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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Moldova

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Moldova, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3b30.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

The Republic of Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Most of the Republic was part of Romania between 1918 and 1940, and the majority of its population is Romanian-speaking.

The President, Mircea Snegur, was elected by Parliament in July 1990 and, seeking a stronger mandate, in direct elections in December 1991. Although opposition candidates withdrew and called for a boycott, Snegur won an overwhelming victory, which was interpreted as a show of support for an independent Moldova. The Government has not been able to assemble a working majority in Parliament. The Prime Minister is a leader of the Agrarians, the largest single group in Parliament. The numerous other parliamentary groups include several smaller parties, which support eventual unification with Romania, and a faction that includes mostly Russian-speaking deputies. Early parliamentary elections have been scheduled for February 27, 1994. They were considered necessary to end the parliamentary deadlock which slowed political and economic reform.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has responsibility for the police, while the Ministry of National Security controls the security organs. There are mechanisms to provide for limited parliamentary oversight of the activities of the security organs. The Parliament has the ability to vote the dismissal of employees of the Security or Interior Ministries if employees have not correctly fulfilled their duties or have been involved in illegal activities. In principle, this gives the Parliament a means to affect the activities of the security organs. This power was not exercised in 1993.

Moldova's largely agricultural economy continues to suffer from the problems of privatization and lack of resources. The Government removed most subsidies from food and other products and launched the privatization of housing. The pace of agricultural privatization also accelerated.

As a result of the political deadlock, Moldova did not establish a legal framework to ensure protection for human rights in 1993. Nonetheless, Moldova made steady progress in improving respect for some human rights. Freedom of religion and freedom of movement were respected in practice. Ethnic relations improved as a genuine dialog began among the different groups, although language issues remain a source of tension. Other problem areas include an unreformed legal system that allows pretrial detention as long as 18 months; a judiciary that has yet to establish its independence; an unreformed prison system; instances of custodial abuse; and a significant degree of self-censorship that limits freedom of the press.

Two significant separatist movements within Moldova present problems that remain unresolved. In the Transdniester region, the separatist movement, led by a pro-Soviet group, initially sought independence for the region but has on occasion indicated a willingness to discuss federal or confederal solutions. There are continuing credible reports of human rights abuses in Transdniester, although the scale of serious abuses is much smaller than in 1992. The cease-fire of July 1992, which ended armed conflict between the two sides, was generally observed. Negotiations between Moldovan leaders and representatives of the other separatist movement, that of the Gagauz (Christian Turkic) minority, centered in 1993 on territorial and cultural autonomy, but Parliament rejected territorial autonomy.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Politically motivated killings are not known to have occurred in 1993. Given the heightened tensions in many parts of the country due to the separatist conflicts and deteriorating economic conditions, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has instituted a policy that strongly discourages officers from using firearms in any but the most clearly life-threatening situations. Police recruits are reportedly tested on their ability to refrain from the use of armed force under provocation. There were no known claims of improper use of lethal force by police in 1993.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were no allegations of torture of civil or criminal prisoners by Moldovan authorities in 1993, but there were credible reports that police sometimes beat prisoners in their custody. Prisoners complained of extremely harsh conditions in prisons, including inadequate sanitation, medical care, and food supplies, lack of bedding, and beatings by jailers, coupled with indifference on the part of the authorities to the condition of the prisoners. Prisoners also reported, credibly, that jailers did not intervene to prevent some prisoners from abusing others.

Police beat four ethnic Russians, formerly soldiers in the Russian 14th Army stationed in Moldova, while in custody on charges of car theft.

Independent human rights groups report that allegations that the Transdniester authorities mistreat prisoners are credible. A group of ethnic Romanians (the "Tiraspol Six"), arrested in 1992 and indicted for the assassination of two Transdniester officials, made extensive charges of mistreatment. They charged that during 10 months of pretrial detention they were beaten, subjected to mock executions, drugged, and attacked by dogs. There is special concern about the condition of one of the prisoners, Andrey Ivantoc, who appears to suffer from physical and mental illness requiring medical treatment. The separatist authorities initially refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit these prisoners, and family members and lawyers were often refused access to the prisoners. Once the trial of the prisoners began in April, however, their treatment apparently improved, and they were usually permitted visits by family members and lawyers (see Section 1. e.).

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The former Soviet code on penal procedure remains in force, with some amendments. The prosecutor's office issues arrest warrants. A suspect may be held for 72 hours without charge and is normally allowed family visits during this period. This 72-hour time limit appears to be generally respected. If charged, a suspect may be released pending trial, often with the restriction that he or she not leave town. There is no system of bail, but in some cases a friend or relative, in order to arrange release, may give a written undertaking that the accused will appear for trial.

