In OSFA’s strategic plans, the Law and Legal Program includes a wide ranging action plan touching upon many issues at the same time. Initially, in 1997 during the period of general conflict in the Albanian society and the revival of the practice of taking justice into one’s own hands, OSFA started to support dialogue-based methods of conflict resolution and civic education. Simultaneously, support was offered in areas having to do with the consolidation of the state, public institutions, the rule of law and redress of the disintegration and fragmentation of society. One of the priorities of the Law Program, especially in the period ranging from 2000-2005 was “Increasing Access to Justice”. This priority and its related objectives had as an indicator of success the establishment and development of legal clinics, the increase of the number of those who turned for help to the clinics, cooperation with TV and radio stations to increase public knowledge of the law, publication of ‘street law’ texts, increase of interest from other actors and donors, etc. “Increasing Access to Justice” was selected as one of pillars of OSFA’s Law and Legal Program. This was to be achieved through the creation and development of centers of legal aid, the support of human rights operators in Albania, the Foundation for Conflict Resolution and Mediation, and also the support for projects aimed at “Access to Justice”.
Bearing in mind the role that legal clinics have played in the improvement of “access to justice” and relieving of poverty levels, OSFA’s Justice Program attempts to give legal clinics an important role in areas such as legal reform to improve access to justice, fight against corruption and the implementation of the overall strategy for reducing poverty in Albania. These developments required a re-evaluation of the strategies and actions of civil society, especially of human rights organizations such as the Helsinki Committee and the Albanian Group for Human Rights. In particular, OSFA’s strategic plan provided support for the Foundation for Conflict Resolution and Mediation, with the objective of reducing the practice of taking law in one’s own hands. Legal aid and support was to be given for individuals and social groups in conflict. OSFAs intervention was primarily based on this strategic plan. However, a flexible position was maintained in this respect due to new needs and trends in the Albanian society, which were identified by the clinics, set up and supported by OSFA such as the Foundation for Confluct Resolution and Mediation, Helsinki Committee, the Albanian Group for Human Rights, and the newly introduced policies of European integration.
The most successful projects, according to areas of concentration are:
Legal Aid Clinics
Network of Legal Aid Clinics
Legal Clinics and Governmental Programs
Supporting the Implementation of the Strategy for Improving the LivingConditions of the Roma Community in Albania
Free Legal Services
Community Legal Education for Young People
Establishment and development of the Network of Local Helsinki Correspondents
Together for a Democratic Society that Respects Human Rights
Human Rights Operators
Dispute and Conflict Resolution
Support for institutional development and capacity building for the Albanian Foundation for Mediation and Conflict Resolution
Peace and Conflict Resolution Education Program for school age children and youngsters
Free Legal Aid/Legal Clinics
Not all individuals and social groups benefit equally from the rights and freedoms provided for by law. Legal services in transitional Albania depended mostly on the level of education and social conditions of the recipients, and could not meet the needs of all social groups and individuals. Based on western experience, this vacuum was to be filled by legal clinics. The clinics, which were set up initially in 1999 with the support of OSFA’s Law Program, are part of the scheme of non-governmental legal aid organisations in Albania. They were to operate in those fields where legal representation was lacking, i.e., fighting for unemployment benefits, social aid schemes, family entitlements (divorces, child support, etc), labor rights and much more. The free legal aid services provided an opportunity for individuals and groups in need to utilize in an organized manner both the legal facilities and the benefits they were entitled to by law.
From the start of this project, the goal of OSFA was to establish legal services independent from the state. Along with the substantial financing of OSFA, the clinics have been funded by other foreign donors. By setting up the legal clinics, strengthening them institutionally and building their capacity, OSFA has had a direct effect on:
the quality of court judgments, the protection of human rights in civil cases, and the creation of an enabling environment for apropriate application of due process rights;
the establishment of an alternative legal aid clinic that deals with penal cases. This clinic was set up and supported by the Justice Program of OSFA and is known as Legal Aid Clinic.
OSFA has also offered its support to those legal clinics that provided paralegal services. The effort was to offer individuals and groups the possibility to have better access to the public administration.
