By Gjergj Erebara*
Rights groups in Albania have condemned the government for announcing on Friday that it had approved several changes to laws supervising the justice system, the police and the penal code.
Minister said the measures were needed to fight organised crime and corruption, but local human rights organisations said they had not been consulted and claimed the changes could pose dangers to human rights and the separation of powers. Albania’s Western partners told BIRN they had not read what the government had approved.
The laws had not yet been published by the time of publication, and the office of Prime Minister Edi Rama did not respond to questions from BIRN about when they will be made available.
In a press statement, Etilda Gjonaj, Minister of Justice, insisted that the authorities had consulted their “partners”, a term usually used to describe the EU and US embassies. However, the embassies said they had not seen the laws.
The US embassy said it appreciated “the expressed will of the Prime Minister to fight the scourge of organised crime. However, we have had no opportunity to study the latest version [of laws] and we are waiting to understand the details”. The EU embassy told BIRN it had “not seen the Normative Act adopted today and cannot comment at this point”.
A group of 12 Albanian rights organisations condemned the package of laws and the way it had been approved as non-constitutional and as a possible danger to the system of checks and balances.
They said the fact that the package has not been made public was itself “a serious breach of the constitutional principles”.
The Albanian constitution allows the government to undertake legal changes with immediate effect in case of national emergencies.
But Gjonaj did not explain what current emergency justified such a “normative” act and also stressed that “the laws are already in force”, meaning they were empowered immediately, while parliament can only revise them later.
Rights organisations noted that the constitution does not allow such changes to be made to some laws, such as the penal code.
According to Gjonaj, the law changes will enable the police to better check assets of organised crime suspects and investigate judges and prosecutors that are supposedly helping them.
However, the rights organisations are concerned about potential threats to the division of powers between the judiciary and the government.
According to them, if the police are allowed to investigate judges or prosecutors, as Gjonaj implied the law changes will allow, they could exert undue pressure on them, to the detriment of justice.