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.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were allegations that police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and prisoners, usually in police stations.
In a September 17 report on its most recent visit to a number of the country’s prisons and detention center, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported receiving a significant number of allegations of mistreatment of criminal suspects by police officers, most involving use of excessive force at the time or immediately following apprehension. Several allegations also concerned mistreatment during transport or initial questioning, apparently to extract a confession, obtain information, or as punishment. The alleged mistreatment consisted of slaps, punches, kicks, blows with a hard object, and excessively tight handcuffing.
The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to investigations of police actions. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse occurred during arrest and interrogation.
Through August the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) conducted four monitoring missions based on allegations of violence against inmates. In two cases, the AHC found evidence of violence. The AHC sent its findings to the General Directorate of the Albanian State Police, the General Directorate for Prisons (GDP), and the Korca District Prosecutor’s Office. The Prison Internal Control Service Board and the Internal Affairs and Complaints Service investigated the allegations, but the prosecution elected not to press charges.
During the year the Office of the Ombudsman received complaints alleging excessive use of teargas by the police during opposition protests and during a forced eviction due to construction of the new ring road in Tirana. The Office of the Ombudsman reported that the State Police refused a request to review standard operating procedures for the use of teargas. State Police reported that their response to opposition protests was proportional to the risk presented and warranted to protect the lives of protesters and police officers, as well as safeguarding state facilities.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Poor physical conditions and a lack of medical care, particularly for mental health conditions, were serious problems, as were overcrowded facilities and corruption. Conditions remained substandard in some police detention facilities outside of Tirana and other major urban centers.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem in some facilities. After a visit to Zaharia prison in Kruje in June, the AHC reported that the prison housed 294 inmates in the facility, 114 inmates over its official capacity. The AHC provided this information to the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination (CPD), who determined that many of the inmates, whom a court had ordered temporarily hospitalized in a psychiatric institution, had been wrongly incarcerated. The Office of the Ombudsman also visited Zaharia and Shen Koll facilities in June and reported the same conditions.
Prison and detention center conditions varied significantly by age and type of facility. The Office of the Ombudsman reported, in some cases, leaking roofs, rats in the cells, lack of bedding materials, lack of heating and cooling systems, and concerns with the health care system. Prisoners complained that prison authorities left the lights on in their cells all day, though this measure is required by law.
The Office of the Ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was inadequate.
Conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, were inadequate in some respects, except for regional facilities in Tirana (excluding its commissariats, which are smaller units falling under regional police directorates), Durres, Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca. Some detention facilities in remote areas were unheated during the winter, and some lacked basic hygienic amenities, such as showers or sinks. Facilities were cramped, had limited access to toilets, and little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in most police stations. The Office of the Ombudsman reported that facilities operated by the Interior Ministry suffered overcrowding mainly due to a lack of coordination with and delays from the Ministry of Justice.
Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman reported that prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. The GDP received 133 complaints through July, mostly regarding employment decisions or corruption in the penitentiary system, while the Office of the Ombudsman received 141 complaints from detainees and inmates through August but did not refer any cases for prosecution.
Corruption continued to be a serious problem in detention centers, particularly in connection with access to work and special release programs. In October 2018 the former general director of prisons, Arben Cuko, was arrested on corruption charges. As of October his case continued to be under investigation. In July, Lushnja prison director Judmir Shurdhi and another prison staff member were arrested for the unauthorized release of a convict. As of October their case continued to be under investigation. Through July the GDP reported that it carried out disciplinary proceedings of 422 prison staff and fired 33 additional staff. Through August the GDP had dismissed six prison directors, and four more of them were under investigation.
The Office of the Ombudsman reported that the sister of a prisoner who died while incarcerated in Fier alleged he died due to inadequate health care. The district prosecution investigated the allegations but closed the case due to a lack of evidence. As of April the Office of the Ombudsman was investigating complaints about the circumstances of two suicides and another death in prison.
The Office of the Ombudsman reported that it monitored hunger strikes by inmates in Burrel and Fushe-Kruje facilities in 2018 and another in July in the Jordan Misja prison. The inmates began hunger strikes to protest new legislation that would isolate inmates who have committed severe crimes. The inmates also sought improvements in their facilities. The Office of the Ombudsman and the GDP reported that the strikes ended after negotiations with the prison administration.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed local and international human rights groups, the media, and international bodies such as the CPT to monitor prisons and detention facilities. The Office of the Ombudsman reported, however, that the Albanian State Police hindered its investigation into allegations of the excessive use of force at opposition protests during the year. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that the government did not respond to its questions during the investigation within the period required by law.
The AHC reported that administrators of prisons in Peqin, Tirana, and Korca placed limits on its access to documents from the prisons’ psychological and medical staff, which the government said was intended to protect confidentiality.
