This week we take a look at the Albanian Rehabilitation Center for Torture and Trauma (ARCT) and what they are doing to prevent torture in post-communist Albania.
Established in 1995, five years after student demonstrations triggered the fall of communism in the country, the Albanian Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma and Torture (ARCT) implements programmes aiming to contribute in building a democratic society without use of torture in a country where strong political persecution has been seen for almost 50 years of the 20th century.
Under the four-decade rule of Enver Hoxha, who died in April 1985, the then Socialist People’s Republic of Albania greatly restricted the freedoms of Albanian citizens, particularly in relation to foreign travel and freedom of religious and political expression.
Around 5,000 political opponents to Hoxha’s dictatorship were executed during his rule, and over 30,000 were jailed. As many died in prison under torture and ill-treatment, many families are today still searching for the remains of their loved ones.
Real change only became effective from 1998 when Albania’s constitution establishing the rule of law and protection of fundamental human rights took effect. But still Albania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe and, according to a global corruption index, one of the most economically corrupt also.
ARCT was the first organization in the country introducing the documentation of torture in prisons, based on the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol, the internationally recognised standard rules for the investigation and documentation of torture. The ARCT have successfully documented the torture of hundreds of victims and have used their findings in a range of criminal investigations on a local and European scale.
Even though Albania acceded the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) in 1994, reports illuminate the reality of torture in Albania – the fact is that torture, particularly by the police, is still reported, and it is these survivors which ARCT primarily deals with today.
ARCT offers services to more than 3,000 individuals tailored to their specific needs including therapy programmes, financial and legal aid to begin justice routes, and even first-hand prison visits by staff to address the conditions of the prison system.
ARCT also empowers hundreds of torture victims every year through 15 title publications including manuals for health professionals dealing with torture victims, newsletters, and bulletins detailing the situation of torture in the country and the priorities of ARCT.
“For many, ARCT is the last hope of those victims of state ill-treatment and neglect,” says ARCT Executive Director Adrian Kati. “We are just a small piece of the civil society organisations in Albania implementing programmes of change, but together we can build and ensure a democratic and fair society.”