Albania: Male violence, guns, police apathy, & resurgence of ancient "customary" Kanun Law
the latter permitting a man to beat and publicly humiliate his wife
The Amnesty International dossier
Albania: the women’s story By James Dyson
He came home and threatened to kill me with a pistol in front of the children, and the children protected me, came and stood in front of me and said, ‘You have to kill us first’.” This testimony, from a woman, aged 37, mother of two children, illustrates the legacy of Albania’s cultural past and the effects of gun proliferation.
Hundreds of thousands of Kalashnikovs, pistols and other weapons were looted from military and police depots as law and order broke down after the collapse of financial pyramid selling schemes in 1997. Despite successive collection programmes, some 200,000 illegal weapons still circulate among Albania’s 3.3 million people. A recent survey found that more than one in 20 Albanian families had experienced an arms-related crime in the past year.
A resurgence of Albania’s ancient customary law, the Kanun, which allows a man to beat and publicly humiliate his wife, and the continued failure to investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women, has led to high levels of domestic violence. About 70% of the Tirana Forensic Institute’s caseload involves family violence and 68% of the victims are women.
Another victim, Dardana (not her real name), told Amnesty International she had been beaten almost every day of her marriage until, one night, “after I met his brother, my husband started to beat me and punch me in the face and body; I was covered in blood and lost consciousness. He took the Kalashnikov and put it to my head, while the children were in the next room.” Dardana had previously called the police but they never came. It’s not surprising that only 15% of those who reach one of Albania’s two women’s shelters have ever contacted the police.
The lack of justice and protection for women sometimes provokes desperate reactions. Dardana took matters into her own hands. Later that night: “I was in bed; there was a curtain separating the bedroom from the living room and he was behind it. I tried to hide and ran past him into the next room, and took a gun from the closet, and ran out to the outside toilet. I knew how to put the bullet in and I had seen in a movie how to release the safety catch. He was screaming at me to come out. He had a pistol behind his back, and I came out and I killed him. I don’t know how many times I shot, but I shot him until the bullets had run out.” Dardana was convicted of the murder of her husband and illegal possession of his weapon.
Although Albania has begun to tackle its glut of guns, the situation of women has yet to improve. Meanwhile, a national problem has become an international one: between 1997 and 2002, some 150,000 weapons were smuggled out of the country, fuelling violence elsewhere.