Working through discrimination using dialogue: Countering discrimination and protecting LGBTIQ+ rights in Albania
“We learned a lot. It is inspiring to see positive examples from other countries, where people not part of the community still choose to support it. I felt that every group on this process – from our own community, to the police officers, prosecutors and judges, felt seen and not discriminated against. It really has been a very enriching experience.” Xheni Karaj, Executive Director Aleanca (Aliance against Discrimination of LGBTIQ+ people)
In 2017, the NHC together with COC Nederland, ProLGBT NGO and Aleanca LGBT commenced a series of training workshops at different judicial levels to foster LGBTIQ+ friendly spaces in Albanian society. The aim of training the police was to ensure the safe reporting of hate crimes by members of the community and creating an overall better environment. As the project comes to an end, we reflect on the impact that “Countering discrimination and protecting LGBTIQ+ rights in Albania” has had in the inclusion and protection of the Albanian LGBTIQ+ community, as seen through the eyes of LGBTIQ+ activist and Executive Director of Aleanca Xheni Karaj.
In Albania, there is an overall lack of recognition of LGBTIQ+ rights. Being queer in this context means the possibility of being subjected to discrimination at various levels and even becoming a victim of hate crimes. The police and other components of the law enforcement system needed to be addressed in regard to the biases and prejudices that, also present in some sectors of Albanian society, affected how cases involving members of the community were handled. In the words of Karaj:
“When we started nobody even knew the term LGBTIQ+ rights, instead everyone was using extremely derogatory terms. Many thought that LGBTIQ+ people did not even exist in Albania, that is was a ‘western condition’.”
Even though there was a National Action Plan already displayed to increase the inclusion of the LGBTIQ+ community, the NHC , in cooperation with its local partners, detected that this series of interventions were not delivering the expected impact in practice, due to issues related to the implementation of its specific actions and activities. Therefore, assistance was needed to improve the conditions of LGBTIQ+ people in Albania.
By focusing on training police to report incidents of hate crimes and discrimination, applying a victim-centred approach, facilitating public events related to countering LGBTIQ+ discrimination and hate crimes, and mainstreaming LGBTIQ+ discrimination and hate crimes throughout the curriculum of the Albanian Police Academy, the project built the capacities needed to spark a change in attitude among Albanian police officials and offered the opportunity for different stakeholders to interact and share good practices, successfully enhancing the effectiveness of national and local authorities in countering discrimination, with the final aim of protecting LGBTIQ+ rights in Albania.
“The whole training session was very interesting, seeing police coming and being very closed minded and not talking in the beginning, then trying to be careful not to say things not in the right way and then at the end of the training being a little more interested in the issue and trying to use the right language shows that they actually learnt some things when they were given study cases to discuss.”
Impact and next steps
Bert Wijbenga Deputy Mayor of the Municipality of Rotterdam, highlighted the Pink Police Network as an example of the work Rotterdam is doing to create a safe environment for LGBTIQ+ people in the municipality. As well as Deputy Mayor Dorrit de Jong of Zwolle, who also reflected on the safety of the LGBTIQ+ space in her municipality stating that “we realise that some LGBTIQ+ in our municipality feel unsafe because of prejudice, especially in groups where it’s not safe to come out of the closet.” Highlighting the need for an increased awareness.
Alongside this, Deputy Mayor Geert Gabriels of Weert also emphasized the importance of bottom-up initiations in bringing about change, an action as simple as flying the pride flag outside of a town house can already have a large impact: “I know it was only the flag, but it was a small kind of recognition”.
Furthermore, on September 10 2021, representatives from all the organizations involved joined for an expert level event, were the project’s advances were discussed. One of the main takeaways from this occasion was that despite there being advances regarding how hate crimes were handled amongst law enforcement in Albania, there is still a strong lack of implementation of the law and there is a need for greater education of the population when it comes to the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community.
Livia Zotrija from Aleanca LGBTIQ+ stated that all the institutions have a role to play in ensuring that the laws are implemented and that the general population is educated. Tetis Lubonja, Director of Integration and projects at the Albanian ministry of Justice, reemphasised this concern stating that the work is currently conducted on a voluntary basis, “but it should be the government who takes it seriously, although I am working at the Ministry of Justice, the conversation is very vague about LGBTIQ+ rights and it is an important issue.”
More about the IDAHOT 2021 Conference and the practices discussed: https://www.nhc.nl/international-day-against-homophobia-biphobia-and-transphobia-2021-event/ and the wrap up event: https://www.nhc.nl/the-future-of-chain-cooperation-on-combating-discrimination-and-hate-crime-against-LGBT-persons-in-albania/
Prior to this, on International Transgender Day of Visibility 2021, an informative brochure was launched and distributed to Albanian law enforcement as a guideline for police officers to know how to react effectively and appropriately when following up on incidents of hate crime and discrimination against LGBTIQ+ persons. The aim of this was to encourage action continuously focused on matters such as internal diversity, human-rights issues and inclusion, equality and respect for groups vulnerable to discrimination and hate crimes.
The activities developed throughout these four years allowed for the capacity building of police officers and other members of the justice chain through a series of investments in technical assistance, which in return crafted a change in attitude in these participants, improving the assistance by police officials on hate crimes committed against people from the LGBTIQ+ community. This also created an overall better environment for the LGBTIQ+ community in Albania, which results in more trust and willingness to report discrimination.
Furthermore, LGBTIQ+ rights are now included in the curriculum of the Police Academy, and police officers have come up as LGBTIQ+ rights ambassadors within the forces, marking a tremendous shift from the negative associations and prejudices present in dealing with the community’s issues, to finding it important to defend their rights.
Additionally, efforts have been made to ensure the project’s sustainability. The new draft of the National Action Plan for LGBTIQ+ human rights 2021-2027 in Albania, takes over the project’s achievements and lessons learned and includes several actions that are relevant for the handling of discrimination and hate crimes. Karaj is hopeful that this program will continue to impact the practices in Albanian law enforcement and recognizes the changes already made by its implementation:
One of the good things of this project was that we had the possibility to build up very good relationships with the academy of police, we managed to have many good contact points that we have continued to work with now. We trained high position police, so we trained training of trainers, we hope that what we build up this year will not end with the project but that it is going to have some sustainability.
Partners in Albania decided to create a working group to continue advocating for good practices and change after the completion of the project. This move, displays its immense success and points towards creating lasting ties within the community to bring sustainable change.
The “Countering discrimination and protecting LGBTIQ+ rights in Albania” project demonstrates the demand and need for the respect and defence of LGBTIQ+ rights in Albania. Through training and knowledge sharing, a change in attitude was prompted in law enforcement and a friendlier environment was created for vulnerable communities. The NHC also hopes to continue this program and for it to reach more members of the justice chain, as it has proved that through dialogue and understanding, prejudices and negative biases can be resolved, paving the way for a much needed significant change.
Want to know more about this project? More information: https://www.nhc.nl/countering-discrimination-and-protecting-LGBT-rights-in-albania/
About the Access to Justice Programme
We believe access to justice is a fundamental principle of the rule of law and democracy. It allows individuals to protect themselves against violations of their rights, to repair civil injustices, to hold decision-makers accountable and challenge charges against them in criminal proceedings. Although access to justice should be guaranteed for all individuals, particularly vulnerable groups continue to face barriers in exercising their rights throughout Europe. The Access to Justice Programme breaks down these barriers by applying a rights based approach, ensuring the rights of vulnerable groups that entering in the (criminal) justice system are fully respected.