Human Rights in Moldova

Updated 17th January 2017

Human Rights in Moldova

Introduction

In recent years there has been some positive developments regarding the human rights situation in Moldova. New legislation and policies have strengthened protection against discrimination and facilitated the promotion of freedom of expression. However, significant human rights issues still persist; lack of fair trials, inadequate conditions in prisons, hate speech, violence against women, people trafficking, the marginalisation of the Roma community and harassment of LGBT people. In the breakaway territory of Transnistria, human rights abuses are grave. Torture, arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions are widespread. Freedom of expression and association is tightly controlled and independent voices against the regime are suppressed.

The Situation for Human Rights Defenders in the country

Throughout the past several years, human rights defenders in Moldova have faced challenges when it comes to pursuing their advocacy work and fulfilling their roles as watchdogs in society, as a result of the unstable political situation. In general direct security risks are deemed low for civil society; however, activists engaged in promoting minority rights, especially towards the LGBT community, face persecution and threats from extremist groups and harassment from church leaders, while the police are often reluctant to investigate such cases. Transnistria is one of the least accessible territories for human rights defenders, and pressure on organisations defending human rights in Transnistria has intensified further over the past three years. Outspoken grassroots activists face prosecutions, are charged with vigilantism and other crimes. Human rights defenders working with Transnistria encounter harassment, defamation, and pressure from the de facto authorities on a daily basis as a result of their work.

Ten rights in focus

The right to life and physical integrity

Moldovan legislation prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading forms of treatment or punishment. Despite the establishment of the National Preventive Mechanism, there have been reports of violations of the right to life and physical integrity, including those targeting minors, cases of torture, in particular, when obtaining confessions, abuse and even reported cases of suspicious deaths of detainees and prisoners while in custody at detention centres. The law regarding the NPM is vague and does not explicitly frame any working mechanism, structure nor its definite dunction. Cases often remain unsolved or are never thoroughly investigated, especially in Transnistria. Police officers accused of torture or ill treatment are rarely brought to trial or punished for their actions.

Amendments to the Criminal Code seek to improve judicial proceedings in cases of alleged torture or ill treatment. The level of punishment for those found guilty of such crimes has also increased. However, there are reports of numerous inconsistencies in applying sanctions against the perpetrators of such crimes. The situation is especially acute for persons in psychiatric hospitals, who have been exposed to verbal, physical and sexual abuse, deprivation of food and subjected to forced labour. The institution of the Ombudsperson for Psychiatry, has been responsible for monitoring these institutions but is considered ineffective.

The right to liberty and security of person

The situation in most of Moldova’s 17 prisons is poor and inadequate. Despite recent renovations within the prison system, many centres lack adequate structural and sanitary conditions to accommodate the number of persons, especially for those held in pre-trial facilities. Prisoners with infectious diseases are generally not separated from others in the prison population and in many cases do not have adequate access to qualified medical professionals. In general, psychological assistance for prisoners is also unavailable.

For prisoners in Transnistria, the situation is critical. Water is unsanitary and contributes to disease and poor dental health among prisoners. There is no access to qualified medical care; there is a high rate of prison population who suffer from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and dental problems. As a result prisoners are often forced to turn to their families for assistance, who, in turn, seek help from private doctors, placing the burden of costs on relatives.

The right to a fair trial and an effective remedy

Even though Moldovan legislation proclaims the judiciary as a separate and independent branch, providing many guarantees of independence and impartiality, in practice many inconsistencies still remain. Pressure on judges as well as corruption within the system continues to be a serious problem. Credible reports also indicate that local prosecutors and judges have received bribes in return for reducing charges and/or sentences. Problems persist with long-term cases not resolved (statute barred), frequent and unjustified annulments of hearings, the remanding of cases for retrial and non-enforcement of judgments, which further raises concerns over the transparency of the judicial process.

Overall, the system of justice in Moldova is perceived to be biased in relation to such sensitive issues relating to sexual orientation and gender. Several refusals to initiate investigations regarding the violations of LGBT people’s rights and/or to carry those investigations out effectively by the prosecutor’s office have occurred with the latter, claiming a lack of body of crime, reflects the denial in access to justice for LGBT community.

