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Victims of Albania Ammunition Blast Win Case at European Court

The European Court of Human Rights, ECHR ruled on Tuesday that 17 victims of an explosion at an ammunition dump in the Albanian town of Gerdec in March 2008 were “deprived of the possibility to participate effectively in the criminal trial” of the country’s defence minister, who was accused of abuse of office over the blast.

The plaintiffs included the parents of Erison Durdaj, aged seven at the time, who was killed in the blast. His cousin, Roxhens Durdaj, then 11, sustained serious burns.

The blast, which killed 26 people, happened while ammunition from the Communist period in Albania was being decommisioned. It was later learned that the work was being done by a private company without the necessary safeguards – one of many corruption scandals that hit the centre-right government of the time.

After the blast, Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu resigned and the ruling coalition’s MPs agreed to vote to have his parliamentary immunity from prosecution lifted.

However, he was re-elected as an MP in 2009 and after that, the High Court dismissed the case, claiming parliament had to vote on removing his immunity again. Prosecutors didn’t press the matter and the case went no further.

This caused the ECHR to rule that the plaintiffs were deprived of their rights to participate in a legal process.

“The national prosecuting authorities had provided no convincing explanations for their failure to resume the investigation immediately after [Mediu’s] re-election as MP, thus raising serious questions as to their willingness and diligence to pursue the matter and creating a potential for impunity,” the ECHR’s ruling said.

“While the court was not taking a stance as to his criminal responsibility, it considered that the applicants as well as the general public had the right to know not only the circumstances in which the Gerdec tragedy had taken place, but also the exact role the former Minister of Defence had played in it,” it added.

Albania reopened the case against Mediu in 2021 and it is still ongoing at the Special Court Against Corruption and Organised Crime.

This is not the first case that victims of the ammunition blast have won at the ECHR. In 2021, the court ruled in favour of a man whose case for compensation was not heard by an Albanian court because he could not pay the required legal costs.

Source : Balkans Insight