ERA and OMSA hold online forum on hate speech in Albania

On 12 May 2021, ERA in partnership with member organization Open Mind Spectrum Albania (OMSA) held on an online forum, with representatives of the Albanian parliament, government, human rights institutions and civil society organizations, to discuss the phenomenon of hate speech, especially by political leaders (but not only), towards vulnerable communities such as women and girls, LGBTI people and the Roma community. 

The forum was attended by a total of 15 participants and was broadcasted live on Facebook.  It was moderated by Amarildo Fecanji, Executive Co-Director of ERA and Arber Kodra, Executive Director of OMSA. Contributors at the discussion were among others: Vasilika Hysi, Member of Albanian Parliament, Chair of the Committee for Legal Affairs, Public Administration and Human Rights and Deputy-Chair of Sub-Committee for Human Rights, Robert Gajda, Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination, Etleva Sheshi, Commissioner at the Office of the People’s Advocate, Brunilda Dervishaj, from the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, Alma Katragjini, from the Directorate of the State Police of Albania, Irena Shtraza from the Albanian Women’s Empowerment Network (AWEN), Danijel Hyseni from Roma Active Albania, Ana Dervishi from Beyond Barriers Albania, Ogerta Ujkashi, from the National Democratic Institute and others. 

Community Leaders Denounce Hate Speech

For years, hate speech in Albania has taken disturbing proportions. All civil society activists, at the forum, presented findings from their monitoring and research work. For example, monitoring work conducted by PRO LGBT in 2020 revealed that hate speech is widespread, and that it targets in particular women as well as marginalized communities such as LGBTI, Roma and Egyptians, religious communities and people with disabilities. Hate speech against women is particulalry out control: 68.9% of articles and TV shows monitored were found to use explicit hateful language and incite violence against women”. Monitoring the latest local elections campaign in Albania, AWEN found out that hate speech by politicians against women (both by men but also fellow women) was widespread from political party leaders and all others. Similarly to PRO LGBT, while monitoring the audio-visual media, AWEN saw an alarming level of hateful and misogynistic language against women in TV shows, music and the entertainment industry in general. According to Irena Shtraza from AWEN, the Albanian Audio-Visual Media Authority is itself not pushing enough for the implementation of ethical standards, such as the Code of Transmission, and its research showed that only 14% of media representatives were aware of hate speech and their role on the issue. As such it is important that AMA takes more serious measures to address the phenomenon of hate speech in the media. In particular, a lot of work needs to be done with online media and the need for them to monitor and remove comments and debates that promote and incite hatred and violence.  Danijel Hyseni from Roma Active Albania highlighted the same issues and challenges faced by the Roma community, who suffer not only from hate speech and discrimination but also from a silencing and forced invisibility in media and many other areas of public life. A research conducted to understand the impact of the pandemic found out that 23% of Roma people surveyed were directly discriminated due to the pandemic, and many had reported incidents including verbal and physical assaults in public spaces like buses and refusal of service in shops and cafes. Ana Dervishi from Beyond Barriers Albania spoke for the importance of educating young people on the phenomenon of hate speech, particularly youth outside the capital Tirana, who live in smaller cities and villages. She also recommended for the Ministry of Health and Social Protection in partnership with the CoE to revive the No Hate Speech Movement forum which was great in helping local organizations and community leaders to work and cooperate on hate speech. 

“Yesterday in Elbasan there was a demonstration against the murder of a woman who was killed in front of the court by her ex-husband. Our demonstration was noticed widely, in a city where all coffee shops are full of men, who kept looking at us as aliens as we for occupying public spaces and shouting "Justice for all women". Hate speech is a symptom of the mentality, and those who suffer the most from it, are those who are seen as secondary in society: women, particularly women who are more vulnerable such as roma, living in rural settings etc.”

Irena Shtraza, Albanian Women's Empowerment Network

MP Vasilika Hysi, Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination Robert Gajda and Commissioner Etleva Sheshi from the People’s Advocate shared the concerns of community leaders and encouraged them to make use of the recently established mechanisms that can be used against hate speech as well as legal amendments. A year ago the Ombudsman, the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination, the Audio-visual Media Authority and the Albanian Media Council have established the “No Hate Alliance”. CSO’s are invited to cooperate with this Alliance, and jointly address all the incidents as well cooperate on other levels. A concrete suggestion by MP Hysi was for this consortium to ask the Albanian Parliament to deliver information sessions for the newly elected MPs, who came out of the 25 April elections. These sessions are a legal and procedural requirement for the MPs (almost 60% of them are entering Parliament for the first time) and they could be jointly offered as a preemptive measure on topics such as discrimination, gender equality, human rights and more. Community leaders were invited to make a calendar of activities by July and offer these sessions ahead of 9 September 2021, the first day of work for the new Parliament. Mrs. Hysi advised community leaders to also follow the example of Roma Active Albania and other Roma organizations who are always attending hearing sessions in Parliament of state institutions such as the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination, Ombudsman, High Council of Justice and many others. CSOs can intervene in such sessions to highlight their issues and make specific demands and recommendations. 

Commissioner Gajda, in the meantime, reminded everyone that with the amendments to the Law for Protection from Discrimination, the CPD and CSOs (jointly or independently) can address structural discrimination by filling collective complaints to local Courts as well as to the Constitutional Court. This is an extremely important new legal tool that communities can now utilize to address not only individual cases of discrimination but also systematic and repeated discrimination from individuals, institutions and the private sector against a particular community or multimple communities. 

The representative of the Albanian State Police Mr. Alma Katragjini spoke of the many efforts that the State Police is making to address hate speech and hate crimes, but recognized also the challenges that exist with prosecutors and judges. She mentioned that in the last year 4 out of 7 cases submitted were dismissed by local prosecutors. This in itself shows the huge amount of work that remains to be done with the justice system. MP Hysi advised the State Police to create a database of hate incidents based on individual characteristics of victims such as their gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation,  religion, gender identity etc. Only a systematic and detailed collection of data will help for prosecutors, judges and the law enforcement agencies to take these incidents seriously and address them properly. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection was also advised to involve the Parliament during the drafting and preparation process of the new National Action Plans, keeping in mind that the Parliament is also monitoring and overseeing implementation of such plans and strategies by the executive. 

Community leaders present at the forum agreed to cooperate jointly on providing informational sessions to the newly elected Members of Parliament, before the new Parliamentary season commences on 9 September 2021. 

This forum was organized in the framework of IDAHOBIT which is celebrated every year on 17 May, OMSA’s “Program of citizen’s engagement for the advancement of the rights of LGBTI community in Albania” supported by the National Democratic Institute and the Federal Republic of Germany as well as ERA’s project for increasing political engagement and representation of LGBTI people in the Western Balkans, supported by Olof Palme International Center

To watch a recording of the event click here. The discussions are held in the Albanian language. 

For further inquiries on this topic please send an email to [email protected]i-era.org and/or [email protected]