PRINCIPLE OF EQUALITY, CUSTOMARY LAW, HUMAN TRAFFICKING ADDRESSED, AS ALBANIA RESPONDS TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE

24 January 2003
WOM/1381

PRINCIPLE OF EQUALITY, CUSTOMARY LAW, HUMAN TRAFFICKING ADDRESSED, AS ALBANIA RESPONDS TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE

24/01/2003
Press ReleaseWOM/1381

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

605th Meeting (AM)

PRINCIPLE OF EQUALITY, CUSTOMARY LAW, HUMAN TRAFFICKING ADDRESSED,

AS ALBANIA RESPONDS TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE

Questions Posed by Committee Experts

Concern First, Second Reports on Compliance with Convention

Although Albania’s Constitutional Court had not yet interpreted the principle of equality as defined by the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, the country’s laws did not discriminate, the representative of Albania told the Convention’s monitoring body this morning.

Albania’s representative was responding to the comments and questions posed Thursday, 16 January, by experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  In the Thursday meeting, the Committee had considered the combined initial and second reports on Albania’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing Albania’s responses today, Lavdie Ruci, Chairperson of the Committee for Equal Opportunities of Albania, acknowledged that no cases related to the Convention had been brought before the Constitutional Court.  The Court had not interpreted the principle of equality.  However, Albania had ratified almost all the conventions relating to the protection of human rights and the prohibition of discrimination.  International treaties constituted a part of the domestic legal system.

Describing the active involvement of Albanian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in gender-related matters, she said the Government was working with NGO networks in specific areas, such as violence against women.  The Office of the People’s Advocate had also collaborated with non-governmental organizations, including through the organization of human rights awareness activities.

Regarding customary law, called kanun, she said the Government had been working to reduce the norms existing in some parts of the country.  Kanun, however, only operated in the northern part of Albania.  Customary law had never been written law, and the laws adopted by the Parliament had minimized the practice of customary law among the people living in that area.

The struggle against trafficking in human beings was a high priority, she stressed.  In that regard, the State Police had taken a number of measures, including the establishment of structures to identify trafficking networks,

organizers and their assistants.  The police had also strengthened cooperation with foreign police from other countries, including Italy, Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro.  The penal code had been amended so that traffickers were now penalized more seriously.

In concluding remarks, Committee Chairperson Ayse Feride Acar, of Turkey, said the Committee was aware of Albania’s political will to implement the Convention, despite difficult conditions in the country.  While the Committee was pleased that Albania had ratified international instruments directly applicable to the rights of women, such instruments could only be used if people were aware of them.  She urged Albania to increase efforts to train lawyers and judges, so that women in the country could be ensured of their rights.  She also urged Albania to ratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 27 January, to consider the combined initial, second, third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Republic of the Congo.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to hear replies by representatives of the Government of Albania in response to questions posed by the Committee on Thursday, 16 January.  [For background information, see Press Release WOM/1375 of 16 January.]

Response by Albanian Delegation

LAVDIE RUCI, Chairperson of the Albanian Committee for Equal Opportunities, said that, according to data from the Constitutional Court, there were no cases before that Court regarding the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The Constitutional Court had not interpreted the principle of equality.  The report had been prepared in collaboration with Albanian governmental institutions, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had not been involved.  Following its completion, however, the report had been presented to some NGOs for their views.  One of the priorities of the Committee for Equal Opportunities was the establishment of a database on the activities of women in the economic, social, political and legal fields.

Regarding article 2 of the Convention, she listed the relevant provisions of Albania’s Constitution, which prohibited discrimination in Albanian legislation.  International instruments completed domestic legislation for the protection of human rights.  Albania, a Member of the United Nations since 1955, had ratified almost all important conventions relating to the protection of human rights and the prohibition of discrimination.  The Albanian media had an important role in raising awareness about women’s rights.

On women’s participation in governmental institutions, she said some 30 per cent of the directors of the various government departments were women.  While more needed to be done, the number had increased significantly in recent years.  There were no specific employment programmes for women.  The national strategy of employment and vocational training, adopted by the Council of Ministers, would include specific employment programmes for women.  There were some 10,000 Albanian businesswomen, of which about 80 per cent were small-business owners.  Severalfoundations and foreign donors were supporting Albanian businesswomen.

