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Public Conference: Prison’s minorities in the Western Balkans
On July 9, 2011, representatives of the Center for the Study of Democracy took part in the public conference on Prison’s minorities in the Western Balkans in Tirana. The Albanian Institute for International Studies hosted the event, organised under the framework of the Network to empower volunteering work within the prison system in Europe and Western Balkans (PRISNET) – a joint initiative of civil society organisations from Italy (Agenfor and University for European Studies), Bulgaria (Center for the Study of Democracy), Albania (Albanian Institute for International Studies), Serbia (Forum for Ethnic Relations), Kosovo (Little people of Kossovo), and Turkey (SOSDER – Sociological Association).

Several country reports presented the problems of the minorities and religious groups in prisons in the Western Balkans. Participants from national law enforcement agencies focused on the security and minorities’ protection in the Western Balkan prisons while CSOs put the accent on the social inclusion and rehabilitation of minorities in the region’s prisons.

Mr. Iliaz Labi, General Deputy-Director of the prisons in Albania, presented an exhaustive report on “Minorities and religious groups in prisons of Albania”, while Ms. Vjollca Mecaj, Executive Director of the Albanian Helsinki Committee, gave an NGO perspective on the subject, and informed the audience about the AHC initiatives related to the issue. Mr. Stephen Johnston of EULEX, Kosovo, brought his immense experience in oversight and assistance to the penitentiary institutions in the Balkans. Another participant from Kosovo – Ms. Hiljmnijeta Apuk of Little People of Kosovo, shared her work focused on the problems of specific groups of the prison population. Ms. Svetlana Yonova (DG Execution of Penalties, Bulgarian Ministry of Justice), and Mr. Alexander Drobnjak (Serbian Ministry of Justice) reviewed the constitutional, legal, and practical dimensions of the discussed problems in the two respective countries.

NGO representatives from Turkey, Bulgaria and Italy presented additional information, based on the results of the study on their national prison systems. Dr. Emil Tsenkov – senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Democracy, presented the main findings of the CSD’s recent publication “Penitentiary Policy and System in the Republic of Bulgaria”.

Summing up the findings, the chairmen Dr. Sergio Bianchi and Prof. Luca Galantini outlined some problematic areas in the practical application of the policies of social inclusion and rehabilitation of minorities/religious groups’ representatives in the prisons. Their review covered prisons beyond the area of the Western Balkans. The overall conclusion was that the absence of evidence of religious groups within the penitentiary system in the Western Balkans rather supports the activities focused on the general improvement of human rights standards, which will represent a practical and unbreakable barrier to violence in relations between minorities and religious communities both inside and outside of the prisons.
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