INTERNATIONAL HELLENIC ASSOCIATION
12 November, 2018
- To the members of the European Council
- To the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini
- To the members of the OSCE
- To the members of the Council of Europe
- To the members of the UN and Human Rights Council
Subject: Murder of Konstantinos Katsifas by Albanian police forces
On Sunday, the 28th of October, a member of the Greek National Minority (GNM) of Albania, Konstantinos Katsifas, was shot dead by Albanian police special forces, RENEA. The conditions and exact events that led to this killing remain a mystery, as the Albanian authorities have not disclosed essential pieces of evidence. Serious doubts and concerns have been raised regarding the rule of law in Albania and whether its practices resonate with the prospect of EU accession, or if it still stands by the legacy of the oppressive Hoxha regime.
For the previous five years, Katsifas, a blacksmith of Greek and Albanian citizenship, had been a prominent member and organizer of his community’s celebration of the “OXI” day – the day that Greece turned down Mussolini’s ultimatum and stood its ground to repel the fascist attack. “OXI” day symbolically commemorates Greece’s immense human losses and sacrifices during WWII, as well as its resistance to the quadruple German-Italian-Bulgarian-Albanian occupation. During WWII, Vouliarates (Bularat), the village that Katsifas was born and died in, and just 6 km from the Greek-Albanian border, was transformed into a hospital for the wounded, and many deceased Greek warriors were buried at a local cemetery, dedicated nowadays to their memory. Katsifas feared that Albania would not fully comply with the previous or more recent promises between foreign ministers of Greece and Albania in two respects: First, for exhuming the bodies of almost 8,000 Greeks who died on Albanian soil during WWII, and second, for providing them a proper burial. Albania has been stalling for nine years to implement this bilateral agreement signed in 2009. Katsifas was also actively seeking Albania’s conformity to its long-standing, decades-old pledges to Greece and the League of Nations (cf. Annex 1), but also to its newer ones to the United Nations and the European Union to provide access to a Greek language schooling system to the members of the GNM (cf. Annex 1). Albania not only has not fulfilled this responsibility, but on the contrary, has been massively and persistently violating these mandates in several ways, among which is devising numerous legal restrictions to the free expression and practice of rights of members of the GNM. The record of these violations is lengthy and not compliant with the essence of a modern state of law that honors its signature, nor is it adhering to the international laws pertaining to human rights. Indicatively, (1) in the era from Albania’s foundation in 1913 until WWII the following took place: (a) a ban on teaching Greek outside a minority zone, a zone precisely designed to exclude significant parts of Greek population, (b) the forceful conversion of all Greek schools to Albanian ones in those excluded areas, (c) dismissal of non-Albanian speaking teachers, (d) reduced hours of teaching Greek and increased hours of teaching Albanian, (e) the abolishment of private education which affected Greek schools- the vast majority if not the only private schools in Albania at the time. All the above oppressive measures resulted in the massive decrease of the number of Greek schools from a high of 100 in 1924 to just a handful in 1933. All these facts, unequivocally demonstrated the intention to achieve the systematic ‘dehellenisation’ of Northern Epirus and Albania in general and led to a decision by The Hague Tribunal in 1935 (cf. Annex 2) that forced Albania to allow Greek schools to function again. (2) After WWII and until today, the presence of the GNM and therefore the right to have Greek language schools, is acknowledged only in the so-called, re-designed “minority zones”, enduring since the days of the Hoxha regime. The zones have been fixed to include 99 villages, while either vengefully or arbitrarily excluding significant Greek settlements, such as those in the region of Himara. The religious rights of the minority, which in its majority is Orthodox Christian, have also suffered greatly especially during the communist era, leading to the imprisonment, exile in forced labor camps, and death for thousands of victims. Konstantinos Katsifas, a member of a community that has inscribed in its collective memory the struggle to freely express its identity, many times in a hostile environment, could not help but feel disappointment, betrayal and desperation in the face of Albania’s political and legal system that did not respect its obligations to him.
Katsifas was involved in the preservation of the Greek heritage and culture by spending his personal, limited financial resources to support the local Greek teacher. Each year with his meager means he would also undertake the decoration of the village and the military cemetery with Greek flags, some of which he personally sewed himself, to honor the “OXI” day. These decorations are customary for all people of Greek descent around the globe in the memory of the struggle of their ancestors. In doing so, he echoed the message of love for liberty and life in dignity, by exerting his human and constitutional rights as a member of the internationally recognized GNM in Albania.
To this date and to a great extent, the events remain unclear as to how and why Katsifas was shot dead by Albanian police forces. Serious allegations by eye-witnesses, family members, relatives and friends of the deceased point to the fact that the police provoked his reaction and then murdered him, while the situation could have been handled differently (cf. Annex 3-19). Unfortunately, information is scarce and for the time being the Albanian authorities are restricting access to any record of the actual events, while showing a provocative lack of respect for the deceased and lack of cooperation with the victim’s family. In an unprecedented demonstration of inhumanity and disrespect, Katsifas body was returned to his family 10 days after the killing. In the meantime, the family was denied access and examination of the body (cf Annex 10-19).