Improvements: The Office of the Ombudsman informally reported a decrease in overcrowding due to new infrastructure and amnesties.
In response to an internal analysis of suicides and attempted suicides, the GDP published A Guide to Suicide Prevention Measures in Prisons in March. The government also remodeled one of the Shen Koll prison wings to accommodate up to 200 inmates with mental health problems.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police arrest a suspect on criminal grounds with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. By law, police must immediately inform a prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must also decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police. Prosecutors requested, and courts ordered, detention in many criminal cases, although courts sometimes denied prosecutors’ requests for detention of well connected, high-profile defendants.
By law, police should transfer detainees to the custody of the Ministry of Justice, which has facilities for detention exceeding 10 hours. Due to overcrowding in the prison system, detainees, including juveniles, commonly remained in police detention centers for periods well in excess of the 10-hour maximum.
The Office of the Ombudsman reported that police used excessive force when arresting protestors who took part in opposition rallies throughout the country during the year. The Office of the Ombudsman received 12 complaints for excessive use of force and injuries from tear gas during those protests and referred one case for prosecution. The Office of the Ombudsman referred a case of injuries sustained from tear gas during a protest of the construction of a new road in Tirana.
The Office of the Ombudsman was also investigating a separate case of excessive use of force and injuries from tear gas used to evict residents before demolishing buildings for a project to refurbish the Bregu i Lumit neighborhood.
Impunity for police misconduct also remained a problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it, by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct.
The constitution requires authorities to inform detained persons immediately of their rights and the charges against them. Law enforcement authorities did not always respect this requirement. The law provides for bail and a system is operational; police frequently release detainees without bail, on the condition that they report regularly to the police station. Courts also often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, 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 receive credit for time served.
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. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The law enables judges to hold offending attorneys 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 August, 42 percent of the prison and detention center population was in pretrial detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
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 hearing. Some agencies disregarded court orders.
The government implemented an internationally monitored process to vet judges and dismiss those with unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. As of November, 64 percent of judges and 43 percent of prosecutors who had undergone vetting had failed and been dismissed. As a result, only one of nine judges remained on the Constitutional Court, depriving the court of a quorum; the others had been dismissed during the vetting process or resigned before undergoing vetting. Two more judges have since been appointed, but a dispute between appointing bodies over another potential Constitutional Court judge candidate was unresolved due to differing interpretations of the law governing the new appointment process. As of November, 18 of the 19 seats on the Supreme Court were also vacant, and the court faced a considerable case backlog. The politicization of past appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions.
As of October there had been no disciplinary measures against judges or prosecutors due to the pause in normal disciplinary processes while the country establishes independent disciplinary bodies; gaps in the law, a lack of vetted candidates to fill necessary positions, and institutional and political disagreements also delayed appointments and actions. Judicial reform provisions require the High Justice Inspector to conduct disciplinary investigations while the High Judicial Council and the High Prosecutorial Council impose measures for disciplinary violations. The councils were formed in December 2018; as of October the High Justice Inspector had not yet been elected.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and consult an attorney. If they cannot afford one, an attorney is to be provided at public expense. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and access to interpretation free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to an attorney was at times problematic. To protect the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them, a prosecutor must apply to a preliminary hearing judge and make a request to send the case to trial.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, courts were susceptible to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tampering. Judges held many court hearings in their offices, demonstrating a lack of transparency and 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 had exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many cases, authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings, especially those concerning the right to a fair trial. The Office of the Ombudsman expressed its concern about the increasing caseload of the ECHR and the low rate of compliance with judicial decisions in the country.
Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. The government made some progress on disbursing compensation during the year.
The Office of the Ombudsman and NGOs reported that some claimants struggled to obtain due process from the government for property claims. Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the Agency for Property Treatment. Claimants may appeal to the ECHR and many cases were pending ECHR review. The Office of the Ombudsman reported that as of June, 39 cases were before the ECHR that involved millions of euros in claims. The Office of the Ombudsman reported that the government generally paid out according to the timeframe that the ECHR determined.
The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. It does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscation of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and laws prohibit such actions, but there were reports that the government failed to respect those prohibitions. As of August the Office of the Ombudsman had received 31 citizen complaints against local inspectorates for the protection of territory and 11 against the National Inspectorate for the Protection of Territory (NIPT), which regulate construction, domestic development, and water resources. The Office of the Ombudsman noted there was an increase in the number of complaints for illegal, irregular, or overdue actions of local and national inspectorates. For example, the AHC received complaints from residents in the Bregu i Lumit neighborhood of Tirana regarding the demolition of 38 buildings. The complaints were lodged against NIPT and the Agency for Legalization, Urbanization, and Integration of Informal Construction, which is responsible for coordinating the legalization of, and payment of compensation due to, construction built without a permit or proper title. As of October prosecutors were investigating the case.