Honorable President Begaj, Acting Chair Sadushi, judges, distinguished guests, it’s a great pleasure to be here.
The High Court has come a long way in 110 years, despite many challenges and many difficulties along the way. Understandably, today’s challenges are different from those faced by your predecessors who shaped the tradition and history of this court.
I have now been here for a little over three years, and I have had the privilege to meet Albanians from all walks of life, and they have told me loudly and clearly that they want justice, they want opportunity, they want a fair shot, they want a reason to stay in their country to help make it the country it can and should be, a wonderful Albania.
Justice reform continues to produce real results now and tangible results every single day, and you can sense Albanian citizens’ initial doubts about justice reform gradually being replaced by cautious optimism. They have witnessed significant progress so far and the High Court has much to be proud of. Of 19 seats on the High Court there was only one judge on that court four years ago. Today, there are 16. And, as I have said many times before, the remaining three seats should be filled as soon as possible, with judges who possess the integrity and professionalism that this position requires, and that the Albanian people demand.
The United States is proud to support the Court with guidance from experts and help decrease the Court’s backlog of cases. But, as always, there is more to be done, as the Albanian people demand and deserve justice that is delivered in a timely manner.
While this special anniversary is a time to reflect on accomplishments, and to celebrate them. At the same time, we need to be even more mindful of the risks that continue to present themselves before justice reform. Opponents of justice reform want it to fail, because they are seeing that it works. They’d like to continue to hide their corrupt activities. They’d like to be able to continue to count on their own impunity. It’s a sign – as I say – that justice reform is beginning to deliver results. It also shows how important it is for all of us together, all of us here: the High Court, the United States, the European Union, all of our other partners, countries and organizations, to stay committed to the task at hand. In the end though, you can have as much international support as there is, in the end, it’s up to the Albanian leaders. It’s up to Albania. Together we will continue to support you. That I can promise you. That will not change.
The foundation of justice reform in Albania is the separation of political influence from the judiciary. But this is impossible if the old ways and the old beliefs prevail – that have you believe that ’this is just the way life is, this is just the way it’s always been.’ That cannot continue. Preserving the integrity and independence of the justice institutions and eliminating real or perceived interference is critical to success. And we have all seen too many examples of these types of incidents in the past. It is also critical to public trust. Such integrity and independence of the justice system will help democracy flourish, it will bring economic development and attract greater foreign investments, and most importantly, it will ensure justice and level the playing field for all Albanian citizens.
All the legal mechanisms are in place to ensure a justice system that is governed by the rule of law. And now is the time for public officials, without exception, to redouble their efforts to fully enforce the legislation in line with the international standards, towards courts that are stronger, more impartial, and more objective than yesterday, guided by the rule of law principles in every single decision that they render.
The United States remains committed to supporting Albania as this country moves forward in its Euro-Atlantic destiny, and the work you all are doing is central to that.
I mentioned before it’s been a little bit over three years now. And the fact is that, as everybody knows, after three years, it’s time for a new ambassador. And we’ve all seen the process that is taking place in Washington. As I mentioned, justice reform and the commitment of the United States to supporting Albania will not change. That will not change. You can change ambassadors, but that will not change.
Here is what I would like to say to you. If I look across the faces that are here in this room today, I worked with all of you very closely over the last three years. And sometimes we have had difficult conversations. We have had to say things to each other that we would have preferred not to.
I hope that you will understand that when the United States speaks about justice reform, when the United States insists that Albania do better, we do so as a genuine friend. We do so because, you know, we know that there are greater things in store for Albania. We do so because we share the hope of the Albanian people that this is a country where opportunity is available to all people, that no one is above the law, no one is above the law, and that there are greater things in store for all of us.
Thank you very much.