The Administrative Court of Appeal in Tirana convened for its initial hearing on the matter of Council of Ministers’ Decision (DCM) no. 60, dated 26th January 2022, titled “On the Proclamation of Natural Ecosystems, Natural Reserves/Managed Natural Parks (Category IV)”. This hearing was prompted by a lawsuit filed by 11 Albanian environmental civil society organizations, who contest the nullification of Council of Ministers’ decisions 59 and 60.
In this preliminary session, the primary focus was on reviewing pertinent documentation and verifying the legitimacy of the involved parties. Present at the hearing were key participants, including the lawyers, Franc Terihati CLE, Dorian Matlija from ResPublica, and Besjana Shehu from the Ornithological Society of Albania (AOS). Notably, there were no representatives from the Council of Ministers, or the National Council of Territory present to counter the claims presented in the lawsuit.
The upcoming session for DCM no. 60 is scheduled for 2nd March, while the first court session for DCM no. 59, also dated 26th January 2022, titled “For the Approval of Change of Status and the Surface of Natural Ecosystems National Park (Category II) of Environmentally Protected Areas,” is set for 10th March.
Lawyer Franc Terihati emphasized that both decisions are marred by infringements, stating, “The decisions were approved without implementing the procedure of consultation with the affected communities, civil society organizations (CSOs), academics, and local government units, which were completely ignored from providing input on this process. Furthermore, the legal framework’s obligations pertaining to environmental protection have not been fulfilled.” Terihati outlined several issues, including the absence of a Specific Plan for the Whole of Protected Areas, the initiation of boundary changes without an Environmental Impact Assessment, and more. He stressed the need for a detailed analysis for each specific area.
Echoing these concerns, Lawyer Dorian Matlija declared, “The changes in status, removal from the category, and alterations in the area and boundaries of Protected Areas were executed in blatant violation of the law. The procedures outlined in legal acts were not followed, and the voices of local government units, academics, experts, and civil society organizations were ignored. As a result, the challenged acts must be reconsidered, as they pose a significant threat to the environment.”
Environmental expert Taulant Bino raised alarms about the potential consequences, including habitat loss due to intensive agriculture, industrial expansion supporting agriculture, construction, and urban development in these reduced areas. Additionally, there is concern about the loss of the “buffer zone,” habitat fragmentation, and adverse effects on ecological integrity and naturalness in protected areas. These developments may damage habitats, disrupt priority species, and degrade water quality.
In response to these challenges, 52 national and international civil society organizations, along with academic and research institutions specializing in the natural sciences, are urging political institutions, decision-makers, and law enforcers to prioritize nature conservation.
The activities are part of the “NGOs for Biodiversity Conservation” project, supported by #GreenAL. Funding for this project comes from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), with contributions from the Swedish Government. The project is implemented by Co-PLAN Institute for Habitat Development, in collaboration with CISP Sviluppo dei Popoli, VIS Albania, and COSV – Cooperazione per lo Sviluppo.