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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 115

(Question No. 1108)

Senator Chamarette asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 1 March 1994:

  (1) Are serious human rights abuses being directed at the ethnic Greek community of Albania by the Government of Albania and Albanian police authorities which include physical violence, forcible eviction from their ancestral homes, closure of schools to deny the teaching of the Greek language, deportation of Greek orthodox clergy, and economic discrimination?

  (2) What representations, if any, has the Australian Government made to the Albanian Government expressing Australia's concern at these human rights abuses, and urging Albania to ensure that the ethnic Greek population's rights are respected?

  (3) What response, if any, has been received from the Albanian Government?

Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) While Albanian authorities could justifiably be accused of some heavy-handedness in their treatment of ethnic Greeks in southern Albania, the Albanian Government has recently introduced human rights legislation and seems committed to fair treatment for all its citizens. During his visit to Albania late last year the Greek Foreign Minister Papoulias raised the issue of more equitable treatment for Albania's Greek minority. As a result of the visit, the Albanian government pledged legislation to enable the Greek language to be taught throughout Albania. The visit has raised hopes for a more constructive bilateral relationship in the future. Further, in 1993 the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) Commissioner for Minorities, Max van der Stoel, visited Albania to investigate claims of discrimination against the Greek community. Van der Stoel's report said Albania's commitment to providing full CSCE rights to ethnic Greeks was real and that the ethnic Greek community does in fact enjoy those rights.

  (2) During a visit to Albania in February 1994, Australia's Ambassador to Albania and Italy clearly registered Australia's human rights concerns in meetings with President Berisha, Deputy Prime Minister Kopliku and Foreign Minister Serreqi. Such concerns were raised in a general context and did not specify the issue of Albania's treatment of its Greek minority. Particularly in discussions with Mr Kopliku, the Ambassador explained Australia's policy of global concern for human rights and our strong hope that the political evolution in Albania would respect all democratic norms.

  (3) President Berisha, during his meeting with Australia's Ambassador in February 1994, said that the relationship between Albania and Greece was no longer in a state of crisis. The visit in late 1993 by Foreign Minister Papoulias seems to have helped mend relations. Although incidents of human rights abuse undoubtedly still occur, including against ethnic Greeks, Albania has made enormous progress towards instituting democratic and human rights norms. This progress is even more commendable considering the four and a half decades of repressive dictatorship Albania endured prior to 1990. Albania now welcomes foreigners to observe or monitor its adherence to international human rights principles.