Social rights are human rights

While it is important to support marginalised groups, this will not deliver long-term solutions to social ills. Moreover, it is necessary to ensure that social marginalisation is no longer seen as an individual problem and that social rights are recognised as human rights.

For many years, Eda Noçka worked as a civil servant in Albania. She knows the Albanian legal system, and its problems, inside and out. For years, she has been closely monitoring the attempts to reform and the struggle against inefficiency and corruption that so severely hamper the state’s capacity to take action. Together with a group of fellow lawyers, Eda Noçka set up the nongovernmental organisation called ALTRI (Albanian Legal and Territorial Research Institute) in 2011 and became its director. Since then, she and her colleagues have sought to reform the Albanian legal system.

ALTRI is currently investigating the legal position of marginalised groups in Albania. In collaboration with the GIZ regional project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups, ALTRI has developed proposals to make sure that marginalised people know about their rights and how to use them –through ombudswomen and ombudsmen, who are called Avokati I popullit in Albania, for example. ‘Our joint project focuses on the role played by state ombudsmen,’ Eda Noçka explains. In Tirana and seven other Albanian cities, citizens can approach the Avokati with their complaints about discrimination and violation of rights.

For this to happen, however, people need to first be aware of their rights. They have to know what they are legally entitled to, how their cases will be treated, as well as the criteria on which public bodies will base their decisions. ALTRI and the GIZ regional project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups also aim to ensure that the relevant bodies grant people’s social rights in full – and this is where things get difficult in Albania. Roma people, for example, or returnees to Albania are practically ignored by public bodies: it might be because they are Roma people, because they do not have the proper documents or because they cannot provide past school reports for their children. They fall through the administrative gaps, and it is precisely these gaps that ALTRI and the GIZ regional project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups want to close.

Needless to say, this approach has not gone down particularly well with the municipal authorities; the project partners have therefore sought to establish a dialogue with all those involved and to develop collaborative solutions. But it is not always easy. Regional offices, in particular, are woefully understaffed, says Noçka. ‘We can’t do much more than forward complaints to the main office in Tirana.’ But they, too, are already overstretched.

If the ombud’s offices are to work efficiently, a great deal will still need to change. In principle, the Avokati should be capable of proactively investigating cases when complaints are submitted. Although the constitution underpins their mandate and they are permitted to intervene in political debate, this has so far only been successfully carried out in a very limited number of cases. Recently, after the police cleared an informal Roma settlement in Tirana, ombudswomen and ombudsmen presented a report on the case in parliament. Subsequently, in March 2018, when protests against plans to introduce a road toll in Kukës turned violent, observers from the ombud’s office were present and reported on the events. ALTRI aims to strengthen such civil society control mechanisms and support the Avokati in comprehensively fulfilling their political mandate.

This will also require them to recruit more staff. ‘It’s not enough to simply have three paid posts in the respective department in Tirana,’ says Eda Noçka. ‘Evidently, the state has to show greater commitment. But we also need the appropriate tools’. And it is these very tools that ALTRI strives to develop with the GIZ regional project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups. The idea is to streamline procedures nationally through a set of procedural guidelines and by defining a method on which local offices can base their work. Ideally, these standards will provide Avokati with the tools to continuously observe the human rights situation at the local level and provide regular reports. The GIZ regional project known as Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups and ALTRI have already carried out the necessary preliminary work. The legal framework and the conditions in individual towns have been evaluated and provide the basis for a procedural proposal, which has already been discussed with the national ombudsman. A final draft is now on the table and has been released for discussion. But what is already clear is that regular and independent reports can significantly strengthen social rights.