In order to provide for effective access, a variety of services are offered, i.e. legal counseling, assistance with filling the various forms involved or filing petitions, legal representation at all levels of the judiciary and in the Constitutional Court.
OSFA in collaboration with the legal aid clinics has worked to formalize the relationship between legal aid and private legal service providers, to increase awareness of the importance of legal clinics amongst jurists, especially judges and advocates. Recently, free legal service providers have drawn the attention of private lawyers, who have offered their services pro bono. The participation of the National Chamber of Advocates in a joint effort with the legal clinics to pass legislation that would obligate private lawyers to offer legal service free in particular cases, is another achievement that had the support of OSFA. The legal clinics set up and supported by OSFA during 2000-2005 are:
Tirana Legal Aid Society (TLAS), Legal Aid Clinic, Clinic for Minors, the project dedicated to providing Free Legal Aid Services in Vlora, etc.
Legal Aid Services/Network of Legal Clinics
In February 2002, the OSFA Law and Legal Program initiated and supported the First National Conference of Legal Aid. Representatives of all legal aid clinics in Albania, of the community of lawyers and donors were amongst the participants. Aside from giving recognition to the work and difficulties encountered in legal aid, the conference helped to outline new initiatives of significant importance for the future of this service. One of the conclusions of the First National Conference of Legal Aid was the formal set up of the Network of Legal Clinics. The creation of this network provided the possibility to improve cooperation amongst entities with common missions, visions and objectives. As a result, the actions and effect of the community of legal clinics was to increase. The manner in which these clinics operated in the networks and other frameworks was along the lines of the valuable principle of Angeles Arrien: “People with a common direction and objective achieve success much faster if they act together (The power of the flock).
For more than five years the Law Program selectively supported a group of lawyers that offer their services to people in need. Efforts have been made to enlarge this group in order to create new capacities that would be used by the legal aid operators. In addition to its professional and moral values, advocating for those in need of legal aid also improves access to justice. During the years 2000-2005, 30 students of the Law Faculty and the Social Sciences Faculty were part of this program. The Legal Clinic and the Tirana Legal Aid Society are worth mentioning for their role in bringing together a group of lawyers that were to be involved in legal aid services.
The Law Program has made a great contribution to the creation of models of provision of free legal aid and increasing of access to justice in Albania. Due assistance was given to ensure that the experience and capacities of the first legal clinics was transmitted, through consultancies and personnel training, to other clinics set up subsequently by OSFA. Such an example is the support given in 2002, through the consultancies and training offered by Free Legal Service, Tirana (TLAS) to the project of Free Legal Aid in Vlora.
Legal Aid/Legal Clinics and the Roma Community in Albania
Amongst other beneficiary groups of aid and services offered by legal clinics, the Roma Community have benefited significantly. From the start, legal clinics supported by OSFA have paid particular attention to this community. Given that the National Strategy for the Improvement of Living Conditions of the Roma Community in Albania had clearly identified the problem of registration of newborn Roma babies, the legal clinics offered their contribution towards facilitating Roma registration. More than 500 Roma clients and individuals have benefited from the services of legal clinics. For example, a single legal clinic, Tirana Legal Aid Society, (TLAS), has exhausted administrative and judicial proceedings for the birth registration of more than 150 Roma individuals. This community has benefited from the full range of legal aid offered from legal clinics. Moreover, through various seminars, representatives of Roma associations have been made aware and informed of their rights and responsibilities, and the importance of the further development of their associations and their functioning in accordance with the relevant legislation. Furthermore, the legal clinics have help registere in accordance with the law numerous Roma associations mainly membership organizations. The assistance offered by legal clinics regarding the registration of Roma community has been of high importance, that of the Clinic for Minors and the Tirana Legal Aid Society, in particular. The lack of registration of this community further widens the gap between them and the rest of society and undermines the social and political integration of this community. The worst effect however, is that it makes potential trafficking of these individuals easier, due to the lack of any data of their existence. With the support of OSFA these effects have been minimized as much as possible.
