By Marion Hoffman
The need of State Protection of women and girls
A contribution to the Conference on ‘The Albanian Feminist Movement – against the violence and male domination in Albania’ organized by the Albanian National Reconciliation Committee, held on 23 November 2002 in Lushnje, Albania
By Ms. Marion Hoffmann, Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Albania
Mr Chairman, Ms Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for the invitation to the United Nations Refugee Agency to be represented here at this conference. It gives me the opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the need to provide protection of human rights to women and girls. I would like to put these thoughts into the context of human rights violations such as forced labour, particularly forced prostitution, and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Albania, like all too many other countries, is not spared from these terrible phenomena. They have their roots in poverty, low esteem for human rights, porous State and civil protection mechanisms and a weak judiciary.
A woman or a girl who becomes a victim of human traffickers, or who is forced into prostitution, should be able to turn to State institutions to seek – and find ! – protection of her human rights. They are stipulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was globally accepted by all members of the United Nations and form the basis of any civilized society. She should equally have the right to serve as a court witness in cases where her freedom to life and liberty was threatened by perpetrators who forced her into prostitution or into other ways of slavery, or who subjected her to cruelties amounting to torture. Such perpetrators should be brought to justice, and the victim/witness should enjoy full protection against revenge acts which could be directed against her from her former torturers.
What happens if this is not the case?
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines as a refugee ‘a person who has…a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or ethnic origin.’ However, we have, in the past years, observed a new type of claim of a well-founded fear of persecution: namely that of women and girls who have suffered violations of their human rights as defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely to live their lives as free individuals. They became sold into slavery for sexual exploitation. Seeking protection from the authorities in their own countries was unsuccessful in some cases, because State authorities were either unwilling, or unable to protect the victim and some of her fundamental human rights. They sought refuge and protection outside their own countries. Their claim to refugee status was examined and found to be valid. Thus, they became refugees.
Albania has witnessed what it means to be a refugee. You have seen hundreds of thousands of people pouring into your country with nothing, seeking asylum here in Albania. The Albanian State granted them asylum until it aws safe for them to go back.
The fate of women who seek asylum outside their own country is less visible, and there are no TV cameras to bring their plight to the attention of the wide public. They often come alone, seeking anonymity, and are in great fear. Their main fear is to be sent back to the country where they have sought in vain protection against their tormentors. In such cases, I would like to remind of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights where we read that no person should be sent back to a country where he (or she) fears cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
We have, in Albania, a few cases of women and girls who have told teams from the UNHCR and our partner organisation, the International Organisation for Migration, that they have to seek international protection here in Albania. They are too scared to return to their countries where they fear they might end up in the trafficking circle yet again, with no protection from deep humiliation and pain. Such cases have sought asylum in Albania, and they have very good chances to be accepted as refugees here, being given asylum, such as other countries have offered asylum to similar cases. Some of those who sought asylum in other countries are Albanian women in search of international protection.
A conference like the one organized here, is a step towards recognizing that State and civil society in Albania are working towards better and more sustained recognition of the human rights of women and girls to freedom and dignity. I wish you all the necessary perseverance and much success in upholding and securing the human rights of women and girls in Albania so that none of them will have to seek them elsewhere and become a refugee.