"Justice and law enforcement in Albania are beset by long-standing, structural problems that have led to an almost zero level of trust by the public. The new government is faced with a historic challenge and opportunity to bring about the necessary changes in order to strengthen the rule of law and human rights protection", stated Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, ending his five-day visit to Tirana.
Commissioner Muižnieks welcomes the government's commitment to fully executing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, notably the Manushaqe Puto pilot judgment concerning the systemic problem of the state's non-compliance with domestic court and administrative decisions.
Important reforms of the justice system have been envisaged in order to improve the efficiency of courts and strengthen the independence and impartiality of judges. Some of these reforms need to be accompanied by new legislation governing the work of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the High Council of Justice. The Commissioner encourages the authorities to seek expert advice from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission in this context.
Whilst welcoming the May 2013 changes to the Law on Legal Aid, the Commissioner urges the authorities to step up their efforts and make access to justice possible for all those in need, in particular vulnerable social groups, such as Roma and persons with disabilities. Awareness-raising activities by the State Commission for Legal Aid and the establishment of the envisaged legal aid clinics are necessary steps to be taken in this direction.
As regards the proceedings concerning the events of 21 January 2011 and the serious human rights violations committed at that time, Commissioner Muižnieks remains concerned that a number of persons responsible for these violent acts still have not been held to account. "There is a need to eradicate impunity and impose dissuasive penalties for serious human rights violations, such as those committed during and in the aftermath of the 21 January events. This is a major test case that is closely followed by the international community".
The lack of independent oversight of law enforcement agencies, in particular as concern cases of ill-treatment and corruption, has fed impunity and corroded citizens' trust in this core state sector. "I welcome the Interior Minister's decisiveness to address these serious deficiencies. The recent removal of 81 traffic police officers in Tirana on corruption-related grounds is certainly a first positive step".
Lastly, the Commissioner underlines the vital human rights protection role played by the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Protection against Discrimination. "I call on the Albanian authorities to take all necessary measures in order to reinforce the independence, efficiency and effectiveness of these national human rights structures whose complementary work so far has been highly valued".
The Commissioner's report on his visit to Albania is forthcoming.