A call for Albanian government institutions to safeguard the right to religious belief
25 - April - 2009
The Albanian Human Rights Group, a group of Muslim organizations, and other NGO’s that are active in the field of civil and human rights in Albania have been worried by the fact that two Muslim believers, Florida Kola and Artenisa Neziri from the city of Burrel, have been suspended from school because of them wearing the Islamically-mandated headscarf. Our concern is amplified by the fact that the expulsion from educational institutions and the country’s public administration of adherents to the Muslim faith due to their beards, headscarfs or other religious customs has become an ordinary occurrence. To mention a few cases, there is the case of two students from the High School of Foreign Languages in Tirana who were expelled 9 years ago. Also there is the case of sisters Gentiana and Marsela Hasani, who were expelled from their school (in Laprake, Tirane,) a few months ago for the same reason.
Even though these cases have become objects of debate in the media where public opinion has been generally sympathetic and supportive of the believing students who desire to become educated through the public education system, the school administrators have maintained a rigid stance, justifying themselves with the schools’ code of conduct which supposedly does not permit the wearing of “religious symbols”.
It is also important to mention the case of the University of Durres where two students were expelled for wearing a headscarf and having beards. This case caused a media frenzy and the rector was forced to retreat after receiving pressures from the public opinion that came out in support of the students’ rights to equal and unhindered education in the public university.
AHRG and the signing organizations of this declaration deem it necessary to remind everyone that freedom of conscience and of religion is safeguarded by the Constitution of the Republic of Albania. Article 24.2 says:
“Everyone is free to choose or to change his religion or beliefs, as well as to express them individually or collectively, in public or private life, through cult, education, practices or the performance of rituals.”
In the Albanian legislation, particular importance is paid to the recognition and the guaranteeing of the fundamental human freedoms and rights, as one of the pillars of contemporary civilized society.
Albania is a member of the United Nations since 14 December 1955, and has ratified almost all the main charters of this organization that relate to the protection of human rights, some of which are: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (adhered in 1955); International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1969 (adhered in 1994); International Pact on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (adhered in 1991); Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1989 (adhered in 1996).
Albania is a member of the OSCE and has ratified all its charters, like the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference (1975); The Copenhagen Declaration (1990), etc. Albania is a member of the Council of Europe since 13 July 1995 and has signed a number of important documents like the Convention for the Protection of Fundamental Human Rights (1951); The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. All of these charters guarantee the right to the free and unhindered expression of religion and the rights of women.
It is important to mention that Article 122.2 of the Albanian Constitution says:
“An international agreement that has been ratified by law has superiority over laws of the country that are not compatible with it.”
Based on the above-mentioned arguments, it is entirely absurd that the code of conduct of a school, academic council of a university, or of a department of education, shall have power over the fundamental laws of a country.
This situation has been further exacerbated by the Ministry of Education and Science which has officially declared that “girls who are covered with the headscarf or other religious symbols will not be allowed in school” and “the school is secular and belongs to all students who should be equal despite their religious convictions or beliefs.”
It is entirely clear that the presence of believers of any religion cannot have any effect on the secular nature of the Albanian school, which has been consolidated through time in our country, and thus it cannot be a real threat to it. This is guaranteed by the presence of three major religions in our country and the impossibility of any of them taking control of the educational system.
We believe that the desire of practicing Muslims to educate themselves through the public educational system should be considered as a very positive factor in the emancipation of the Albanian society.
No good comes to our country from the marginalization of the followers of the Islamic faith, their unjust and unjustified expulsion or labeling. The Muslims of Albania and of the neighboring countries have joined the wish of the whole nation to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic world. Now, with the signing of the MSA with the European Union and the adherence of the Republic of Albania into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), they are full of hope that they will have the right to get educated and employed in all the institutions of the Albanian state, like the Muslims of USA, United Kingdom and other democratic European countries, and that they will no longer be excluded from the public system as they have suffered until now.
The undersigned NGO’s ask from the President of the Republic, as a guarantor of the Constitution, to guarantee the upholding of the most important legislative document in the hierarchy of the nation, which mandates the safeguarding of the right to religious belief. We also ask from the Madame Speaker of Parliament and the Prime Minister, as the ones responsible for the governmental administration, to seriously consider our concerns, and give the proper importance to this sharp problem of the Albanian Society so as not to allow any future acts that would threaten the freedom of religious belief in Albania.
Note for Editors:
The Muslim Forum of Albania is an NGO, part of the Albanian Civil Society whose aim is the fight against racism, discrimination and Islamophobia. For having more information on us please visit: www.forumimusliman.org
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