Something very intriguing has happened in silence, along
with the cocktail of enthusiasm and skepticism that accompanied the Justice
Reform approval and the decriminalization law before it. It is about the ban on
the right to vote for several categories of Albanian prisoners.
As it turns out, this ban was part of the decriminalization
law, an opposition initiative. As Minister of State for Relations with
Parliament, Ermonela Felaj, said in an interview, constitutional changes had to
be made in order to "activate" decriminalization. So, everything on this aspect
is now perfectly legal: About 2 thousand prisoners are deprived of voting
rights, people who have committed a list of serious crimes such as murder,
pedophilia, kidnapping, exploiting women for prostitution and those involved
with terror or genocide crimes, drug and arms trafficking, power abuse and
corruption. On the other hand, General Directorate of the Civil Registry has
proceeded in collaboration with Prison Directorate to exchange information with
people affected by the law. This law also forces courts to send a copy of the verdicts
to the General Directorate so that it can establish electoral records.
Needless to say, electoral experts were against this
unprecedented decision in the young history of
Albanian democracy, where prisoners till now could vote;
also needless to mention that this sounds like a clear violation of human
rights. In a country like Albania, which has reached a stage of having
perfectly written laws but suffers a lot in implementing; this is what could be
called a real setback.
But what has stricken me the most is the fact that this
element has caught the international factors by surprise in Tirana. EU
Ambassador Romana Vlahutin admitted in an interview that the vote rights ban on
some categories of prisoners is new to her. "I am certain there must be a misinterpretation,
because what we understand is that persons who have committed crimes cannot be
elected, but on the other hand everyone has the right to vote; this principle
is not negotiable and one of democracy's foundations", said Vlahutin in TCH.
So, what we have now is exactly a "negotiated" principle of
our democracy. One could argue that prison voting right vary in different
democratic countries. In USA, for example, only two states, Maine and Vermont,
allow the practice. Also seems making sense a Massachusetts governor statement
that, "Criminals behind bars have no business deciding who should govern the
law-abiding citizens." Besides, lately the EU's most senior court (of Justice)
has ruled that it is lawful for countries such as Britain to impose a voting
ban on prisoners convicted of serious crimes. When a French convicted murderer
who was serving a sentence of more than five years from taking part in the
European elections appealed his case, the European judges ruled that the ban on
him voting did represent a breach of the EU charter of fundamental rights... but
that it was proportionate "in so far as it takes into account the nature and
gravity of the criminal offence committed and the duration of the penalty".
So, there are different points of view. But in our case, the
problem is that the prison voting right ban came "out of nowhere," showing that
the Constitution could be altered without anyone noticing that something is
wrong. In a country where many a people are in favor of death penalty, this may
seem a minor accident. But it speaks volumes about the politicians concern on
the real state of human rights.