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Remarks to Gender and Women in Decision-Making Working Group Meeting

June 16, 2022

At the request of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), The Advocates presented along with its partner, Human Rights in Democracy Centre, on its recent submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The hybrid meeting, Gender and Women in Decision-Making Working Group Meeting, took place on June 9, 2022 and involved various members of civil society discussing their CEDAW submissions. The Advocates detailed main issues related to discrimination and violence against women, and the Human Rights in Democracy Centre shared questions posed in the submission.

Below are our remarks, presented by Rosalyn Park (Director of the Woman's Program at The Advocates):

The Advocates for Human Rights, Rosalyn Park

Remarks to Gender and Women in Decision-Making Working Group Meeting, OSCE, June 9, 2022

Greetings from The Advocates for Human Rights, and thank you to OSCE for the invitation to share our findings from our shadow report we and Human Rights in Democracy Center submitted to CEDAW for Albania’s review.

Overall, we welcome recent steps to amend legislation and civil society’s efforts to monitor its implementation – monitoring laws and how they are implemented is key to ensuring that Albania’s legal protections are effective in holding offenders accountable and protecting victim safety. In the time I have, I’d like to highlight a few key points related to domestic violence, implementation of the law, and access to justice and support services.

With regard to domestic violence and gender-based discrimination, under-reporting remains a challenge. For example, the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination’s annual report shows that of 549 registered cases between 2017-19, only 25 of the discrimination claims were based on gender--even though the majority of victims are women. Often, those who do make complaints allege multiple discrimination, e.g., such as discrimination in education and the workplace due to pregnancy, childbirth, and health status.

Access to justice and legal aid, especially for rural women, remains a challenge. Only 43% of domestic violence victims are represented by a lawyer in their cases. Of this pool, NGOs provide a lawyer in 20% of those cases, private lawyers represent another 21%, and lawyers from the National Shelter for the Treatment of Victims of Domestic Violence represent 1%. In other words, victims lack legal representation in 57% of domestic violence cases. There is a new legislative procedure for securing free legal aid, but it is still difficult for victims to use successfully. This is because of a lack of information about how to request legal aid, lack of legal aid in suburban areas, lack of cooperation between legal aid offices and police commissariats, and inadequate assistance to help victims complete the required documentation and protocols. Legal representation has proven to increase the chance of a positive legal outcome for the survivor, but it’s not enough to provide that legal aid – we need to ensure it is accessible to victims and they are informed about the processes to request that assistance.

Women victims of violence also face other economic challenges:

  • Courts can grant a party exemptions from court fees, but research found very few cases where the court granted this waiver, particularly in cases of divorce involving victims of domestic violence. Many of HRDC’s clients cannot afford the court fees, and therefore cannot initiate certain court proceedings if they do not receive this exemption. We recommend the state provide adequate information and guidance to women victims of violence about the right to receive state legal aid.
  • Local government units only provide economic assistance for victims of domestic violence cases that 1) secure protection orders longer than one month, and 2) where the court’s decision is final. When a protection order is appealed, that appeal can cause delays of several months that prevents victims from accessing financial aid until the decision is final. Furthermore, the financial aid is not sufficient to meet the needs of victims. We strongly urge the government units to consult with civil society to develop an economic assistance scheme that can meet the immediate needs of victims and in an amount that is adequate and reflects her and her children’s economic needs.

When it comes to implementation of the domestic violence legislation, I want to highlight 3 points:

  • There is a Coordinated Referral Mechanism, which seeks to increase coordination between institutions that respond to domestic violence. Some institutions, however,are not adequately engaged with the mechanisms. We want to see more concrete measures to improve institutional cooperation between all referral mechanism members and each institution, and were commend developing a consistent inter-agency response that strives to enhance victim safety, hold offenders accountable, and change community attitudes.
  • Bailiff officers are not consistently enforcing court decisions within a reasonable time frame, which delays the execution of court decisions. For example, HRDC found that at times Bailiff’s Offices do not executive divorce decisions on food alimony based on the justification they cannot find the debtor’s address. We want to see greater commitment by the Bailiff’s offices to locate the debtor, exploring different information sources like if he is enrolled in social or statement programs, or explore other means of execution, such as service by publication.
  • Police have important roles in implementing Albania’s laws, including conducting risk assessments, and monitoring and executing protection orders and immediate orders for protection. Earlier trainings of police, however, indicated that police need more education on their legal obligations under the latest amendments, and a clearer understanding and greater commitment to coordinating work with other stakeholders, especially the local coordinator. Ideally, we want to see regular, funded trainings of the police that are either led by or done in consultation with the NGOs that are serving victims of violence and best understand their needs.

    In sum, we commend the government for taking steps to amend its laws and policies on domestic violence. Nevertheless, we urge ongoing monitoring to assess for unintended consequences with a view to amendments, the commitment of adequate resources to combating discrimination and violence against women, and support for and consultation with NGOs that serve victims and best understand their needs.