Tirana: On February 21, 2023, the first court session was held for the Decision of the Council of Ministers (DCM) no. 60, dated 26.1.2022, “On the Proclamation of Natural Ecosystems, Natural Reserves/Managed Natural Parks (Category IV), in the Administrative Court of Appeal, where 11 Albanian Environmental Civil Society Organizations have sued the public authorities for annulment of the Council’s decision of Ministers no. 59 and no. 60.

The plaintiff lawyer Franc Terihati CLE, lawyer Dorian Matlija Res Publica, and Besjana Shehu AOS participated in the session, while from the defendant side, the Council of Ministers and the National Council of the Territory, no representative appeared, and no counterclaims and evidence were presented to counter the claims made in the lawsuit. The session was preparatory, where the focus was on the review of the relevant documentation and the legitimization of the parties.

And while the next session for DCM no. 60 is set for March 2, the date for the first court session for the DCM no. 59, dated 26.1.2022, “For the Approval of Change of Status and the Surface of Natural Ecosystems National Park (Category II) of Environmentally Protected Areas is set for March 10.

Both decisions contain legal violations; more specifically, Lawyer Franc Terihati states that “The decisions were approved without implementing the procedure of consultation with the affected communities, CSOs, academics, and local government units were completely ignored from giving an opinion concerning this process. Also, the obligations provided for in the legal framework have not been implemented which focuses on protection in the environment; where among other things, we highlight: Approval of acts in the absence of the Specific Plan for the Whole of Protected Areas; The initiation of the procedure for changing the boundaries of Protected Areas and their zoning by the National Agency of Protected Areas, while it is under the competence of the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, the acts have been approved in the absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment, etc. Therefore, the approval of the change of the surfaces and borders of the Protected Areas, the change of status, and their removal, could not be done as a whole for the entire territory of the Republic of Albania, but taking into account that each area has its specifics and characteristics, fauna and flora. Thus a detailed analysis is required for each area.”

Lawyer Dorian Matlija says that “The change of status, removal from the category and change of the area and boundaries for the Protected Areas was done in flagrant violation of the law, without a deep and detailed investigation and assessment, the procedures provided for in the legal acts were not respected, the local government units have been completely ignored from giving an opinion concerning this process, the opinion of academics, experts in the field, civil society organizations has not been taken into account; as a result, the acts subject to judgment should be abolished as they may cause irreparable damage in the environment.”

What is expected to develop in these reduced areas is the occupation of habitats with intensive agriculture, with industries supporting agriculture, with constructions and new urban areas, loss of the “buffer zone” surface, and loss and fragmentation of habitats. This will impact the ecological integrity and naturalness of all PAs by deteriorating habitats and priority species through deterioration of water quality, reduction of resources for food and nesting, increased disturbance, etc., says expert Taulant Bino.

Based on this initiative and in continuation of the Forum on January 26, 52  Civil Society Organizations, national and international, that operate in the field of nature protection, academic-research institutions of natural sciences, request from policy-making institutions/ decision-makers and law-enforcers of the country so that the issue of nature conservation becomes a priority.

Plaintiff organizations:

@AOS-Albanian Ornithological Society @EcoAlbania @Res Publica @CLE – Centre for Legal Empowerment @Qendra EDEN/ EDEN Center @Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania @Milieukontakt Albania (member of Milieukontakt International Netëork) @REC Albania @Qendra ACEG @Qendra Kujri #impetus

This activity takes place within Green-AL, a project financed by the Swedish International Cooperation and Development Agency (SIDA) with funds from the Swedish Government and implemented by Co-PLAN, Institute for Habitat Development in collaboration with CISP Sviluppo dei Popoli, VIS Albania and COSV – Cooperazione per lo Sviluppo.