The lack of accountability on a range of human-rights abuses and atrocities committed by countries and others across the world will be highlighted during Albania’s first open debate as rotating president of the United Nations Security Council this month. Prime Minister Edi Rama will be chairing the June 2 meeting at UN headquarters in New York City. Albania’s ambassador to the UN, Ferit Hoxha, says that Russia’s alleged atrocities in Ukraine will not be the only example up for discussion.
“Accountability is not about Ukraine, it’s about everything,” Hoxha told PassBlue in a recent interview. “Member states will be able to refer to whichever situation they think is important.”
The Council keeps a long list of “situations” — agenda items — that threaten international peace and security or that constitute acts of aggression, leaving no shortage of crises and problems that UN member states can refer to in speeches during the June 2 meeting. The same goes for civil society organizations that are invited to speak at the debate.
The Moscow-based Wagner Group, a paramilitary operation with links to the Kremlin, has been accused of civilian killings in the Central African Republic and Mali, for example, starting from 2021 onward. Wagner, which operates as Sewa Services in the Central African Republic, reportedly terrorizes anyone attempting to film their actions.
“Villagers are scared of taking photos of them. Hell, I’m scared to take photos of them. That includes the UN staff who is afraid to take their own phones in the presence of Russians,” Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch, told PassBlue in May.
A May 4 article in The Guardian reported on human-rights investigators and nongovernmental organizations accusing the Russian mercenaries who are in Mali and meant to be providing security to the country and the Malian military, of extrajudicial killings. By one account, up to 456 civilians have been killed since the year started.
“Any terrorist killed by the Malian army, the collective west tried to pass off as a civilian. . . . As to the [alleged] atrocities, neither I, nor the men I know, nor the Malian army have committed them,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, who reportedly finances Wagner, is quoted in the Guardian.
The most devastating accusations leveled against the Russian “instructors,” as Mali calls them, and Malian troops so far, is the murder of more than 300 people, mainly of Pule extraction in Moura, a town in central Mali. UN investigators working for the peacekeeping mission in Mali have been barred from accessing the site, even though they are mandated by the Security Council to carry out such probes.
But Russia is not the only permanent Council member that has avoided owning up to abuses in Africa and elsewhere. A Malian-based news website, Sahelien.com, said that it had documented six incidents between 2018 and 2021, where soldiers from Operation Barkhane — a French counterterrorism mission based in Mali until recently — allegedly killed 43 civilians. UN investigators released a report on one incident, an airstrike on wedding guests in early January 2021. Françoise Dumas, the chair of the French parliament’s Defenses and Armed Forces Committee, reportedly described the UN findings as “information warfare targeting our credibility and legitimacy.”
In Syria, where the United States has been engaged in fighting ISIS terrorists and the Bashar al-Assad government, “countless civilians” were killed by a special operations unit, according to a report in The New York Times. In one strike, approximately 70 women and children were murdered in 2019. An independent audit into the airstrike commissioned by the Pentagon found that the order to strike the area in Baghuz, near the Iraq border, was “reasonable.” No further action was taken.
China continues to deny the existence of satellite images of its orientation camps housing ethnic Uighur Muslims, in Xinjiang Province, where they are allegedly torture and forcefully indoctrinated.
“We know how much lack of justice affects the work of the UN,” Hoxha says. “And how important it is to make sure that we arrive at a situation when those who are responsible for crimes are brought to justice and those who are victims are relieved that what they had to go through has been taken into account.”
Ethnic Albanians have been at the receiving end of painful memories that have not been fully accounted for across decades. In some instances, women have been disproportionately affected.
Ambassador Hoxha says that Albania’s foreign minister, Olta Xhaçka, will chair a June 15 debate on “Keeping the promises: the role of regional organizations in implementing women, peace and security in the face of political turmoil and seizures of power by force,” based on the mandate of the so-called WPS agenda in the Council. A June 6 meeting on Ukraine will focus on sexual violence in conflict as well in that country.
“I think Albania is within its strengths to raise that issue,” Agon Maliqi, an expert on Balkan affairs, says. “Considering its experience with war crimes and wartime rapes on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, it is a trauma in the history of the Balkans that Albania understands.”