We implore you to investigate, in the context of your organizations’ constitutional principles and in the capacity of your official jurisdiction to promote accountability in individual States for the respect of human rights, the conditions and exact events that led to Katsifas murder. More specifically, we wish answers to the following questions:
- Did Albanian police forces use excessive and unjustified force in killing Katsifas? Could his killing have been avoided?
- Have the Albanian authorities treated Katsifas fairly before and after his death?
- Why did it take 10 days to release Katsifas’ body to his family for proper burial?
- Have the Albanian authorities at any stage of the investigation destroyed evidence in order to cover misconduct and non-standard practices and methods?
- Had the Albanian authorities terrorized, harassed, threatened, or provoked the victim prior to his killing?
- Have the Albanian authorities conducting the investigation demonstrated at any stage prejudice, racism and/or hate against the deceased?
- Were the human rights of the deceased violated by the Albanian state authorities?
- What can the International and European community do to ensure that the rights of GNM in Albania are unobstructed, that the situation is constantly and objectively monitored, and that the not-yet-met commitments are duly implemented (cf. 21 page 25)?
With respect to the death of Konstantinos Katsifas, the practices of the Albanian State are not in the service of bringing the truth to light. On the contrary, as it is further proven in the Annexures supporting this document, Albanian authorities have systematically mistreated the deceased, his family and his community, through both neglectful and wrongful actions, and are therefore unreliable in the quest for answers. We frankly question the ability of the police and judiciary system in Albania to release the evidence of the investigation in fairness to the victim. Furthermore, we question the separation of powers in the government of Albania, and fear that justice is being obstructed, since the prime minister himself, Edi Rama, referred to the victim as a “lunatic” and an “extremist” just hours after the events of the killing (cf. Annex 20), while the investigation was supposedly still ongoing. This fact, combined with the conclusions of the European Commission (cf. Annex 21) overall on Albania’s progress report for 2018 regarding democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights, do not engender confidence.
As a result, we request your intervention to ensure that justice is served. More specifically, we request the following:
- The deceased’s family is not to be harassed any longer by the local state forces and their rights are to be respected.
- The Albanian government is to make publicly accessible all surveillance material that they possess from authorities on the events prior, during and after the killing. It is vital that the international community examines the unedited raw audio and video footage.
- A thorough investigation on the events leading to the killing is to be conducted. Therefore, a committee of international experts with participation of Greek officials should be commissioned to supervise, conduct, and guide the investigation.
- Should the outcome of the investigation be incriminating for members of the Albanian police force or other State officials, a proper hearing and potential trial to be conducted, where those responsible are charged accordingly and as ordained by local and international law.
- Should any members of the Albanian state be proven through investigation and trial to be wrongfully involved in murdering an innocent man, a proper apology and reparations to be given to the deceased’s family and fellow countrymen by state officials.
This case represents the most recent in a long series of cases of mistreatment against members of the GNM who have been threatened, harassed and discriminated against because of their origin, by both the Albanian state as well as individual Albanians. The list of reported violations that the Albanian State either failed to deter, has tolerated, or actively perpetrated is lengthy. Significant among them are the recent compulsory expropriations in GNM areas, directly targeting GNM property. Katsifas is not the first person of Greek origin who has lost his life in Albania because of persevering for his minority’s rights. In 2010 in the Himara region, Aristotelis Goumas was run down on his motorcycle by three Albanians because in an earlier encounter in his store, he would not cease – as the Albanians had demanded – speaking in his native language, i.e. Greek.
We remain at your disposal in order to provide further assistance in this task of outmost importance towards consolidating human rights, peace and stability in a very sensitive region with delicate balances and vital interests for Europe’s development. Only by bringing to justice those responsible for the murder of Konstantinos Katsifas no matter how high they are in the chain of command, will Albania prove that it is a State where justice is respected. Unity will be served in the broader region and a sentiment of security restored to the people of Greek minority in Albania. Finally, the strategic partnership between Greece and Albania that has been repeatedly strengthened by benevolent measures only few of which are, the multi-front backing for NATO accession in 2009 and EU accession more recently from the Greek state, will be allowed to prosper. We hope that your actions and decisions will serve this purpose.
The Executive Council of IHA
The International Hellenic Association- IHA http://www.professors-PhDs.com is a non-profit, non-partisan entity chartered in Delaware USA. Its members primarily come from the academic sector around the globe. Beyond academicians, among IHA members are included former diplomats, military officers, state officials, journalists, entrepreneurs, scientists, free-lancers and other pre-eminent figures of the Hellenic society. The purpose of IHA is to electronically unite Hellenism and assist Hellas (Greece) through its committees in matters of national and cultural nature.
Supportive information of the main document.
