Governance and Rule of Law

(Text from the Programme of Cooperation 2017-2021)

State and civil society organisations perform effectively and with accountability for consolidated democracy in line with international norms and standards.

Overview:

Governance and rule of law is an area where Albania is lagging, with a rank of 53 out of 102 countries in the 2015 WJP Rule of Law Index. Public administration is a priority of the Albanian government and is one of five priorities for EU accession but planning and administrative capacities at central level and in 61 newly amalgamated municipalities need attention. The lack of coordination between ministries and departments, limited technical capacities, high staff turnover, and fragmented ways of providing services all affect the speed at which legislation and regulations are implemented. A culture of decision-making based on data and evidence has yet to be cemented and there is need for more effective policy monitoring and evaluation. 

The strategic objective of ensuring good governance and rule of law for the ultimate aim of EU accession is a cross cutting objective of the NSDI and underpins all other strategic objectives. This strategic emphasis on governance and rule of law is supported by an ambitious reform agenda for EU accession. However, Albania’s institutions still struggle with ensuring trust. More than half of Albanian citizens think that the judiciary and electoral management bodies are politicized. A third of Albanians report that they have witnessed corruption of some sort in their dealings with Government. The figure is higher for transactions at local government levels. Overcoming this challenge is at the heart of the five political criteria which must be met in order for Albania start negotiations for EU accession. They are the functioning of a professional and de-politicized public administration and an independent judiciary; measurable results in the fight against corruption and crime; and protection of rights, notably property rights and rights of Roma. 

The Government’s reform agenda for de-politicization of the administration and of the judicial, electoral processes and oversight mechanisms must be accompanied by systematic functional improvements in institutional capacities so that citizens, especially women, can turn to them for redress. Strengthening effectiveness, transparency, accountability and service orientation of public institutions is the main pathway towards building trust in institutions and enabling their developmental functionality. More inclusive and gender responsive, evidence based policy making and legislation are required for reducing inequities and corruption risks. Civil society needs space and systems so that they can hold public institutions to account. At the local level, Albania undertook historic reforms of its administrative and political structure by consolidating 373 local administration units into 61 functional municipalities which are increasingly led by women mayors and councillors, thanks to a visionary gender quota. They now shoulder the principal responsibility for service delivery but lack the financial and human resources needed to fulfill them. Municipal revenue is planned for increase by twofold by 2020. Transparent and inclusive decision making, where women have equal voice especially over redistributive investments is essential for creating real-life benefits for families  It is also essential for building trust in institutions.

The National Strategy on Gender Equality, Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence (2011-2015) calls for gender-mainstreaming structures within all ministries, departments and agencies as mechanisms to implement and monitor national laws and policies and regional and global commitments for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Budget resources, advisory and technical support are needed to accelerate implementation and monitoring, especially at local levels. 

The costs and consequences of domestic violence are significant and it cuts across all socio-economic groups and educational strata. Nearly 62% of children reported having experienced at least one form of psychological violence during their lifetime and nearly 70% reported having experienced at least one form of psychological violence during the past year . No government body at national or local level has authority to remove a child from an abusive environment and, aside from one-off local government initiatives, the national government has not earmarked funds for public and private entities involved in preventing violence against children. 

Juvenile delinquency is on the rise in Albania: in 2013, almost 3 times more juvenile offenders per year were registered than in the first half of the 2000s. Street children are most at risk as they are exposed to multiple vulnerabilities such as discrimination and exclusion, family poverty, and domestic abuse. Investigations and the process of sentencing takes unacceptably long and up to 65% of juveniles complete their sentence in pre-trial detention facilities. 

Organised crime remains a considerable challenge undermining confidence of the population in the state and inhibiting the effectiveness of the state itself. Albania needs to increase its efforts to build up a consistent track record of investigations, prosecutions and convictions in all areas and at all levels. Albania remains a country of origin and transit for the trafficking of narcotics. The number of drug seizures and arrests increased dramatically in 2014. Albania remains a source and transit country for trafficking in persons - overwhelmingly women and girls. The situation of street children who are exploited for begging purposes is also a concern. Progress is slow in tackling organised crime. The number of prosecuted and convicted perpetrators is small and information and data are absent on measures to prevent trafficking, the number of prosecutions, and types of sentences.