Albania, a Sunni majority country, has come far from battling invaders, colonization and neighboring states telling it what to do to becoming an elected member of the Security Council in 2022 for a two-year term for the first time in its history. It is using its time in the Council to speak unequivocally against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Although it is a former communist state, Albania, a country of 2.3 million people, has never had an easy time getting along with its big neighbor in Moscow. These include tensions with Premier Nikita Khrushchev in the early 1960s and clashing with Moscow in the late 1990s to early 2000s, over Kosovo. Russia supported Serbia’s violent attempt to hold on to Kosovo when it fought Serbian persecution of Kosovo Albanians.
Ultimately, these crises have enabled Albania to develop an economy that is not dependent on Russia for its energy needs, which is now a thorny issue for the European Union, given the war in Ukraine. With the backing of NATO — which Albania joined in 1999 — Albania feels it can speak strongly to Russia.
“Russia is breaking the whole world’s standard,” Hoxha says, remarking on why his country has been firmly opposed to Moscow for decades, but especially since its invasion of Ukraine. “Whatever intention Russia has towards Albania or any other member of NATO, Russia will be against the most powerful alliance in the world. Thankfully, we are not there, and I hope we will never be there.”
Albania waited 15 years to join NATO. Eight years on, Albania is still waiting for the European Council to begin negotiations on its accession to the European Union. The European Parliament asked the European Council to resume negotiations with Albania and five other Balkan states on joining the bloc, following the destabilizing incursion of Russia by Ukraine. But will it mean improved living standards for Albania’s Roma population?
A 2018 report by the World Bank found that the Roma continue to face limited access to opportunities in virtually every aspect of human development, such as basic rights, health, education, housing, employment and standard of living. Those conclusions were highlighted by the bank from a 2017 regional Roma survey for Albania. The report noted, however, that some improvement was recorded from the first research in 2011.
But Maliqi, who lives in Tirana, Albania’s capital, says there is still far to go toward integrating the Roma population.
“In a lot of cases, the Roma community live in isolated ghettos and really impoverished conditions,” he says. “They live in a poverty trap which they cannot get out of, and states, including Albania, are not doing enough to integrate Roma communities.” The European Union has a 10-year plan of action it revamped in 2020 to improve the conditions of Europe’s largest minority, which Albania would have to agree to if it becomes a member.
“New York is an amazing city,” Hoxha says. “As much as I love Paris, I love Rome and other places in the world, I think there is no city that compares with New York.” Hoxha is happy that life in the city is returning to normalcy after the ghost days of the pandemic.
Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as their countries assume the Council presidency. To hear more details about the goals of Albania in June and to hear Agon Maliqi’s assessment of the country, listen to PassBlue’s podcast, UN-Scripted, produced by Kacie Candela and Damilola Banjo, with research by Allison Lecce, on SoundCloud and Patreon.
Ambassador Hoxha spoke to PassBlue in May. His comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.
PassBlue: What does it feel like to be on the UN Security Council amid Russia’s invasion? We would not have liked that situation to be as it is . . . and we condemn a situation when a country attacks another in an unjustified and provoked in a war of choice, which is an act of aggression. Now, we are there, we have to deal with this situation. So, the fact that we happen to be in the Council, during this incredible situation, which we thought we had left behind in another century, has provided Albania with the voice, with a position, which is coherent with the principles we stand for. And it has provided us the opportunity to say, clearly, loudly, what we stand for, and how much we disagree with this attitude of Russia.
PassBlue: What are your signature events for the month of June? The first one will be June 2, on accountability and the Council’s role in maintaining peace and security in the world. And it’s an event that will be chaired by the prime minister of Albania. We know how much accountability, lack of justice, affects the work of the Security Council and how important it is to make sure that we arrive at a situation where those responsible for crimes are brought to justice. The second event will be on another priority, which is women, peace and security. That will happen on June 15, another open debate, chaired by the minister of foreign affairs for Europe and foreign affairs minister of Albania. And that will be on the implementation of the WPS agenda through the lens of regional organizations. So we hope to bring together the European Union, the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], the League of Arab States and the African Union to have a discussion in the Council. On June 16, there will be another activity: the relationship between the United Nations and the European Union. And we expect to have High Representative [of European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] Josep Borrell to brief the Council.
On 28 June, we’ll have another open debate on what we call the working methods of the Council. We think it is important to see how the methods are evolving and where we are now. That’s always slow progress, but still progress in making the Council more open, more transparent, more efficient, more accountable and, of course, ensure as much as possible the relationship between the various main organs of the United Nations, but principally, between this Council and the General Assembly.