Raising the awareness of the Roma community about the negative effects of the lack of birth registration, has been amongst the priorities of the legal clinics. In addition to their work with Roma associations, the legal clinics have also employed “street law” strategies to sensitize the Roma public. They have targeted such areas where the Roma community is highly concentrated, as the surroundings of Tirana, Fushë-Kruja, Lushnja etc.
Legal Aid/Free Legal Services
Free Legal Aid Projects have had a great impact on improving access to justice and creating democratic culture among citizens. Also these projects have made a contribution to building the awareness of responsible structures and bodies towards the necessity to tend to the concerns and problems of individuals in need and the marginalized groups. By using free legal services, citizens have been informed about their legal rights, about ways of communicating with state organs and how to use legislation and other democratic methods in their interest. Target-group oriented publications and “street law” activities have been used by free legal services to inform citizens of their legal rights and to uphold the principle that all are equal before the law.
An indication of impact of the work of free legal services is the fact that the practice of taking the law into one’s own hands has been reduced as a result of increased public awareness. (The conclusion derives from surveys conducted by the legal clinics). Also, the publications that are mostly based on statistic data gathered on a day-to-day basis by the centers of free legal service, have served to inform state and non-state structures not only about legal problems that groups and individuals in need face, but also about their need for legal services.
Legal aid provided by clinics has also served to strengthen groups in need by helping them to organize and register according to law. Only during 2000-2005, TLAS alone has registered 20 associations of individuals and groups in need. Provision of legal aid free of charge has been instrumental in creating confidence that society has not neglected and disregarded the needs of the poor and weak. On the contrary, it shows due respect and pays due heed to their dignity as human beings eligible to enjoy human rights and universal freedoms. Legal aid offered by the legal clinics has also had an impact on the judiciary, the state and the community of lawyers.
Human Rights/Providing community legal education to young people
This project was intended to monitor the quality of human rights, instances of violation and need for legal information. Teenagers between 14-18 years were at the center of attention. The main objectives of the project were: to collect data on the actual level of respect of youth rights, informing the younger generation on the law and the opportunities that the state and society has created for them in order to enable them to enjoy and implement their rights, directing them to identify solutions of eventual conflicts. Various techniques were used to achieve the objectives, such as surveys on the abuse of youth rights, a program of legal education broadcasted on Radio Tirana, and a range of seminars held in schools located in the surroundings of Tirana. Surveys were handed out in 27 public and private high schools in the city and the surroundings of Tirana. The results, gathered from 1509 participants, were printed in a special manuscript and published.
The Radio Tirana program of legal education consisted of 6 series which were broadcasted between September and November 2001. The speakers were lawyers and high-school teachers of Tirana. The voice of the youth was brought in by interviews, discussions and live questions directed at the speakers.
The seminars were held in 10 schools of the surroundings of Tirana. The representatives of the student governments and their invitees were amongst the participants. Through open classes, it was possible to encourage the creation of pilot structures devoted to self action by the students. These pilot structures have now come to constitute the core of legal education of the communities where they live.
Human Rights/Establishment and development of the Network of Regional Correspondents
Human rights and freedoms are tobe enjoyed by all citizens in a democratic society. To achieve optimal protection of such freedoms and rights, society develops various methods and mechanisms. The establishment and development of the network of correspondents of the Albanian Helsinki Committee has served to consolidate the network of correspondents throughout the country, in addition to Tirana. The time span of the project was from January 2002 to December 2005. Correspondents of the network were located in seven regions, i.e., Fieri, Vlora, Elbasan, Korça, Shkodra, Kukës, and Gjirokastra. The correspondents were trained by the Albanian Helsinki Committee. Monitoring and inquiring on the complaints of the public was done not only in the seven regions mentioned above, but also in other regions. Often citizens would point out the abuse of human rights and would inform the correspondents, who then would inquire on the matter.