In Transnistria, where trust in the impartiality and competence of the judiciary is at a low ebb, defendants are denied the right to a fair trial within the parallel, de facto judicial system. Violations include a lack of access to legal aid and attorneys are not independent in fulfilling their functions.  The principle of “equality of arms” is not observed, so the defence in general is disadvantaged in comparison to the prosecution. Coupled with a growing number of cases based on fabricated charges, violations of the principle of presumption of innocence, insufficient reviews of evidence and statements, other gross violations of the right to fair trial principles and standards have resulted in a dismal judicial situation in the territory.

Since Transnistria is not recognised as a country and does not adhere to any international human rights obligations people from Transnistria often seek justice within the Moldovan and international judicial systems. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) states that even if Moldova does not execute control over the territory of Transnistria, it has obligations to take steps to ensure protection of people’s rights. Russia has also been found responsible for human rights violations within the territory of Moldova

The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

 There is no state religion in Moldova; however, a 2007 law on Religious Denominations acknowledges the “special significance and primary role” of the Orthodox Church. All religious organisations must be registered by the state, which can potentially lead to arbitrary and prejudicial decision-making during the registration process. Despite some positive changes to legislation, which has eliminated some of the obstacles religious groups have faced when it comes to the registration process, the law still grants such indispensable rights for practicing religion such as building churches, owning land for burials, publishing religious literature etc. only to those groups which are registered as legal entities.

In Transnsistria, freedom of religion is practically non-existent, in as much as there is an overcomplicated procedure of registration of religious groups, which includes a number of additional requirements. In order to be formally registered, religious groups are required to have at least ten members and be active for a minimum of ten years, during which they have limited permission to address the public. Moreover, religious groups can lose their property if they are active without registration. The Transnistrian de facto legislation neither complies with international standards, nor guarantees equality for diverse religious groups.

The right to the freedom of expression

The legal framework is being amended to ensure freedom of expression and civil society is playing a crucial role in advocating for appropriate and necessary improvements to the laws pertaining to free speech and press.

In general, respect for a variety of opinions is not fully protected in society. Political influence in the media makes it difficult for citizens to obtain unbiased information. Policymakers, judges and journalists lack sufficient information on laws pertaining to freedom of expression, which has led to overt political pressure, insufficient application of the laws in court cases, and violations of journalists’ rights. Media legislation has not been adjusted to international standards, and a high media ownership concentration together with a lack of finance makes it extremely difficult for media outlets to carry out their activity impartially.

In the Autonomous Territorial Unit (ATU) of Gagauzia the right is not enforced fully, and it is often impossible to get information in the public interest upon request, nor it is available publicly.

Freedom of expression in Transnistria is very poor and those exercising it independently are often subjected to KGB controls.

An archaic provision has been introduced into Transnistrian Criminal Code on 27 June 2016, punishing any public activities or expressions, including those made online, which show disrespect to Russian armed forces operating in the region. The blatant rule prescribes punishment ranging from a large fine or up to 3-years imprisonment.[1]

The right to freedom of assembly and association

 The right to freedom of assembly is enshrined in the constitution of Republic of Moldova and the situation when it comes to exercising this right in practice has changed for the better. In 2015 and 2016 thousands of people took part in a protest against the Moldovan government, accusing it of failing to implement reforms in order to bring the country closer to the European Union. The country remains divided with regards to closer ties with the EU.

In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the ban on an LGBT march in 2005 violated the rights to freedom of assembly as well as the right of not being discriminated against. As a result, in 2013, the first LGBT Pride March took place in Moldova consisting of approximately 100 participants. The marches in 2014 and 2015 were also considered a success, with more than 150 participants which included ambassadors and representatives from international organisations. However the heavy police presence prevented counter demonstrations from disrupting the marches.

The Moldovan Constitution provides for freedom of association and guarantees that citizens should have the right to form parties and other social and political organisations. The easing of bureaucratic barriers has created a more favorable framework for exercising freedom of association.

However, the situation in Transnistia at this point in time has worsening drastically. The new law on “foreign agents”, which is in its final stage of adoption by the de facto administration in Tiraspol, aims to prosecute any human rights activity. That would permit the authorities to liquidate any unwanted organization. Numerous human rights defenders have also been intimidated and subjected to libel by the local authorities.