Regarding cooperation between the Government and NGOs, she said the Government was working with NGO networks on specific areas, such as violence against women.  The Office of the People’s Advocate had also collaborated with NGOs, including through the organization of human rights awareness activities.

Describing the structure of the Committee for Equal Opportunities, she said it had a limited budget.  In general, the political will to support women’s issues existed in Albania.  The Government was working with the Women’s Centre in Albania, an NGO that provided training on gender issues.  Local governments, however, were moving faster than the central government.

An Ad Hoc Coalition for the Equality of Women in Politics had suggested changing the electoral law, she said.  Among the revisions would be the provision of at least 30 per cent representation of each sex on single party lists.  Voters had asked party leaders and parliamentarians to implement the change in the electoral law before Albania’s national elections.

She said family members elected the head of household.  In most cases, the head of household was male.  The Government had been working to sensitize the Albanian public on the rights provided for them by the international human rights documents.  The first step had been the translation of the Convention, which had been published, together with the platform of the Albanian Government for women.

Regarding women in professional life, she said young Albanian women were often choosing journalism as a profession.  Most were not well paid, however, and men still dominated high-level positions in the media.  Several measures had been taken to change stereotypes.  The National Employment Programme and the local employment programmes contributed to the changing of stereotypes in the business world.

Regarding customary law, or kanun, she said the Government had been working to reduce the norms that existed in some parts of the country.  The kanun only operated in the northern part of Albania.  Customary law had never been written law.  The laws adopted by the Parliament had minimized the practice of customary law among the people living in those areas.

She said the Government considered the struggle against trafficking in human beings as a high priority.  The State Police had taken a number of measures, including the establishment of specialized structures to identify the trafficking networks, organizers and their assistants.  They had also worked to strengthen cooperation with foreign police from Italy, Greece and Montenegro, not only in the exchange of information, but also in the organization of joint operations.  The penal code had been amended so that traffickers were now penalized more seriously.

In the framework of the national strategy against human trafficking, a centre for the treatment of trafficking victims had been established with government funds, she continued.  The centre accepted all victims, including women, children and girls.  A centre had been established in 2002 in Vlora with a 30-person capacity.  In 2002, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had set up a reintegration centre, which provided vocational training for women and girls.  In 2002, there had been some 196 cases of trafficking in women for prostitution. 

Regarding drug use and HIV/AIDS, she said that in 2002 the number of drug users in Albania was some 25,000 to 30,000, of which 5,000 were women.  The number of women infected by HIV/AIDS in 2002 was 10.  Prostitution was considered a criminal act, against morality and dignity.  At present, social assistance to women and girls was low.  For that reason, her Committee planned to increase its support of women NGOs.  Today, there were some 100 non-governmental organizations in Albania.

The number of women in the foreign service had increased, she said.  There were 40 women in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and 20 women in the embassies. 

She said there were several reasons for high drop-out rates, in particular in rural areas.  The first was economic -- children were involved in household work, such as caring for livestock.  Poor roads and lack of public services also had a negative effect on school attendance.  There were also social reasons.  Blood feuds and revenge in north Albania had kept children from attending school.  In other cases, parents did not always value the importance of education.

Various measures had been taken to combat the problem, including improving school transportation and security, she added.  There were also legal measures to provide fines for parents who impeded their children from going to school.  As a result of such measures, the drop-out rate was declining.  Measures were also being taken to prevent drug abuse in schools.

Concerning the education of Muslim girls, she said that in Albania girls practising the Muslim religion could freely attend the compulsory school system.  The Muslim religion practised in Albania had never impeded girls from going to school, or obliged them to wear scarves.  The Albanian Muslim religion differed from the religion practised in the Arab world, in that it was liberal and cooperative with other religions in Albania.  Albanian girls from Muslim families were free to choose or change their religion.  The Government had been fully committed to applying legislation forbidding the intrusion of “fundamentalist” attempts to place obstacles before the education of girls in Muslim families.

