Committee against Torture hears responses of Albania

AFTERNOON

9 May 2012

The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the responses of Albania to questions raised by Committee Experts on the second periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee members on Tuesday, 8 May and today, the delegation of Albania, which was led by Avenir Peka, Deputy Minister of Interior Affairs, talked about various issues ranging from the incorporation of the Convention against Torture in domestic legislation, the training of law enforcement officers, investigations of cases of arbitrary actions in the execution of police duties, detention conditions and prison overcrowding, and the work of complaints mechanisms for violence in detention facilities. Concerning corporal punishment of children and minors, the delegation stressed the existence of the law approved in November 2010 which established the National Agency for the Protection of the Right of the Child and the fundamental change that occurred in the perceptions of the public and parents concerning the rights of the child. The delegation also commented on birth registration, secret detention facilities, trafficking in persons and the office of ombudsmen.

The delegation from Albania included representatives from the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the Permanent Mission of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Office of the State Police, and the Ministry of Justice.

The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Albania will be issued towards the end of the Committee’s session which concludes on 1 June.

The Committee’s next meeting will be at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 10 May when it will begin its examination of the third periodic report of Armenia (CAT/C/ARM/3).

Responses of the Delegation of Albania

All international instruments ratified by the Albanian Parliament became part of domestic legislation and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified in 1994, was applied directly in courts. The national law defined torture in full conformity with Article 1 of the Convention. Domestic violence represented an offence according to the Criminal Code in Albania; the March 2012 amendment of this Code had provided a whole paragraph on domestic violence as an offence, sanctioned with imprisonment of various lengths. The Serious Crimes Prosecutor’s Office of Albania had dealt with 28 cases of trafficking in persons in 2011; seven were newly registered cases, while others had been registered in 2009 and in 2010. During 2011, the First Instance of Serious Crimes Court had tried 13 cases of trafficking in persons, while the Appellate Court for Serious Crimes had reviewed 12. The criminal proceedings regarding the January 21 protests were still ongoing and families of victims would be able to request reparation according to the Albanian law.

Ombudsmen had the right to undertake unannounced visits to detention facilities and provided recommendations after each visit. There were no juveniles held in detention in Albania without a court decision. The Government had approved an action plan 2012-2015 on children’s rights and had dedicated a special structure to the protection of the rights of victims of domestic violence within the police directorate. The law on foreigners provided on the cases and procedures for expulsion and a person was declared non grata by the Ministry of Interiors if that person acted against the State of Albania and its national security, had committed serious offence sanctioned by imprisonment of over three years, was a member of a terrorist organisation, had committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, and others. Albania had received eleven prisoners from Guantanamo, and nine were currently present in the territory of Albania where they enjoyed the status of refugee and received support and protection from the State. Albania had no information concerning the so-called missing of 502 Roma children; this missing persons case had not been recorded in the Interpol database.

The training of law enforcement agencies in Albania was conducted based on the detailed training play that contained thematic training on human rights and responsibilities of law enforcement officers regarding the respect of fundamental freedoms including the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Thematic training was provided on ethnic and minority rights. A strategy on diversity in the police force had been adopted and as a result 50 per cent of newly recruited police officers were women. In 2011, a number of investigations had been conducted in cases of police officers accused of arbitrary actions in the execution of their duties, such as illegal and unreasonable use of violence, performance of indecent actions, abuse of duty for private benefits and violation of the exercise of police powers. Disciplinary measures ranged from dismissal from the Police, to suspension without salary, to termination of grade award.

Each detainee was examined by a waiting committee comprised of medical doctors, police, educators, etc and they performed the first entry examination. Medical data were confidential and only medical staff could access them. In cases of contagious diseases, the person was kept in a special place to avoid contact with other detainees. The national preventive mechanism performed announced visits to detention facilities and there were cases where the court was asking for forensic expertise especially when cases of violence were encountered. The overcrowding had been decreased due to the application of probation services, use of alternative sentencing and investment in new prison facilities. There were no complaints so far regarding torture in Albania.

Following the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children’s rights had become part of an agenda for the development of national policies and the legal and institutional framework in Albania. The perceptions of the public and parents had changed in fundamental ways and the analysis of policies and institutional responsibilities showed gradual progress towards the realization of the rights of all children in Albania. The law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child had been approved in November 2010 which established the National Agency for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and was tasked with the coordination of policies that impacted on the realization of the rights of the child. Law N° 9831 aimed to provide financial compensation by the Albanian State to former political convicts of the communist regime. The penitentiary system in Albania had undergone a thorough analysis and investments had been done and were planned to improve conditions and treatment in the national prison system.