The correspondents network has undertaken a number of monitoring missions concerning the rights of citizens. Some of the problems revealed by the correspondents have been in the areas of citizen’s rights and public order officers, citizen’s rights and the primary and secondary health care institutions, worker’s rights in private enterprises, emigrants’ rights especially at the crossing points to Greece, implementation of the human rights by the media, especially by local newspapers and TV stations. Findings from observation missions were used as input in the relevant Reports which together with recommendations for improvements were made available to the wide public, but also to the structures and authorities who were placed under observation.
Some of the benefits from the activity of the network include:
Thanks to the network, the concerns of the citizens found appropriate expression especially whenever instances of human rights violations were involved; The Albanian Helsinki Committee came closer to the citizens which are proved by the great number of citizens at the local level making contact with the correspondents.
The citizens were made aware of their rights and the types of redress available to them in the event of suffering abuse or violation of rights. The Albanian Helsinki Committee managed to build this type of awareness through direct contact and conversation with citizens, the various publishings as well as through the various radio and TV shows aired by the local media.
The correspondents in the regions made valuable contribution to the improvement of human rights by denouncing violations in the written and electronic media. The work of the correspondents served as positive pressure on the authorities to not only respect citizen rights, but also take steps to rectify misdemeanors by public servants.
The correspondents represented bridges of contact between the citizens and the local authorities which led to visible improvements in the situation of human rights thanks to the two-way communication established and the constant exchange between local governments and citizens.
Human rights/Together for a democratic society which pays due heed to human rights
Thanks to work done by the regional correspondents of the Albanian Helsinki Committee, improvements were also seen in the implementation of the Election Law and the sanctity of the vote. Further improvements in this respect were supported through the OSFA funded project “Together for a democratic society which pays due heed to human rights”. The objectives of the project were as follows:
To contribute to better protection of human rights at the local level;
To strengthen citizen reaction to the violations by local authorities towards better respect for human rights and strengthening of the rule of law;
The implementers of the project monitored vote administration processes in the regions of Tirana, Durresi and Pogradec. To expand monitoring beyond these three regions, cooperation was established with the Helsinki correspondents in the regions of Vlora, Shkodra, Gjirokastra, Elbasan, Fieri, Korca and Delvina. The correspondents’ role was key in this process as they coordinated local observers in their respective regions and covered every area under the jurisdiction of the relevant region. Their contribution was made prior to the election and during the election process.
The main activities carried out in the context of the project included: parallel observations with regard to human rights implementation, collection of complaints and checking out the fact; training of observers for the general elections of 2005, monitoring vote administration in the regions of Tirana, Durresi and Pogradeci and the additional seven regions with Helsinki correspondents, monitoring of the preparations for the upcoming local elections, monitoring the local election campaign, monitoring the vote casting and the vote counting process, awareness campaigns in the local media, etc. One of the most important achievements of this project was the increase of citizens’ awareness about their rights and obligations in election processes.
Human Rights/ Human Rights Organizations
Another Albanian organization devoted to protection and promotion of human rights is the Albanian Human Rights Group. In order to ensure the successful implementation of its mission, this group runs an entire network of operators who are trained and motivated to uphold the protection of human rights in Albania. Despite the numerous obstacles and difficulties, with OSFA support the human rights operators have made a significant contribution to the upholding of human rights. Their status as observers, activists and educators in many events and projects has made the difference in improving the enjoyment of basic freedoms and rights.
Human rights operators have used various approaches to achieve their objectives. The most widely used are observations, investigation of violations, energetic reaction, reviews, advocacy and lobbying for changes in the laws and by laws and above all the organization and implementation of public awareness programs.
These operators have not only criticized the performance of the public authorities, but they have also assisted them to improve their knowledge and attitude to human rights. However, their biggest contribution is in the field of building public awareness about the need to increase activism as a necessity for democratization at the local as well as national level. They have served as a sound board by providing input and feedback on issues relating to human, social and economic rights.