Concerning employment issues, she said women received equal salaries for work of equal value.  The reason for the wage difference was the higher concentration of men in decision-making positions.  Women living in the rural areas were considered by the State as self-employed.  After the division of the agricultural land, peasant family members were considered self-employed.  Unpaid work remained a problem.

Regarding the economic situation of rural women, she said the implementation of the Land Law in the beginning of the 1990s had replaced 500 cooperatives and agricultural enterprises with 45,000 family farms.  Property was private and rural women were considered self-employed.  It was impossible, therefore, to know how many unemployed rural women there were.  There had been changes in the status of rural women.  She was now co-owner with her husband and enjoyed equal rights with men regarding property and inheritance.  Although there had been positive changes during the transition, rural women faced regressive and conservative trends that aimed to return her to housework only.  Male dominance in public life was evident.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked whether women and men had equal rights to inherit under Albanian law.

HANNA BEATE SCHOPP SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked when the law on domestic violence would be adopted, and whether there would be any cooperation with the Ministry of Justice.  She was also concerned about the high number of self-employed women in the country, and asked to what extent they were covered by social insurance, such as health and unemployment.  In addition, was there any data about the co-ownership of farms in the country?

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, noted that trafficking was now a punishable offence in the country, and asked whether the clients of prostitution were also penalized.

Country Response

Ms. RUCI responded that Albanian legislation gave equal rights to both men and women to inherit property.  However, sometimes the law was not upheld, particularly in rural villages, where traditional law was applied.  As for the draft law against domestic violence, she said a non-governmental organization had begun work on it a year ago, but the project had not been funded.  However, work on the draft should be complete by the end of 2003.  The Ministry of Justice was cooperating in the effort, since it would be presenting the law to the Government.

Regarding social insurance for self-employed women, she said there was none, which would be a problem in the future.  Some of those women had been members of State cooperatives 10 years ago, so they had small pensions, and health care was still free of charge in Albania.

According to the law, both men and women could own farms, she continued. However, such co-ownership did not always exist in reality.  Sometimes, both men and women did not receive their inheritance, because land was divided among families or according to the tradition of the village.  In those cases, the property was taken by the husband, but no precise data existed on the issue.

Turning to prostitution, she said it was illegal in Albania, and prostitutes were punished rather than the clients.  The law needed amending in that regard.

Point of Order

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, drew attention to what she called discriminatory wording on page 19 of the Albanian reply, which stated that the Muslim religion in Albania allowed Muslim girls to attend school, being more liberal and cooperative than in other parts of the Arab world.  She objected that a judgement had been made in that sentence regarding the Muslim religion in Arab countries.

At that point, AIDA GONZALES MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, called a point of order, since Ms. Belmihoub-Zerdani had spoken out of turn.  She said the substance of State Party positions were not discussed during consideration of reports.  The Committee was dealing with the elimination of discrimination against women.  She asked Ms. Belmihoub-Zerdani to refrain from such comments.

Cbairperson AYSE FERIDE ACAR, of Turkey, said that point made by

Ms. Martinez had been taken.

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI insisted that they delete the offensive wording from the Albanian reply.  The sentence was a serious violation, and an attack on several Arab countries.

Ms. ACAR said that the Albanian reply was not an official document, but provided by the State Party for use in the Committee.  The objection had been

noted, but she regretted the exchange, as well as the disrespect for the Chair that had taken place.

Concluding Comments

Ms. ACAR said the Committee was aware of the Albanian Government’s political will to implement the Convention, despite difficult conditions in the country.  She was pleased to see in the report that Albania had ratified international instruments directly applicable to the rights of women.  However, international instruments could only be used if people were aware of them, and if the lawyers and judges were properly trained.  She urged the country to step up efforts to carry out such training, particularly with respect to the Convention, so that women in the country could be ensured of their rights.

She also urged Albania to ratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol, and said its Government should be more proactive in assisting women to take part in economic and political areas.  In addition, medieval-like customs existing in the country, particularly in the northern area, must be eliminated in a timely manner. She emphasized the need for the domestic violence law, as well as the necessity to change the mental attitude that punished the victims of trafficking and prostitutes, especially in an area where poverty was often the root cause of their actions.

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For information media. Not an official record.