The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (the Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. In June 2015 the country held local elections for mayors and municipal councils. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) assessed the elections positively overall but observed important procedural irregularities. In 2013 the country held parliamentary elections that the OSCE reported were competitive and respected fundamental freedoms but were conducted in an atmosphere of distrust that tainted the electoral environment.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights problems were pervasive corruption in all branches of government, particularly in the judicial and health-care systems, and domestic violence and discrimination against women.
Other human rights problems included significantly substandard prison and detention center conditions, notably overcrowded, aged infrastructure, with a lack of medical treatment for inmates. Reportedly, police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and detainees and occasionally held persons in prolonged detention without charge. Political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. The government made little progress in addressing the many claims for the return or restitution of property seized during the Communist era. Authorities demolished homes and businesses without due legal process or recourse for owners to receive adequate compensation. Government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence media in inappropriate ways, and there were reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media. Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors. There continued to be indications of widespread child abuse. Forced and early marriage was a problem in some parts of the country. There were many displaced children and street children, particularly within the Romani community. The country continued to be a source and destination for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Marginalization and abuse of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities were serious problems, as was discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Government enforcement of labor laws remained weak and rarely protected domestic and migrant workers. Large numbers of children were engaged in forced labor. There were reports of employment discrimination based on gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, nationality, and ethnicity.
Impunity remained a problem. Prosecution, and especially conviction, of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and those with powerful business interests often were able to avoid prosecution. Authorities took technical measures, such as electronic payment of traffic fines, to improve police accountability and punished some lower-level officials for abuses.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.
Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although there were some efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption stories. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained the independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship.
Online media saw a dramatic growth during the year, which added to the diversity of views. According to 2015 estimates, approximately 15 percent of the country’s 1,500 reporters worked in online media outlets.
In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that the economic crisis continued to erode the independence of the media. At least one major newspaper closed for financial reasons. Funding for organizations that pushed for a more independent press remained limited, and the press was vulnerable to misuse under constant political and economic pressure.
The majority of citizens received their news from television and radio. The independence of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the regulator of the broadcast media market, remained questionable. The role of the authority remained limited, even after its board was fully staffed in mid-year.
In May the Constitutional Court decided in favor of a petition by the Albanian Electronic Media Association to abrogate a law that prevented an individual shareholder from owning more than a 40 percent share in a national broadcast media outlet. Some observers viewed the decision as paving the way to the potential monopolization of the already small number of national digital broadcast licenses. The EU, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE had previously criticized a 2015 attempt by the Assembly to annul the same article.
While private television stations generally operated free of direct government influence, most owners used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. Business owners also freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties.
Violence and Harassment: There were reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure. Intimidation of journalists through social media continued.
On May 9, the Union of Albanian Journalists denounced the severe beating of sports journalist Eduard Ilnica, allegedly for reporting on the violent behavior of a coach during a soccer match. Authorities arrested the coach and released him on bail. There were reports that Ilnica decided not to press charges after reaching a private agreement with the defendant, but the prosecutor’s office took the case to court; a trial was pending.
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. A 2015 survey by the Balkan Investigative Regional Network Albania found that large commercial companies and important advertisers were key sources of pressure. Lack of economic security reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. Albanian journalist unions continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at most media outlets. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income.
On August 20, the Union of Albanian Journalists condemned the so-called arbitrary dismissal of Alida Tota, news director at A1 TV, allegedly for reporting the August death of a 17-year-old boy working in the Sharra landfill near Tirana. A letter from the station owner to Tota published in the media stated that she was employed for an indefinite trial period and would be terminated from her position. Tota claimed she was dismissed because the Sharra story held the municipality of Tirana responsible for the conditions of child labor in the landfill.
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 ($24,000), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression.
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. According to June data from Internet World Stats, 1.82 million persons, or approximately 60 percent of the population, used the internet. Approximately 35 percent of users accessed the internet through mobile telephones.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning migrants, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.
In-country Movement: In order to receive government services, individuals moving within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community of residence and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many persons could not provide this 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.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
There were credible reports from NGOs and migrants and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process obligations for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the system. Through October some 740 migrants and asylum seekers–mostly Afghans and Syrians–entered the country. Authorities returned most to Greece, some immediately, others after weeks of detention in inadequate facilities. UNHCR was critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures, particularly in view of the increased presence of children among migrants. Through October authorities responded by transferring 18 migrants from the Karrec closed migrant detention facility to the Babrru open asylum center, where living conditions were much more family friendly. Authorities also housed more than a dozen migrants awaiting return to Greece in hotels in lieu of the Karrec center.
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, however, reported that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which includes Greece.
