As the summer, holiday season nears, the intensity of debate and activity in Albania's institutions, including its legislature, is a notable sign of the vitality of democratic governance in the country. Just a few weeks ago, the Government launched the National Strategy for Development and Integration (NSDI) which aims to put Albania on a path of sustainable and equitable growth through ensuring macroeconomic stability and competitiveness; and by investing in its people and in social cohesion.
Reaching these aims of the Government and its people will require a foundation of even stronger systems of democratic governance and rule of law for all Albanians. This today is supported by an ambitious reform agenda, critical to accelerate Albania's development. For the United Nations, the EU accession agenda aligns with the rule of law and human rights principles of the United Nations and the recommendations of its bodies. The reform agenda is also in line with the 2030 Development Agenda, agreed by all Member States in September 2015, and in particular with Sustainable Development Goal 16 on just, peaceful and inclusive societies to which Albania has subscribed. This agenda requires that no one be left behind.
In this context, the United Nations system in Albania recognizes the importance of the justice reform and aims to deepen its coordination with other partners' efforts to advance the rule of law. From our regional and global experience, we are well aware that changes in the constitution and legislation are a first, indispensable step on the road towards improved justice for all in Albania. Implementation of the reform agenda in practice, by the national institutions responsible for the protection and promotion of the rule of law in society, will be the crucial test of whether Albania can quickly reach its aspirations. For this, the coordinated efforts of all international stakeholders will be essential.
The reform agenda is critical to help remove the significant barriers to accessing justice, including the inability of poor communities to enjoy free legal assistance and to benefit from social inclusion policies. Removing politicization, improving transparency and accountability and increasing efficiencies are essential dimensions of the reform aimed to improve low public trust in rule of law institutions. Effective support and assistance of victims and witnesses are required to help them through the criminal justice process. This need is particularly acute for victims of sexual and gender-based violence and there are many remaining improvements to be made in the area of justice for children.
Much of the population, particularly outside of the capital, is not aware of or able to pursue their rights to access justice and to receive effective remedies free from corruption. Although a larger female representation in local councils should help to increase awareness of these issues among communities, further work is required through advocacy and public campaigns to create the enabling environment to make justice reform result in real changes in people's lives. There is an opportunity to be seized which couples the judicial reform with the successful territorial reform, demonstrating the nation's commitment to establishing fair and citizen-centric services.
For such transformational change, the United Nations calls for the coordinated efforts of all national and international stakeholders. And while many of these technical efforts can and should start immediately - the rights of people should not be put on hold - they will have exponentially more impact and only be securely sustainable once the core judicial reforms are agreed.
The foundations of sustainable rule of law and the protection of human rights are built not only on a fair end efficient justice system, but also on its ability to address the legacy of injustices of the past. In this regard, the United Nations in Albania welcomes the passage of the law on opening of the 'Sigurimi' files last year, and encourages the rapid establishment of the Authority for Giving Information about the Documents of Former State Security prescribed by law. Similarly, Albania must deal effectively with the challenges from the past in relation to property rights, including their effective registration, restitution and compensation.
For its part, the United Nations system in Albania will continue supporting the leadership of the government, parliament and independent institutions at national and local levels to improve the rule of law, transparency and accountability, and access to justice for all over the long term. Much can and must still be done to enhance trust in institutions, decrease corruption and deliver justice and human rights for everyone in Albania.
*UN Resident Coordinator, Tirana, Albania, 15 June 2016