protection to victims in an active relationship or civil union. The amendments created a protective order that automatically protects children as well. Police implemented automated application issuance processes within the Police Case Management System, which allow for rapid issuance of protective orders and produces a historical record of orders issued. Through August the system generated more than 1,600 protective orders.
NGOs reported high levels of domestic violence against women. According to a 2018 survey of women between the ages of 18 and 74 that the UN Development Program released in March, 52.9 percent of women surveyed reported having been subjected to violence or sexual harassment during their lifetimes. The Albanian State Police reported 11 domestic violence-related murders through July.
The government operated one shelter to protect survivors of domestic violence and three shelters for victims of human trafficking that also accommodated victims of domestic violence. In December 2018 the government began operating a crisis management center for victims of sexual assault, at the Tirana University Hospital Center. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare reported that as of September the center had treated 23 victims.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection from discrimination (CPD) generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines of up to 80,000 leks ($720) against individuals or 600,000 leks ($5,400) against enterprises.
Through July the State Police reported 33 cases of sexual harassment that involved 32 suspected perpetrators and 31 victims, 30 of whom were women. In one case, media outlets reported in February that a police officer allegedly sent sexual images to a 15-year-old girl. The central and local structures of the Internal Affairs and Appeals Service at the Ministry of Interior opened a criminal investigation, which was ongoing as of October, and the Professional Standards Directorate in the State Police dismissed the officer.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. 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 subordinating women to men.
There were reports of discrimination in employment, and the CPD adjudicated 44 cases through July. In one example, the CPD received a complaint against Philip Morris Albania, alleging the company fired a woman because she went on maternity leave. The CPD ruled the company had discriminated against the woman based on gender. The company appealed the decision to the administrative court, which upheld the CPD decision; the plaintiff can seek compensation in the trial court system.
In another case, the CPD recommended that Albawings airline remove gender and age criteria from job-vacancy announcements and stop requesting pictures of applicants for flight attendant positions. Albawings complied with the recommendations.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to official figures, in 2018 the ratio of boys to girls at birth was 108 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.
Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth in the country 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.
The Assembly amended the law on civil status, which entered into force in 2018, to provide financial incentives for birth registration. The government also issued instructions clarifying the process of birth registration for children born abroad. Several maternity hospitals opened civil registry desks to facilitate birth registration.
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 members of other minorities. Many families also cited these costs as a reason for not sending girls to school.
Children in first through fourth grade are legally entitled to free textbooks, but some smaller municipalities did not provide them, and parents had to pay for them. Curricula varied from school to school, so parents of children who changed schools during the academic year had to pay for a second set of schoolbooks. An NGO provided school materials, bags, uniforms, and access to schoolbooks to children in four municipalities who were mainly from Roma and Balkan-Egyptian communities.
Some children, particularly those located in the city of Shkoder, were unable to attend school due to their families’ involvement in blood feuds based on the Kanun, a set of traditional Albanian laws. Children were confined to their homes due to fear of revenge attacks.
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.
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; 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 also 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, two children had been sexually exploited, but there were no cases involving pornography.
Displaced Children: There were many displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Some street children begged and some of them became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 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 as of July authorities had identified 165 street children, eight of whom were victims or potential victims of trafficking. Authorities placed 17 children under protective orders that prevented the perpetrator from approaching or contacting the victim, and sent four other cases for prosecution. They referred 67 children to shelters. Through June child protection units (CPUs) in local communities reported that they had identified a total of 1,145 children at risk of abuse in the country.
Institutionalized Children: UNHCR considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open migrant facility in Babrru.
UNICEF reported that as of July more than 70 percent of the approximately 240 children living in public institutions had been evaluated as having delays in their physical, emotional, and cognitive development.
Some NGOs raised concerns about the transparency of the treatment of children who were under state residential care. The law allows for moving children out of residential centers and into the care of foster families, but the government and the municipalities have not used this option frequently.
Through August there were 23 juveniles in the justice system, three of whom had been convicted. The country lacked enough adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children, although the Juvenile Institute in Kavaja was adequate for the population it served. The GDP reported that the number of minors in pretrial detention and detention facilities had decreased because of alternative sentencing. By the end of 2018, all juvenile inmates in Lezha, Korca, and Vlora detention facilities had been transferred to the Juvenile Institute in Kavaja, which serves as the only institution in the country for juvenile offenders.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Reports indicated that there were 40 to 50 Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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. From February 2018 through March 2019, the government adapted the premises of 2,567 offices to accommodate persons with disabilities.
As of July the CPD had received 18 complaints and opened two additional investigations on its own initiative of alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities, ruling in favor of the complainants in four cases. In one case, the CPD ruled against the municipality of Shkoder for not offering free public transportation to persons with disabilities as required by law and ordered the municipality to begin providing such services.
The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were in facilities that lacked accommodations for such persons. A 2018 study by World Vision and Save the Children reported that none of the 10 municipalities surveyed had a plan to eliminate barriers to information, communication, and mobility for persons with disabilities or a dedicated budget to address the problem.
As of August the Office of the Ombudsman inspected four mental health institutions during the year and found that patients were given inadequate psychiatric evaluations upon both admission to and discharge from the institutions. Persons with mental and other disabilities were subject to societal discrimination and stigmatization.
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 the students appeared to be poor. Many schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.
As of July the CPD had received 25 complaints of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity and opened two additional investigations on its own initiative, ruling in favor of the complainant in nine cases. In one case, the CPD ruled against Fier municipality and its water and sewage utility for discriminating against several Romani households. The CPD ordered the municipality and utility to supply running water to the families. When the municipality and utility did not respond, the CPD imposed fines on them.
The government adopted legislation on official minorities in 2017 but had yet to pass all the implementing regulations. 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 legislation provides for minority language education and dual official language use for the 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.”
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. Aleanca, an NGO advocating for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, reported four cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity reported to the CPD as of September. In one case, the CPD ruled against a police commissariat and imposed a fine.
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 LGBTI rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. As of September, Aleanca reported 46 cases of physical and psychological violence, six of which involved minors. In 201, Aleanca documented 421 cases of physical and psychological violence against LGBTI community members.
The CPD investigated four cases of alleged discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and opened an additional investigation on its own initiative.
In March the Ministry of Health and Social Protection initiated a fund of 287,450 leks ($2,600) to cover approximately 25 percent of the yearly operating costs for Streha, the only shelter for LGBTI people in the country. Through August, Streha had assisted 16 persons who faced violence or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The Albanian Association of People Living with HIV or AIDS reported that stigma and discrimination caused individuals to avoid getting tested for HIV, leading to delayed diagnosis and consequently delayed access to care and support. Persons living with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination, and children living with HIV faced discrimination in school.