Conflict and dispute resolution/Institutional strengthening support for the Foundation for Conflict Resolution and Mediation
Transition from a centrally planned system to democracy and market economy was accompanied by the emergence of a whole new set of problems and issues, unknown to the Albanians before. In the conditions of a weak state and absence of rule of law, these problems often escalated to conflicts. Often, due to mistrust in the authorities, people resorted to the practice of taking the law in their own hands. Research into the traditions of the Albanians showed that mediation and peaceful resolution had worked well throughout the centuries. On this solid basis, the Foundation for Conflict Resolution and Mediation came into existence. The mission of the Foundation was to contribute to reduction of conflicts and self - adjudication. The OSFA Law Program’s support for conflict resolution and mediation goes back to the year 2000. It provided support to eight mediation centers at the local level. The objectives of the support were focused on strengthening peaceful resolutions through mediation and legal counseling to individuals and communities in conflict. The work started with identifying the nature of conflicts and detecting them as early as possible. Networks of mediators were created which covered communities at the local level. During the years of OSFA support, 2000-2005, the Foundation for Mediation and Conflict Resolution managed to strengthen itself institutionally, as well as to set up and consolidate the network of conflict resolution coordinators.
Initially four mediation centers were set up in Tirana, Berat, Vlora and Shkodra. In the year 2002, the support was extended to the medication center in Gjirokaster. In the year 2004, the centers in Mat and Korca were established followed by the one in Dibra. Thanks to the OSFA support, the year 2005 numbered the Mediation Centers in Tirana, Vlora, Berat, Shkoder, Mat, Diber, Gjirokastra and Korca. However, mediation had an even more extensive coverage. Tanks to the network of mediators, assistance for conflict resolution was available in the areas of Puka, Lezha, Durres, Kavaja, Mirdita, Gramsh, Pogradec and Elbasan. In the years of OSFA support, The Conflict Resolution and Mediation Centers were committed to building public awareness on the availability of conflict resolution alternatives as well as the resolving of problematic issues and conflicts between/among community members. In the year 2004 alone, the number of conflicts resolved by the centers was 2587 on a country scale. The nature of the issues and problems was wide ranging. The practical work of the center supported by OSFA funding was diverse and included: identification and solution of conflicts, provision of training and capacity building events, awareness building among community members and governmental institutions on the advantages of alternative solution to problems and issues, expansion of the mediation activity, publishings related to the conflict resolution and mediation centers, etc.
Conflict Resolution and Mediation/Conflict resolution and education for peace among school age children
One of the successful projects supported by OSFA during the years was the one dedicated to education of school age children with peaceful aspirations and attitudes and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. OSFA provided support to the Program over the year 1997-2003. The main objectives of the project were: promotion of the culture of peace and dialogue among high school children; creation of mediation groups in 22 schools throughout the country to enable the resolution of conflicts by youngsters themselves whenever conflicts among them there were. The project also supported joint activities such as broad based meeting, contests among the various schools involved in the project and the spread of the culture among additional schools though twinning programs and agreements.
To achieve the objectives a number of activities were undertaken such as creation and operation of mediation groups at the school level, holding of joint activities for the promotion of peace and tolerance culture among school age groups, resolution of conflicts among school members by children themselves, awareness of alternative solutions to conflicts and disagreements, various publications on the issue of conflict resolution, exchange of students with their peers in Norwegian, the introduction of conflict resolution modules in the University of Tirana and the Magistrate School and the holding of workshops and various training events towards building the capacity of teachers of the schools involved in the project.
The implementation of the project marked important achievements of which the most important are: establishment of mediators networks in 22 high schools in the areas of Malesi e Madhe, Shkoder, Mirdite, Diber, Durres, Tirana, Elbasan, Korce, Vlore and Saranda assigned to resolve conflicts among/between high schoolers at the school grounds and outside the school premises. The students were also involved in conflict resolution whenever conflicting situations arouse at whatever place. Also, the centers were involved in the study of the nature and cause of conflicts at high school and university level. In addition, text books of the eight year education levels were reviewed to look at the treatment of conflict and so were eight of the most popular newspapers which were monitored with regard to how they presented and reported about conflicts. The centers published complementary teacher and student manuals, the most popular of which were: Teenagers at conflict or ….? “A training manual for mediators”, “Concerning mediation”. Further, mediation and conflict resolution were introduced in textbooks such as the Sociology subject, the Civic Education Book 1, and Civic and Democratic Education in Albania