The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Albania is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Albania is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Albania is a State Party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
On 31 March 2020, Albania informed the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe that it had restricted “assembly, manifestation and gathering” among other rights and that it was derogating from “certain obligations” of Albania under Article 11 of the Convention. It withdrew the derogation on 23 June 2020.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
According to Article 47 of the 1998 Constitution of Albania (as amended):
1. The freedom to hold and participate in peaceful meetings, without arms, is guaranteed.
2. Peaceful gatherings in public squares and places are held in conformity with the law.
Albania has a 2001 Law on Demonstrations. Article 1(1) of the Law stipulates that everyone has the right to organize and take part in peaceful demonstrations without arms. Paragraph 2 of Article 1 provides the right
is limited only if national security, public security, the protection of order and the prevention of crime, the safeguarding of health or morals or the defense of the rights and liberties of others is endangered.
Under Article 3 of the 2001 Law, the national police are obligated to "guarantee and protect the right of every person to organize and take part in peaceful demonstrations without arms".
Article 5(1) imposes an obligation on the organizer to notify the chief of the commissariat of police in writing no later than three days before the date of holding a demonstration "in squares or places of public passage".
Under Article 5(2): a notification in writing should contain:
a) the identity and address of the director and organizer of the demonstration;
b) the purpose of the demonstration;
c) the date, place, hour of starting and ending of the demonstration and its itinerary (if there is one);
ç) the approximate number of participants and the number of persons helping in the conduct of the demonstration;
d) the persons who will speak at the demonstration.
Article 7 allows demonstrations in "urgent circumstances", but a written notification containing the above elements, as well as the reason for the urgency, must be made. The notification must be made immediately, but not later than three hours before the time of holding the demonstration.
Article 8 empowers chief of the commissariat of the police to prohibit the holding of the demonstration or decide on the time and place of its holding, when
there are motivated reasons why the holding of a demonstration in a square or place of public passage constitutes a real risk to national security, public security, the prevention of crime, the projection of health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, and this risk cannot be stopped with less strenuous measures....
According to Article 9(1) of the Law:
A demonstration in a square or place of public passage may be dispersed by police forces in uniform, only in cases when:
a) the manner of holding the demonstration is such that it may damage public order and the security of persons in a concrete manner;
b) crimes are committed during the holding of it;
c) there exists an emergency situation that is connected with public security, when the place occupied by the demonstration is needed by the emergency services.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
The 2007 Law on State Police of Albania specifically regulates police use of force. According to Article 118(2):
The Police officer uses force in order to achieve a legal purpose only when it is necessary, and only after other measures have been unsuccessful or are impossible. The Police officer uses the minimum amount of force necessary in accordance with the principle of proportionality.
According to Article 3(2) of the 2001 Law on Demonstrations, "the application of measures to prohibit and disperse a peaceful demonstration without arms is done in a graduated manner."
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
The use of firearms by the police is subject to the 1998 Law on the Use of Firearms. Article 1 of an unofficial translation provides that: "The firearm is used as an extreme means in order to stop or paralyze the illegal actions of the person or persons mentioned in this law, when other means were ineffective or it is clear that their use will not be successful." The rules set down in the 1998 Law are more permissive than international law allows. It is reported that the law on firearms has been amended by a 2010 Law but this does not appear to be publicly available.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Albania, the Human Rights Committee expressed concern at excessive use of force by the police against demonstrators in 2011.
The Committee is concerned that investigations into allegations of human rights violations that occurred during the January 2011 demonstrations, including the death of four civilians and reports of ill-treatment by police officers against demonstrators, have not been finalized and that victims have not been compensated....
The Committee called on Albania to
intensify its efforts to conclude its investigation into the January 2011 demonstrations, ensure compliance with international standards of investigation, and to this end, bring perpetrators to justice, punish them adequately, if convicted, and compensate victims.
In its jurisprudence to date, the European Court of Human Rights has not found a violation of the right of peaceful assembly by Albania. In 2016, in Beleri and others v. Albania, the Court found an application by several Greek citizens to be inadmissible for failure to exhaust domestic remedies. One of the claims made in the application concerned the right to freedom of assembly, although the Court preferred to assess the case under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (freedom of expression).
Views of Civil Society
In February 2021, CIVICUS reported on days of protests by hundreds of Albanians in response to the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Klodian Rasha by a police officer for breaching a coronavirus-related curfew on 8 December 2020.
With respect to events in 2020-21, Freedom House stated that:
Freedom of assembly is generally respected. Demonstrations by opposition parties and civic groups are common.
In 2020, the government banned public gatherings as a part of the COVID-19-related state of emergency. Despite the ban, several large demonstrations were held throughout the year, and sometimes turned violent.
Several demonstrations against gender-based violence took place during 2021, with thousands of protesters demanding that the government increase official efforts to combat domestic violence in the country. Other protests were also held throughout the year, including some political rallies that turned violent. In January, demonstrators throwing stones and attempting to storm the headquarters of the Police Department were forcibly dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannons, leading to several injuries.