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Speech by U.S. Ambassador Joseph Limprecht
Mr. President, Chief Justice Kondi, Honored Participants and Guests:
Thank you for inviting me once again to speak to this important conference. This is my third year speaking before the National Judicial Conference. Last year, I highlighted the importance of rooting out corruption and creating a strong, effective judiciary, which has the ability to play its vital role in bringing criminals, including traffickers and corrupt officials, to justice.
One year later, we can honestly say that progress has been made. You are to be commended for your role in this step forward. But much more remains to be done before we can say that Albania has really gained the upper hand in the fight against organized crime and corruption.
Where do we stand today, and what must be done now to advance Albania’s move toward Euro-Atlantic integration? The acts of terrorism carried out in the United States on September 11 make these questions even more crucial. More than ever before, Albania is being called upon to contribute further to regional stability by building its own internal security and democratic transition. We are convinced that issues involving the rule of law are the most important. This brings us inevitably to your responsibilities – and to the internationals’ responsibility to provide carefully targeted, competent assistance.
Where DO we stand today? First, 2001 is clearly not 1997. Impressive strides have been made to improve public order and to create the calmer conditions needed for the rule of law to take root. In this regard, the parliamentary elections of last summer constituted a step forward. But, as the ODIHR Final Report pointed out, serious problems were found. The reforms called for by ODIHR must be implemented in full.
These achievements are real, but far more remains to be done. It is time now for Albania to demonstrate its resolve by showing results in the fight against organized crime, trafficking and corruption. Now, after September 11, the world is turning even greater attention than before to these criminal organizations because of the ties that have been demonstrated between the traffickers and corrupt officials on one hand and global terrorist networks on the other.
So – what then MUST be done? First, the police need to be given the training, the resources and, - above all - the authority, the political backing, to investigate trafficking and corruption, including internal police corruption, no matter where the trails lead.
Second, prosecutors must work cooperatively with the police, must avoid political entanglements and must bring strong, professional cases against the bosses as well as the foot soldiers. Third, as judges you have a responsibility to convict the guilty and to pass sentences that are commensurate with the crimes committed. We know this is not easy. We know bribes are offered, and we know judges are also threatened. When judges and prosecutors are threatened, the forces of public order bear a responsibility to provide them with whatever protection is needed.
Police, prosecutors and the courts. All three have to be involved. Each branch must carry out its professional responsibilities. All three must cooperate to ensure the rule of law.
We know this is a very tough fight. Like the terrorists of al-Qaeda, the traffickers and organized criminals have money and guns and take advantage of the freedom our open societies offer. But, remember, the fight against terrorism is not being undertaken by one nation alone. There is an international anti-terrorist coalition of all who respect freedom and order – and Albania is playing an important role in this coalition. Increasingly, we can say the same thing about the fight against crime. That is why the United States has established offices at the embassy to work with the police (ICITAP) and the prosecutors (OPDAT). It is why we also have an FBI liaison officer to work with his Albanian counterparts on regional issues involving trafficking in women and children. In addition, the European Union is building up its new police cooperation unit, and other countries such as Italy and Greece have strong bilateral cooperation programs.
The international community is sometimes subject to criticism from Albanian commentators. This is good, because nobody is perfect. But the criticism should be constructive -- aimed to help us focus and do better – not just destructive polemic.
The same goes for the internal political debate among and within the parties. Let the debate be sharp and tough, but let it be focused on how to get the job done better – not on name calling and not on destabilizing the country. This only creates yet more opportunities for criminals and corrupt officials to exploit Albania, its institutions and even its future. After the recent debates within the Socialist Party, new ministers will deserve the support of the party and the people as they seek to deal with complex issues which are crucial to Albania’s continued development. Now is the time for the government to get down to work, and space must be given to allow the government to accomplish its work.
As judges, you have worked hard to be independent and to demonstrate your competence. We appreciate and understand the difficulties that confront you and your work. Your continued efforts are essential for progress toward the rule of law and regional stability. At this year’s conference, you will tackle an equally hard task: building relations with the public and strengthening the confidence and trust of citizens. I am pleased that the prominent American jurists Paul Magnuson and Robert Utter are here to share their expertise and experience on this important subject.
Much is being asked of you, just as much is being asked of Albania. We are under no illusions. Much remains to be done, and it will take years to get it done properly. Albania’s history – centuries of domination by neighbors followed by 45 years of primitive, paranoid Enverist Stalinism – has bequeathed poverty and a tradition of mean-spirited, personalized and counterproductive politics, some of which unfortunately still lingers. The challenges you face are much tougher than those faced by your post-Communist neighbors. But, working with our European partners and allies, you can count on the support of the United States, and on America’s enduring desire to see Albania continue to make progress towards integration into European and Trans-Atlantic institutions.