Mixed migration flows, transiting through Albania, to reach EU countries are at considerable risk of increasing. These flows are comprised of, inter alia, refugees and asylum seekers, economic migrants, stranded migrants, vulnerable migrants, particularly trafficked persons, unaccompanied and separated children, stateless persons and undocumented migrants. Some of the people on the move fall into more than one category. They comprise many nationalities, the majority being Syrian and Afghan, and enter the country illegally. In most cases, there is at least some degree of compulsion and vulnerability involved, whether it is as a result of the situation from which they fled or due to the harsh conditions or exploitation and abuse suffered along the routes. There is also an emerging trend of Albanian families returning from Greece or Italy because of the economic crisis, while irregular migration flows from Albania have increased considerably since 2013 and reached new peaks in 2014 and 2015. Albanian authorities are expected to step up efforts to effectively address the negative phenomenon of unfounded asylum applications lodged by its citizens to EU Member States and Schengen-associated countries and to promote the reintegration of those who return . Continued efforts to counteract migration-related organized crimes, in particular trafficking in persons, are also needed. Overall, growing mixed transit migration flows put pressure on the migration and asylum systems, increasing the urgency of addressing existing gaps in these areas and creating new needs and challenges. An effective response aimed at ensuring protection and assistance to all migrants in need and providing support in developing and implementing planned and well-managed migration policies requires strong partnerships involving national authorities, the UN system agencies and other international partners, and sustained engagement of civil society at both the national and local levels. 

With justice reform underway, the judicial system in Albania is still characterized by limited accountability, poor inter-institutional cooperation, backlogs and widespread corruption , and it is not equipped to cater to the needs of marginalised and excluded segments of society . Access to justice is hampered by procedural, economic and conceptual impediments: court capacities are low and fees are high, legal aid services are under-funded, and judicial procedures take too long. There is a lack of counselling and legal aid services available to women; especially from ethnic and linguistic minorities, women in rural areas, and survivors of domestic violence. Once women have access to the justice system, the burden of proof often lies with them.  Vulnerable groups, especially, have unequal access to the justice system and cannot fully exercise their rights granted by the Constitution and recognised by law. Representatives of Roma and Egyptian communities report limited information on the judicial system functioning and no practical access to justice . Children’s equitable access to justice is also hampered by various barriers related both to the system and the position of children in Albanian society as rights holders .

Albania is a state party to all main UN human rights treaties. From February thru September 2014, Albania completed its second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and endorsed all but 4 of 168 recommendations. Albania has put in place and made efforts to strengthen a number of human rights accountability bodies:  the Office of the People’s Advocate (Ombudsman), the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination, and the Child Rights Observatories. And while the legislative and institutional framework for the observance of international human rights law is mostly in place, implementation is under-funded and inconsistent. In addition, executive and legislative bodies do not pay sufficient attention to the recommendations from oversight bodies .   

The civil society sector in Albania is growing but with still constrained organizational capacity, independence and political influence. Labour unions are weak, and both the authorities and private companies are typically hostile to organizing and collective bargaining efforts. Civil society outside the capital remains especially underdeveloped. Civil society was named as a key component of the EU integration process, and the government acknowledged the need to establish an environment and mechanisms for more inclusive policymaking.

Strategies:

To respond to these governance and rule of law challenges, programme strategies are closely aligned with those of the NSDI II for the delivery of more effective, efficient, and people-centered services. Specific strategies and initiatives will:

  • Reinforce the work of constitutional and independent oversight mechanisms to improve identification and reporting of human rights violations and make stronger links with national policy processes;
  • Strengthen national and LGU public administration capacity to support the implementation and monitoring of existing policies and strategies, strengthen the delivery of essential services, improve access to information, and engage CSOs and the general public in local governance and decision-making processes;
  • Support stronger institutional responses to violence against children in line with national and international commitments;
  • Increase access to quality inclusive legal aid services for children and seek remedies for violations of their rights and support the building of a child-friendly justice system, that would be in full conformity with the international standards, using imprisonment as the measure of last resort, widely applying measures alternative to detention, curbing the current practice of long pre-trial detention of juveniles, cooperating with the national social care services to support social re-integration of young law offenders;
  • Increase access for children in contact with the law (including, victims and witnesses of crime, but also children involved in administrative/family law proceedings) to professional free legal aid; promote measures of legal protection of children from cyber-crime, violence and abuse;
  • Strengthen national and local capacities to mainstream gender equality considerations into policy making, planning, and budgeting processes;
  • Support further development and implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies and bolster asylum systems;
  • Effect a stronger, more unified response to organised crime, corruption, irregular migration and trafficking in human beings;
  • Strengthen capacity of national institutions and LGUs to improve data quality and collection, reporting, and use, especially for the production and dissemination of internationally comparable demographic, social, economic, and environmental statistics that comply with international and European guidelines and recommendations, including the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (FPs) and the European Statistics Code of Practice (CoP).

To accelerate implementation of Albania’s human rights commitments, specific programme strategies will focus on the development of systems to monitor and report on progress to implement recommendations from UN and regional human rights mechanisms and recommendations from independent state oversight institutions to state and public institutions. This will require investments in the capacities of human rights bodies: the Office of the People’s Advocate (Ombudsman), the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination (CPD), the Commissioner for the Right to Information and Protection of Personal Data, and the strengthening of the public oversight role of the Parliament.

For more information, please see Joint Work Plan 2017-2018 - Outcome 1 Governance and Rule of Law.