Employment: The law permits refugees access to work. The limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits, however, meant few refugees actually worked.
Access to Basic Services: The law provides migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts/judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Migrants and asylum seekers often required the intervention of UNHCR or local NGOs to secure these services.
Durable Solutions: In September the government completed the process of receiving Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq refugees from Iraq and continued to facilitate their local integration throughout the year.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary and temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of October, the government was providing subsidiary protection to three persons and temporary protection to 24.
The number of stateless persons in the country was unclear. At the end of 2014, the most recent year for which statistics were available, UNHCR reported 7,443 stateless persons, most of whom were Romani or Egyptian children. According to UNHCR, 3,234 cases of statelessness have been resolved since 2011, but how many of these were part of the original 7,443 was unknown. Meanwhile, the risk of statelessness existed for unregistered children born abroad to returning migrant families and continued for Romani and Egyptian children. The law affords the opportunity to obtain nationality.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime. Penalties for rape and assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the prison term is three to 10 years; for rape of an adolescent between the ages of 14 and 18, the sentence is five to 15 years; and for rape of a child under 14, seven to 15 years. The law includes provisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment and makes the criminalization of spousal rape explicit. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Victims rarely reported spousal abuse, and officials did not prosecute spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities and the public often did not consider it a crime.
Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Police often did not have the training or capacity to deal effectively with domestic violence cases.
Through August a government shelter for domestic violence survivors in Tirana assisted 24 women and 40 children, but it could not accept individuals without a court order. The government operated one shelter to protect survivors of domestic violence and NGOs operated four others. In addition, three NGO shelters provided protection and shelter to victims of trafficking as well as victims of abuse.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, although officials rarely enforced it. NGOs and the commissioner for protection against discrimination believed sexual harassment was seriously underreported. The commissioner for protection against discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment. The commissioner may impose fines of up to 80,000 leks ($640) against individuals or 600,000 leks ($4,800) against enterprises.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The quality of and access to government-provided health care, including obstetric and postpartum care, was not satisfactory, especially in remote rural areas.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were not excluded from any occupation in either law or practice, but in many fields, they were underrepresented at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms depicting women as subordinate to men. There were reports of discrimination in employment.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the government’s statistical agency, the ratio of boys to girls at birth in 2014 was 109 to 100, which indicated that gender-biased sex selection was possibly occurring. The government did not take any steps to address the imbalance.
Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from a citizen parent. Parents were encouraged to register the birth of a child in a timely manner, and the law provides for a monetary reward for parents who register their children within 60 days of birth. Often, however, authorities did not disburse the reward. 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 or to access government services dependent on registration.
According to the domestic branch of the NGO Association for the Social Support of Youth (ARSIS), children born to internal migrants or those returning from abroad, especially from Greece, frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to services. This was particularly a problem for Romani families, in which couples often married young and failed to register the births of their children.
Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and other minorities. Many families also cited these costs as a reason for not sending girls to school. Although the government had a program to reimburse low-income families for the cost of textbooks, many families and NGOs reported they were unable to receive reimbursement after purchasing the books. NGOs noted that occasionally teachers discriminated against Romani children because of their perceived poor hygiene.
Child Abuse: Observers believed that child abuse was widespread, although victims rarely reported it. In 2013 the Children’s Human Rights Center reported that 58 percent of children were victims of physical abuse, 11 percent were victims of sexual harassment, and almost 5 percent said they had been victims of sexual abuse. Almost 70 percent of children reported psychological abuse from family members, according to the center.
Early and Forced Marriage: Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. According to the 2015 Early Marriages in Albaniastudy of the Observatory of Children, approximately 3 percent of children between the ages of 15 and 18 were married. The study also noted that 9 percent of Romani children between the ages of 13 and 18 were married. ARSIS claimed that, in certain Romani communities, girls as young as seven and boys as young as nine were considered married. Some NGOs reported that early and forced marriages occurred in rural communities as part of human trafficking schemes, with parents consenting to their underage daughters marrying older foreign men, who subsequently moved them to other countries.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law, and the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances, the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography; penalties are a prison sentence of three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is illegal. The law explicitly includes minors in provisions that cover sexual abuse, harassment, exploitation for prostitution, benefiting from services offered by trafficked persons, facilitating trafficking, and domestic violence.
Authorities generally enforced laws against the rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that laws prohibiting child pornography were rarely enforced. Some children under the age of 18 were exploited for prostitution.
Displaced Children: There continued to be numerous displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Street children begged or did petty work; some migrated to neighboring countries, particularly during the summer. These children were at highest risk of trafficking, and some became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children under 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes. There were few prosecutions of child trafficking cases.