PassBlue: As a former member of the Warsaw Pact, what was Albania’s drive to join NATO? Membership in NATO has brought Albania first a sense of security of belonging to one of the most important defense organizations in the world. But it has also brought it into the family of democracies of the large Euro-Atlantic community, where we share principles, values and a sense of how societies are built, how countries are run and how countries cooperate with each other. It is absolutely one of the major, major decisions that we have taken. And we are happy about that.
PassBlue: As a former communist state with a historical relationship with Russia, what influenced your decision to draw apart from Moscow? There are two moments: first the break with the Soviet Union in early 60s, which was the decision of the regime, the Albanian regime at that time, a communist regime that fell out with Moscow, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, because the Albanian government at that time found that the union was not really as communist as they wanted. So that’s why they went out. So in that case, it was just a decision of a paranoid government and paranoid leadership of the Albanian communist times. But unfortunately, it didn’t lead us to the wisdom of getting close to the west. So we went on to build a close relation with China for 10 years. And then, of course, we were completely isolated, comparable to North Korea. We were left without an ally, we were left a little bit alone. And we were the forgotten part of Europe until the protest movements, the students that started the protest for change, profound fundamental change in Albania. But after that, once communism was down for everyone in Albania, it was very clear that we were not against Russia because we have links with Russia, cultural links and educational links that have have continued in a way or another.
PassBlue: Albania has committed to accepting “thousands” of refugees from Ukraine with a year of residency, do you think Tirana’s economy is strong enough to play host? There is a tradition of hospitality, of opening your homes and hearts for those in need. We did that even during the Second World War for the Italian soldiers . . . . Our fathers opened the doors to the soldiers who were deserting to shelter them. And then we did it during the dissolution of Yugoslavia, during the war in Kosovo, the terrible massacres that were committed by the Serbian Army against most of the Albanians in Kosovo, we opened again our homes, and at that time, some half a million crossovers came quickly, in a matter of weeks in Albania. So we we are familiar with these hardships. We shelter also the Afghans. And this is a story that is known: 1,000 Afghans were taken care of by the government by different associations. And of course, we’re doing exactly the same thing with the Ukrainians, for all those who come. It’s never a matter of how much money and capacity, whatever we can do we will do because we know that we’re doing the right thing for people who are in need.
PassBlue: Could you talk to us on how Albania was able to cut off from the Russian energy supply, something the European Union is still battling with. Can you shed light on how the Albanian economy is coping with the war? So Albania has never been dependent on Russian gas or on Russian oil. We have been lucky. Of course, this is due to the history of relations, the breakup during the communist times and our orientation towards the European Union, our membership in NATO. Having said that, we’re not immune from the impact of the war, because as we know, there is an acute problem of food security in the world and that food security is one of the dire consequences of the [Russian] aggression. War has impacted the price of commodities. We suffer like all other countries, European or others from the food security, and the government has been able to take specific measures in this respect. But I think it is important to mention that food security is not a direct consequence of the war. It is a direct consequence of the disruption that it has brought to normal trade of basic commodities, including grain from Ukraine, from Russia, the limitation of exports of fertilizers by Russia. I think there are some 200 commodities that Russia has either stopped exporting or whose export has been affected by the war. This is what we call the weaponization of food.
US Ambassador to the UN: Ferit Hoxha, 55
Ambassador to UN since: First time (2009-2015); second time (October 2021-present)
Languages: English, French and Albanian
Education: University of Tirana
His story, briefly: This is the second time Hoxha is permanent representative of Albania to the UN. Before October 2021, when he resumed for the second time, he was the representative from 2009 to 2015. He also held the role of a nonresident ambassador to Cuba during the same period. In 1995, he was a counselor at Albania’s mission to the UN. He was ambassador to Unesco in Paris between March 2018 and October 2021 and served as director-general for political and strategic issues in Albania’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs from November 2015 to March 2018. He also served as secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2009, during which he represented Albania on the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 2007 to 2008.
He was ambassador to France and nonresident ambassador to Portugal, Algeria and Monaco from 2001 to 2006; ambassador to the European Union and Belgium, as well as nonresident ambassador to Luxembourg from 1998 to 2001; and director for multilateral relations at the Foreign Ministry from 1996 until 1998.
President of Albania: Ilir Meta
Prime Minister: Edi Rama
Type of Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
Year Albania Joined the UN: 1955
Years in the Security Council: Elected member (2022-2023)
Population (2020): 2.8 million
Per capita CO2 emission figures for 2019 (in tons): 1.80 per person
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Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.