All embassies and consulate offices of Albania offered certifying services of the birth of children and the certified papers were forwarded to Albania to continue with the registration procedure in the relevant registry office. There were national minorities and ethno-lingual ones in Albania; the objective of distinction between those two categories did not limit the scope of their rights. Albania was a functional democracy based on the rule of law and the market economy. It had gone through a transitional phase and was now on its way to full-fledged democracy and was expected to join the European Union soon. Concerning corporal punishment of children and minors, the March 2012 amendments to the Criminal Code introduced sanctions for physical and psychological maltreatment of minors by their parents, siblings or any other person taking care of that minor. The penitentiary system took into consideration all complaints relating to violence in prisons, while documenting of violence in prisons was done in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol. The blood feud in Albania presented an anachronistic problem; the recommendations provided by Mr. Alston would serve as guidance to the Government to eradicate this problem.

With regard to secret detention facilities and the Marty report, the Government considered this report and allegations contained therein as pure speculation and unfounded conclusions. Even though the statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia did not extend to Albania, the Albanian Government had offered its full cooperation to the investigative group in 2004 and to Mr. Marty during his visit in 2008. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2004 had rejected claims that organ trafficking had been conducted in Albania. In August 2011, a Special Investigative Task Force of the European Union mission, EULEX, had been mandated to investigate allegations contained in Mr. Marty’s report and Albania had officially invited EULEX to investigate in a full and transparent manner all aspects of those allegations that involved any part of Albanian territory.

Follow-up Questions of Experts

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur on the Report of Albania, said that a number of provisions of the Convention against Torture required incorporation in domestic legislation and asked whether an individual in Albania could go to the court and invoke any article of the Convention.

ABDOULAYE GAYE, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on the Report of Albania, asked for further information concerning training, particularly of medical and law enforcement officers in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol and detection of signs of torture. How could the independence of the judiciary be strengthened and how could they be involved in human rights training? Could victims of torture turn directly to courts?

A Committee Expert said that detailed information had been provided on the functioning of the national preventive mechanism and the impressive number of visits to places of detention and asked the delegation to assess the effectiveness of this system and speak of future priorities. An Expert commended Albania for passing the bill in the Parliament allowing the visit of EULEX to proceed as it was important to conduct investigations in the serious allegations of organ trafficking. Committee Experts also asked whether Albanian legislation allowed situations of incommunicado in special situations, for example for presumed terrorists or drug dealers; about the existence of cases of police officers being punished for failure to provide protection; about the legal definition of the child in Albanian legislation; whether the children born abroad to Albanian parents were considered Albanians; and about complaints regarding torture.

Responses of the Delegation

The delegation noted that the budget of the Ombudsmen was a serious issue of concern for the Committee; in 2008 the Government decided to give the function of the preventive monitoring mechanism to the office of the Ombudsmen. The law on the Ombudsperson was therefore amended to allow it to serve as the national mechanism and the budget of the Office had been increased to allow for the additional personnel and the needed capacity. Guantanamo Bay prisoners had chosen to be transferred to Albania and the authorities had received their medical files; the prisoners had been examined by the doctors upon their arrival and they were provided with health insurance and the permits they needed for stay or study. Their transfer to a third country was a big issue that could not be answered now, and the responsibility of the Government now was to ensure their freedom and liberty where they lived and so to comply with its international obligations.

The case of the 502 missing Roma children was very important for Albania as it accorded the greatest importance to protection of its citizens; so far, the authorities did not have any information concerning those children, but they would do their utmost to get the necessary information from the Greek authorities. In the past 20 years a whole range of actions had been undertaken to support victims of torture of the communist regime, ranging from ensuring their housing to supporting schooling of their children.

Albanian law on Ombudsmen was copied from best practices, particularly from Nordic countries, and Albania had also adopted the best practice from European countries. The posts of the ombudsmen had been vacant for the past two years due to the parliamentary crisis, but were now fully staffed and in a full swing. With regard to the work of the judiciary there were things that a Government could and could not do, and they had to be careful not to infringe on the independence of the judiciary. The general feeling was that there was a system within the judiciary that was completely independent from the Government and there was nothing the Government could do to force the courts to decide in a certain way. In its strides to join the European Union, Albania aimed to better performance of the judiciary, even though it was aware that that would take time to accomplish.

No one could be held incommunicado in Albania. Children born to Albanian parents abroad were Albanian citizens. Judges were trained by magistrate schools, but were also participants in many training activities delivered by international experts. So far, Albania did not have any cases where the Convention against Torture was used as a legal basis for expulsion. There were no cases of police officers failing to offer protection. Figures of trafficking in human beings would be provided to the Committee in electronic form through the Permanent Mission. The law on judicial organization had been drafted with international support; there was no special court for minors or special military courts, but there were specialized sections for those in the ordinary court and the judges were well trained in those matters.

Closing Remarks

AVENIR PEKA, Deputy Minister of Interior Affairs of Albania, assured the Committee Experts that their comments would be taken into serious consideration by the Government of Albania.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the intentions of Albania to take into consideration closing observations and said that the dialogue helped the Committee to better understand the situation in this country and how it could further assist.

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