NGOs and their members face obstacles in performing their duties. For example Civil Rights Defenders’ partner Promo-LEX is under constant pressure from the de facto authorities and often experiences difficulties as a result of their human rights activities. There are no legal mechanisms in Transnistria to protect civil society interests nor can they receive effective support.

The rights to protection against hate speech and war propaganda

Politicians and religious leaders have been accused of using hate speech in public, drawing widespread attention and condemnation from the international community. Hate speech against LGBT people continues to be a problem in Moldova, emanating from both religious and extremist groups as well as influential politicians. It should also be noted that generally the Moldovan authorities let hate speech offences go unpunished, instead of qualifying them within freedom of speech.Little or no attention was paid to the numerous instances of hate speech emanating from the Orthodox Church, in particular, towards the LGBT-community, which was broadcasted on national TV channels. Both the current Criminal and Administrative Codes of Moldova do not contain a separate offence for hate speech, it is only recognized as an aggravating circumstance by the Criminal Code.

The right to political rights

On March 4, 2016 the Moldovan Constitutional Court in its decision switched the right to elect the President of the Republic of Moldova from the parlamentary supermajority to its citizens. The constitutional review was initiated in response to complaints by the opposition, and new elections took place on October, 30 of the same year. While it has been acknowledged by the OSCE election observation mission that generally the campaigns and voting were conducted in a manner conducive to respecting fundamental rights, still some negative campaign tactics were observed, including sexist language and homophobic rhetoric.

Transnistria held its “presidential elections” in 2016 without the presence of international observers, as the region’s status is not internationally recognised. Political participation in the territory remains tightly controlled by the ruling elite.

The right to protection against discrimination

Generally, Moldova continues to demonstrate its failure in both legislative and practical protection of certain vulnerable minorities, in particular, people belonging to the LGBT community. Despite the newly adopted Law “On Ensuring Equality” that prohibits discrimination on the basis of 11 characteristics, the list of protective criteria however does not encompass such grounds as social origin, material situation, sexual orientation and health status, thus depriving these groups the right to seek redress when it comes to discrimination.

The LGBT community in particular faces discrimination within society. Violations occur mainly in the areas of the right to private life and freedom of assembly and association. Despite the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012, and the adoption of the Law on the Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (2012), thousands of people with disabilities still reside in psychiatric and state care institutions, where they face inhumane conditions, exploitation and abuse. The treatment of persons with disabilities is based on the exclusion of persons with disabilities and not on their integration into society.

Moldovan society is very patriarchal, which results in a high level of discrimination against women leading to a situation where many women face challenges on the labour market, gender-based violence and trafficking. Additionally, reports have revealed practices of coercive sterilisation, affecting particularly women with disabilities, women in rural areas and Roma women.

Due to stigmatisation and exclusion, discrimination against the Roma community is widespread in Moldovan society. Among the myriad of challenges faced by Roma communities are; access to the labour market, housing conditions, political representation and segregation of Roma children in the school system.

The Role of Civil Rights Defenders in Moldova

Since 2004 Civil Rights Defenders has empowered hundreds of human rights defenders in Moldova. We are the only organisation with a solely civil and political rights agenda, whose main objective is to protect and empower human rights defenders. We provide financial and organisational support to human rights organisations operating in Moldova. Over a decade of work in the country has provided a solid foundation for our partnerships and sound credibility among stakeholders.

As a small and flexible organisation, we react quickly to human rights violations; as an international human rights organisation, we provide protection and assistance to human rights defenders in cases of harassment and other problems. In Transnistria, we play an important role as a neutral, apolitical actor in the region, working towards improving the protection of civil and political rights for all Transnistrians. From our extensive work in other repressive and closely- controlled countries, we have knowledge, experience, and best practices to share with human rights defenders in the breakaway territory.

[1] Article at Information Agency ”News of Transnistria” from 29/06/2016 ”The criminal liability for denial of a positive role of Russian peacekeepers in Dniester region”, available at: http://novostipmr.com/ru/news/16-06-29/vvedena-ugolovnaya-otvetstvennost-za-otricanie-polozhitelnoy-roli

 

Categories: Country Reports.
Tags: Country Reports, Human rights, and Moldova.
Regions: Eastern Europe and Moldova.