Suspects accused of violent or serious crimes are generally not released before trial; the prosecutor's office makes this determination without any judicial review. The code permits pretrial detention, at the prosecutor's discretion, for up to 18 months.

In 1992 the Penal Procedure Code was amended to permit suspects earlier access to an attorney. Formerly, an attorney could be present during official questioning only after an arrest or after the prosecution had completed its investigation and forwarded the case to the court. If a suspect were detained and under investigation but not formally arrested, he had no right to have an attorney present. Under the amended provisions, a suspect may have an attorney present during questioning from the moment the prosecutor files an "affidavit of retention," which restricts the suspect's movements without putting him under arrest. If a person is unable to afford a lawyer, one is provided at public expense.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The independence of the judiciary has increased since the dissolution of the Soviet Union; however, there is still no legal framework guaranteeing judicial independence. There are local courts on the city or rayon (district) level, with the Supreme Court acting as an appellate court. The Supreme Court is divided into two sections, one handling civil cases and the other criminal cases. In criminal cases, the defendant by law enjoys a presumption of innocence.

Generally, trials are open to the public. Defendants have the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence. Defense attorneys are able to review the evidence against their clients when preparing their cases. The accused enjoys a right of appeal to the Supreme Court. In a number of cases, decisions of lower courts were overturned on appeal.

Members of the Russian-speaking minority have expressed concern that they have not received equal treatment before the courts. To date, no pattern of discrimination has emerged in the judicial system.

In the area of Moldova not under Transdniestrian control, no prisoners are known to have been convicted or to be serving sentences based on political charges. There have been credible charges, however, that local prosecutors have brought unjustified cases against individuals in retribution for their accusations of official corruption.

In the Transdniester region, the trial of the "Tiraspol Six", ethnic Romanians charged with assassinating two Transdniester officials, began in April, almost 10 months after their arrest. International human rights groups, including the Russian group Memorial, raised serious questions about the fairness of the trial. The legitimacy of the court has also been called into question. Separatist authorities have reportedly harassed and threatened attorneys for the defendants. One lawyer, an ethnic Russian, made a statement in court, protesting the actions taken against her and alleging that local security forces were following her. She withdrew from the trial. In December all the accused were found guilty; the leader of the group was sentenced to death, while several other defendants were sentenced to long prison terms. While the prisoners remained in detention at year's end, the formal sentences, including the death sentence, had not been carried out.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

According to the 1990 law on the police, the prosecutor's office issues search warrants. There have been instances when searches were conducted without warrants, and courts do not exclude evidence that was illegally obtained. There is no judicial review of warrants.

Some government critics claimed that they were followed by security forces and harassed. It was widely believed that the security forces continued to use electronic monitoring of residences and telephones in some cases, although evidence of such activities was lacking. By law, the prosecutor's office must authorize wiretaps and may do so only if a criminal investigation is under way. In practice, the prosecutor's office lacks the ability to control and check the security organs and police to prevent them from using wiretaps illegally.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Government did not actively repress freedom of speech and press during the year. Political parties and other groups published their own newspapers and freely criticized the Government. However, freedom of the press was limited by the lack of independent news media, especially broadcast media. The Government controls radio and television, and official or quasi-official entities such as government departments or Parliament own most of the major newspapers, resulting in significant self-censorship. Some writers report, for example, that editors encouraged them to mute criticism of individual political leaders or to cite the "authorities" rather than individual officials by name.

Sfatul Tarii, the parliamentary Romanian-language daily, ceased publication when Parliament cut off most of its funding. Parliamentary leaders claimed that they could not support two newspapers (the other is the Russian-language Independent Moldova). Editors of Sfatul Tarii charged that its funding was cut because of its criticism of the Government.

The Government does not restrict foreign publications. Newspapers from Russia are widely available in Moldovan cities. Those from Romania are available but are expensive and generally more difficult to obtain. Newspapers published by the separatist forces are not available in the rest of Moldova, although they arrive by mail without apparent interference. On the other hand, Romanian-language Moldovan newspapers are increasingly available in the separatist Transdniester region.

The Government controls radio and television. In the Transdniestrian area, the authorities continue to ban Moldovan radio and television. Moldova receives television broadcasts from Romania and from Russia.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right to peaceful assembly is protected by law. Permits for demonstrations are generally issued by the mayor's office, which may consult the national Government if the demonstration is likely to be extremely large.

