Albania Moves Toward Rule of Law


`I AM not a Communist, I am not a member of the party - I am president of the Supreme Court,'' Kleanthi Koci said in a Monitor interview here recently. He could have added that he is also the first nonmember of Albania's ruling Party of Labor (it does not call itself Communist) to hold this or any comparable government office in this land, once the most ideologically orthodox of communist countries.

He intended, apparently, to emphasize that he is a lawyer in a lawyer's post. No more, no less.

Mr. Koci was graduated from Tirana University's faculty of law in 1960. He served in recent years as a judge in the district court and continues to teach law.

Koci sees his appointment two months ago as part of Albania's moves toward ``democratization'' of law and curbs on the arbitrary state power of the past four decades. Changes already introduced and others proposed in a new penal code will indeed be notable departures from the past.

In May, the Ministry of Justice, a department abolished in the 1960s, was restored and a reputedly hard-line minister of the interior was removed.

For 25 years, suspects were arrested - often, as is now admitted, on the flimsiest pretexts - and taken to court by the state prosecutor. Court appointees, usually lacking legal qualifications, acted as ``defense attorneys.''

In another first, a legal bar is being created, to which only graduates of the law faculty will be admitted. An accused person will, at the time of arrest, be able to call on a qualified defense lawyer to represent him.

The elections for a new Peoples' Assembly (parliament) are being brought forward so that can it approve the new code early in 1991.

The assembly itself will be the product of a new ``democratized'' electoral law now in the making.

The draft of the penal code will include unprecedented safeguards for defendants. It requires, for example, that a suspect be charged within three days of arrest. Also, immediate notice of arrest must be given to the public prosecutor to get a ruling on whether a prima facie case exists, Koci said.

Tirana created a diplomatic stir last year by revealing that it was seeking association with Western international institutions it had formerly shunned, such as the European Community (EC) and the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).

Each has political conditions, especially on human rights, with which Albanian ideology previously had little in common. At last, however, ideology is being sidelined to a degree previously unthinkable - and with it, old prejudices against the CSCE, the EC, and the United States.

At home, significant breaks with past doctrine are also taking place. Parliament has already established the right to a passport, freedom of travel, and ``individual freedom of conscience.'' And freedom of religious practice has been restored, after a total ban since 1967, when Albania was proclaimed an atheistic state.

The new penal code will also eliminate some of the most notorious sanctions previously employed at the whim of the secret police. These include deportation and internal exile to virtually forced labor in remote areas, which were imposed on numerous ordinary Albanians suspected of being malcontents.

Attempting to defect will no longer be a severely punishable offense, but will be known as ``border trespass,'' subject only to a minor penalty. And the death penalty, now applied to 34 offenses, will be retained only for those that involve direct ``betrayal'' of the communist state and the social order.

Prison sentences are also to be scaled down and the parole system introduced.

``Our aims,'' says Koci, ``are crime prevention through reeducation and rehabilitation. We want to have fewer and fewer condemned people.''

There will be a new family code on relations between parents and children, husband and wife, marriage and divorce, and on property relations within the family - all remarkable in a state where medieval tribal tradition on such questions still lingers.

``We have taken big steps forward and even bigger ones will follow,'' Koci enthuses. ``It means an overall unification of law to ensure full equality at law for everyone.''

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