Ambassador Donald Lu’s Remarks at the “Judicial Reform and the Rights of Women” Roundtable Discussion

Zonja Bregu, Zonja Hysi, Zonja Doda, Professore Anastasi, Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the reasons I care so much about judicial reform is a story I heard about an Albanian woman and how a corrupt judge robbed her of her children.  She married a man who beat her for many years.  Earlier he had been convicted for sex crimes.  After years of suffering she finally had the courage to leave her husband for the safety of her children.  When she went to the Albanian court system looking for justice, she found only more suffering.  The judge gave her husband, a convicted violent sex offender, all of the property and custody of two of her three children.  It broke her heart.  And why would a judge rule in favor of such a man?  One simple reason — corruption.

Judicial corruption not only allows judges and politicians to fill their pockets with corrupt money, it is destroying the lives of normal honest people.  And in a corrupt system, women are often the victims.  The rich and powerful buy justice, while the poor and those without political power are the victims.

How many of us have heard these same stories?

How many times are innocent women in Albania robbed of their rights by corrupt and incompetent judges?

How long do we need to wait while rich and powerful men say that they are not yet satisfied with this judicial reform?

The current judicial reform proposal is giving people hope that change is coming.  Our experts, from the United States and the European Union, were actively involved in the drafting of each of the 58 constitutional amendments. Unlike earlier proposals, this proposal provides a mechanism to vet and remove corrupt and incompetent judges and prosecutors.  It establishes a better system to discipline judges and prosecutors in the future.  And it restructures of the prosecutor general’s functions to encourage less politicization.  We share ownership of this proposal and strongly endorse it.

But the difficult work is not done.  It is important that Albanian citizens and their leaders have an opportunity to debate this important reform.  And this week we have seen a preliminary assessment of the proposal from the Venice Commission.  We know that the current reform proposal must include important changes to reflect the best ideas from the Venice Commission, the opposition experts, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and the general public.  That process has already begun.

Finally, this judicial reform gives Albania a chance — a chance to cleanse the judicial system of this cancer of corruption and to restore the faith of normal men and women that they will receive justice.

As Albanians consider whether or not to support this reform, I ask them to consider the honest woman who lost her children, her home and her life because a corrupt judge decided he needed more money to finance his luxurious lifestyle.