Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.
Business owners freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some instances of up to 10 months. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions of integrity.
NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views.
In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that free speech, plurality of news sources, and supporting institutions experienced a slight increase, but professionalism and business management decreased.
Violence and Harassment: The AJU reported 14 cases of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure. The union also denounced violent acts toward reporters by opposition protesters in May.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in May found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. About 78 percent of media professionals thought that there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($27,800), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression. The AJU expressed concern that during the first four months of the year, judges and politicians had initiated more than 16 lawsuits against journalists, mainly for defamation.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: To receive government services, individuals changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many individuals could not provide proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum.
Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for families and children. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, placing them instead in the open migrant facility in Babrru. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
There were credible reports from NGOs, migrants, and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process procedures for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the social care and other services due to limited issuance of identification cards. UNHCR, Caritas, and the Office of the Ombudsman were critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures. There were reports of border police pushing migrants back into Greece.
The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law, asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR reported, however, that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.
Employment: While the law permits refugees to work, the limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits meant that few refugees had employment opportunities.
Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.
According to UNHCR statistics there were 1,031 persons in the country under the agency’s statelessness mandate at the end of 2018. The government does not have reliable data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. State Police reported one stateless woman in the Karrec closed migrant detention facility. The law allows stateless persons to acquire Albanian citizenship under certain conditions, although there is no separate legislation that specifically addresses providing an opportunity for stateless persons to acquire citizenship.
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.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control or prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as a natural catastrophe, a state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk. Workers not excluded by their positions exercised their right to strike.
The law provides limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.
Government enforcement of the law remained largely ineffective, in part due to the extent of informal employment. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. Penalties were rarely enforced and therefore insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.
Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult because employers often resisted union organizing and activities. In this environment, collective bargaining agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but they were seldom enforced. Some law enforcement organizations trained their officers to adopt a victim-centered approach to victims of human trafficking. The government continued to identify victims of forced labor, and prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers.
The Labor Inspectorate reported no cases of forced labor in the formal sector during the year. See section 7.c. for cases involving children in forced labor in the informal sector.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in “light” work that does not interfere with school. Children younger than 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” A 2017 decree issued by the Council of Ministers sets working hours for children younger than 18. Children may work up to two hours per day and up to 10 hours per week when school is in session, and up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week when school is not in session. Children from 16 to 17 may work up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week if the labor is part of their vocational education. By law, the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS), under the Ministry of Finance and Economy, is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law.
Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, small-scale agricultural harvesting, selling small goods in the informal sector, serving drinks and food in bars and restaurants, the clothing industry, and mining. There were reports that children worked as shop vendors, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, or shoeshine boys. The NGO World Vision also reported that children sewed shoes. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particularly around tourist areas. The NGO ARSIS reported that children went to Kosovo to beg and gather recyclable metals. When authorities in Kosovo detained them, the children returned to Albania without any investigation or risk assessment, especially in cases when the family was the exploiter. There is no government reintegration program for these children.
Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity. Some of the children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year. The State Agency on Children’s Rights continued to identify and manage cases of street children identified by the CPUs. As of July the agency reported four cases of parents exploiting street children. As of June, the CPUs and outreach mobile teams had identified 214 street children in total. CPUs reported 55 cases to the police during the same period.
In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers.
The SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. Penalties were rarely assessed and were not sufficient to deter violations.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination because of race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, HIV/AIDS status, or social origin. The government did not enforce the law and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, nationality, and ethnicity. The CPD reported that most allegations of discrimination involved race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage was higher than the national poverty threshold. The SILSS and tax authorities are responsible for enforcing the minimum wage but had an insufficient number of staff to enforce compliance.
While the law establishes a 40-hour workweek, individual or collective agreements typically set the actual workweek. The law provides for paid annual holidays, but only employees in the formal labor market had rights to paid holidays. Many persons in the private sector worked six days a week. The law requires rest periods and premium pay for overtime, but employers did not always observe these provisions. The government rarely enforced laws related to maximum work hours, limits on overtime, or premium pay for overtime, especially in the private sector. These laws did not apply to migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, which made up 36 percent of the economy, according to the Western Balkans Labor Market Trends 2019 report.
The SILSS is responsible for occupational health and safety standards and regulations, and while these were appropriate for the main industries, enforcement was lacking overall. Working conditions in the manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors frequently were poor and, in some cases, dangerous. For example, police detained the owner of the construction firm Skela Syla in September after two of his employees died on the job. Unions claimed unsafe working conditions were the cause of death. Violations of wage and occupational safety standards occurred most frequently in the textile, footwear, construction, and mining industries. Resources and inspections were not adequate, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations, because law enforcement agencies lacked the tools to enforce collection and consequently rarely charged violators.
Workers often could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Employers did not effectively protect employees in this situation.