- Albanian Declaration of October 2nd, 1921 to the League of Nations Ratified by the Albanian Parliament on February 17th 1922
- PCIJ Series A/B no 64, ICGJ 314 (PCIJ 1935), 6th April 1935
- Albanian police had brought Katsifas in for informal interrogations without any formal charges, as the victim’s sister testifies, in an attempt to discourage him from expressing his patriotic beliefs, especially in the last days before his death. His sister further attests that he was under constant surveillance and many times threatened, directly or indirectly. Eyewitnesses also have publically stated that on the day of the shooting, Katsifas was again initially threatened, terrorized and provoked by Albanian police, in reaction to the flags that he raised for the “OXI” celebration. This constant harassment and oppression resulted in his acquiring a hunting gun (not an assault gun as it had been originally leaked), to protect his flag(s) from coming down and of course his life.
- An 11-second video of Katsifas from within the Vouliarates Café shows Katsifas with a rifle but not targeting or shooting against a person. He was rather shooting to the air and certainly not with any intention to kill. On the contrary, one of the bystanders in the video can be heard saying: “the kid is dead”.
- Katsifas did his compulsory military service in Greece as a Greek citizen in the special forces. Therefore, he was familiar with guns and if he wanted to take the life of any Albanian police officer he could have done so. The fact that he didn’t, is another indication that he had no intention to kill at any time.
- Katsifas has been accused by Albanian police that he shot at them with the intention to kill with an assault AK-47 rifle. To prove that, they provided photos of a police car which was shot on both the left and right sides. However, testimony by eyewitnesses do not corroborate these allegations. On the contrary, they point to the fact that he was shooting blanks into the air with a hunting rifle called “Molot Vepr-12” which looks like an “AK-47” but it is not.
- Dozens of special forces police with the help of a helicopter and a drone pursued Konstantinos Katsifas. Eventually, he fled the scene, moved to the village’s water reservoir at the nearby mountain and later was shot in the heart after being surrounded. Prior to his death, Albanian police sent images to the media suggesting he had been arrested; this was the original information. It was not until much later that the news emerged that he was shot for resisting arrest while armed.
- The family’s request for a Greek forensic surgeon/coroner to be present during the medical examination of the body was denied from the beginning.
- No forensic analysis was done in the area of the killing or at the place where the incident started, and no relevant official information or documents have been presented either to the public or to the family. However, Albanian police have leaked information that there exists video footage that justifies their actions, showing Katsifas firing against them and refusing to surrender.
- Katsifas’ body, which was initially to be examined by a coroner in Argyrokastro (Gjirokastër) by Albanian authorities, was suddenly transferred to Tirana when the family’s lawyer and a Greek coroner who travelled to Argyrokastro demanded to see and examine the body. Since then, the body was being kept in Tirana until its release to the family, 10 whole days after the killing.
- Neither the family, its legal representation, any third party or Greek coroners have been allowed to examine the body. Under tremendous pressure and tensions, the family’s lawyer and the Greek coroner were at last allowed to observe the body for 5 minutes before the body was sent to Tirana. They were not allowed for even a moment to perform any examination or lay hands on the body.
- During this 5-minute allowance for observation, it was evident that the victim had suffered two thoracic perforating traumas which were both stitched, and the body had been washed clean, thus removing any evidence and traces that would or could allow any conclusions to be drawn later, even in the unlikely event that an impartial coroner would examine the body in the future.
- Blood stains and other trace evidence at Katsifas’ hideout on the nearby mountain extend to some 70 meters, suggesting that he was first shot and then captured and/or moved.
- The family of the deceased Katsifas has been denied its right to institute legal proceedings against the police for manslaughter and/or murder.
- When the family lawfully demanded the return of Katsifas’ body, the Albanian prosecutor summoned the father of the deceased to Tirana for interrogation.
- According to the family’s public testimony, Albanian police special forces behaved in an extremely aggressive manner to the victim’s mother in her home after the assassination and they looted the house during their raid.
- On Wednesday Oct. 31st, 2018, Albanian police practically extorted Katsifas’ parents to sign a document that states they have no claim from the Albanian State in exchange for the return of the body for burial.
- A ballistics check and analysis on the police cars that Katsifas allegedly shot at and on the victim’s body has not yet been presented.
- Many eyewitnesses, including the family and people close to Katsifas talk about a staged provocation and execution.
- Albania’s prime minister Edi Rama, only hours after the incident tweeted the following statement: “Dear neighbors! Instead of characterizing as unacceptable the loss of life of a lunatic who shot at our police who were merely doing their duty, it would be better to thank God jointly that today no innocent life was lost from the madness of extremism.” It is obvious that in Albania the political authorities at the highest level have clearly and explicitly intervened in an open investigation thus dismantling constitutional separation of powers. Therefore, State bias against the victim is to be expected, and trust in the actions, methods, reports, and conclusions by State officials cannot be assumed; therefore, intervention by the international community is deemed indispensable for shedding light on this case. The question of whether, with his statement, the prime minister promotes hate crimes and discord among the Albanian people, also acquires crucial legitimacy and should be of concern as well.
- European Commission, Albania 2018, Report