A 2014 study by the UN Children’s Fund and Save the Children found that more than 2,500 children, nearly 75 percent of them from Romani or Balkan-Egyptian communities, begged or worked informally on the streets. Most children claimed earning money for their family was the principal reason for their begging or work, and nearly one-third of them said their parents forced them to work. According to the report, many of these children ran the risk of being trafficked.
The government subsequently implemented a pilot program in Tirana to remove children from the street and provide them with social care. Another pilot program provided financial incentives to parents to send their children to school and have them vaccinated. The State Agency for the Protection of Children’s Rights reported that authorities assisted 345 out of 808 identified street children between July 2015 and June 2016. ARSIS reported that children continued to work in cannabis plantations around the country.
Institutionalized Children: Media reported on cases of child abuse occurring in the orphanages of Shkoder, Durres, and Saranda. In April the ombudsman investigated the Shkoder orphanage and recommended criminal charges against several members of the staff for physical and psychological abuse as well as exploitation of child labor. The investigation continued at year’s end.
The migrant detention facility in Karrec was considered unsuitable for children, although a small number of migrant children resided there for periods lasting a few days to several weeks.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There were reportedly only a few hundred Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. 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. According to the 2011 census, 24 percent of persons with disabilities had never attended school. Widespread poverty, unregulated working conditions, and poor medical care posed significant problems for many persons with disabilities.
In June the government approved the 2016-20 National Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities, supported by a state budget of 1.5 billion leks ($12 million). The government also funded the Albanian Disability Rights Foundation with five million leks ($40,000) for the production of wheelchairs. The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies traditionally lacked funding to implement their programs. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were located in facilities lacking accommodations for such persons.
The ombudsman regularly inspected mental health institutions. Both the admission and release of patients at mental health institutions were problematic due to lack of sufficient financial resources to provide adequate psychiatric evaluations. There was societal discrimination and stigmatization of persons with mental and other forms of disability.
There were allegations of significant discrimination against members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. Some schools resisted accepting Romani and Balkan-Egyptian students, particularly if they appeared to be poor. Many mixed schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.
Romani rights NGOs criticized the lack of legal safeguards against eviction and demolition of Romani camps included in the law on property legalization. Evictions and demolitions continued during the year and affected many Romani families. The government operated alternative housing programs for evicted families including Roma, but these programs were generally unsustainable without significant NGO and external donor support.
The law provides official minority status for both national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, and Montenegrins as national groups; Greeks constituted the largest of these. The law defined Aromanians (Vlachs) and Roma as ethnolinguistic minority groups.
The ethnic Greek minority complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek towns outside communist-era “minority zones” or to use Greek in official documents and on public signs in ethnic Greek areas. Public education was not available in the Romani, Serbo-Croatian, or Vlach languages.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Through August the government’s commissioner for the protection against discrimination received five complaints from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and organizations. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. In May the Council Of Ministers adopted the National Plan of Action for the LGBTI 2016-20, and in August an order of the prime minister established the National Group of Implementation and Coordination to implement the action plan. The action plan seeks to improve the legal and institutional framework for protecting LGBTI persons; eliminate all forms of discrimination; and improve access to employment, education, health, and housing services.
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, homophobic attitudes persisted in private and public life. Public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. NGOs reported that families evicted LGBTI persons from their homes during the year. Through August the country’s first shelter for evicted LGBTI persons, opened in 2014, accommodated 12 individuals.
On May 14, activists participated in the fourth Tirana Gay (P)Ride against Homophobia, a short bicycle ride on Tirana’s main boulevard, and Albanians witnessed the first television spot on family equality rights. As part of a “diversity festival,” activists organized other activities, such as the public recognition of 30 persons who supported the LGBTI cause. Police ensured activists’ safety during the events. In May the job placement company Headhunters Albania released an LGBTI employment equality index rating the compliance of private companies with recruitment laws that protect sexual orientation. The index of 71 companies indicated that 62 percent had inclusive human resource policies but only 3 percent specifically addressed nondiscrimination of LGBTI job candidates.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In the most recent demographic and health survey (2008-09), however, 71 percent of women and 69 percent of HIV-positive men reported discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV. Such persons experienced general social stigma, although there were no reports of violence against such individuals during the year.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Incidents of societal killings, including both “blood feud” and revenge killings, occurred during the year. Media portrayed some gang-related killings as blood feud killings, and criminals at times used the term to justify their crimes. There were no cases of minors or women falling victim to blood feud killings. The ombudsman reported that authorities’ efforts to protect families or prevent blood feud deaths were insufficient, although the government increased efforts to prosecute such crimes.