There were few demonstrations in 1993; all were allowed to take place without police interference, although a large police contingent was occasionally deployed to protect the targets of demonstrations, such as the President's office. In a few cases, permits were denied for demonstrations, but no action was taken to interfere when demonstrations occurred anyway.

Private organizations, including political parties, are required to register, but applications appear to be handled routinely.

The Presidium of the Parliament ended the ban on the Communist Party.

c. Freedom of Religion

The practice of religion is generally free in Moldova. Parliament passed a law on religion in 1992 which codified religious freedoms, although it contained restrictions that could inhibit the activities of some religious groups.

The law guarantees freedom of religious practice, including each person's right to profess his religion in any form. It also provides for alternative military service for conscientious objectors, protects the secrets of the confessional, allows denominations to establish associations and foundations, and states that the Government may not interfere in the religious activities of denominations.

The law, however, also requires that religious groups be recognized by the Government in order to function and that denominations obtain specific government approval to hire noncitizens. The law also prohibits proselytizing. In practice, street preaching and the holding of religious revivals have flourished, although there were unconfirmed reports of police preventing street preaching in some cases. Some Protestant denominations are concerned that the prohibition on proselytism could inhibit their activities. In addition, Parliament did not issue implementing regulations that provided a legal definition of proselytizing, leaving open the possibility of abuse. To date, no legal actions are known to have been taken against individuals for proselytizing, despite a substantial amount of such activity.

Although the Orthodox Church was not designated as the official religion of Moldova in the law on religion, it continued to be the strongest religious force and exerted significant influence. In December 1992, a group of (primarily ethnic Romanian) priests broke off from the Moldovan Orthodox Church, which is under the authority of the Patriarch of Moscow, and received recognition by the Romanian Orthodox Synod as a metropolitanate within the Romanian Orthodox Church. Some Moldovan congregations have chosen to join them. The Government, however, has not registered the new group, which advocates the union of Moldova with Romania. Priests who have joined the "Metropolitanate of Bessarabia-Old Style," as it is called, have made credible allegations that local authorities have sometimes harassed them. They also allege that priests remaining with the Russian Orthodox group have threatened and harassed them and their congregations, while local police have taken no action. Although the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs has supported the request of the metropolitanate to be registered, many high government officials appear to favor the Russian Orthodox group and to support the eventual creation of a single Moldovan Orthodox Church, independent of both Russia and Romania.

Protestant groups have increased their ties with coreligionists abroad; foreign missionaries are established in Moldova and maintain regular contacts with their missions.

The Jewish community, although small, increased its activities in 1993, and Jewish leaders report that their relations with the Government and local authorities are cooperative. Although there were occasional appearances of anti-Semitic graffiti, there was no organized anti-Semitism.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no closed areas or restrictions on travel within Moldova. Moldovans generally were able to travel and emigrate freely in 1993. While Soviet legislation is still in effect, exit visas, which are still required, are routinely issued with passports. Restrictions on emigration remain in force, including the requirement to gain the permission of close relatives in order to emigrate. One Moldovan citizen was initially denied the right to emigrate because she could not produce evidence of the concurrence of her father, who had left the family following a divorce, had not had any contact with the daughter for years, and was believed to have left Moldova. She was eventually granted permission to emigrate. At least one applicant was denied exit permission because he had access to state secrets. Such cases are, however, rare.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Parliamentary elections in 1990 and presidential elections in 1991 were Moldova's first steps toward permitting a fully functioning democratic system that would allow citizens to change their government.

As a result of frustration with the difficulties experienced by Parliament in resolving the most pressing problems facing Moldova, a group of deputies, supported by the parliamentary leadership and the President, has called for new elections in advance of the end of Parliament's term in 1995. They began a boycott of Parliament in September in order to force early elections, which were finally set for February 27, 1994. Parliament asked international groups to provide technical assistance for evaluation of the electoral laws, training of poll watchers, and civic education.

The electoral law adopted in October provides for elections on a multiparty basis. New presidential elections were also being considered. These new elections will be the first opportunity for the citizens to demonstrate their ability to effect a substantial change in their government.

There are no restrictions, in law or practice, on the participation of women in politics or government. Women are increasingly represented in important positions in ministries, including one Cabinet-level official. Women are also reasonably well represented in the judiciary. There are few women in leading positions in political parties, although a women's party will field a slate of candidates in the February elections. About 3 percent of parliamentary seats were held by women in 1993.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A local human rights group, Helsinki Watch, was formed in 1993 and operated without governmental interference. While it focused primarily on abuses in the Transdniester region by the separatist authorities, it increased its contacts with other groups and began to examine more controversial human rights issues, including minority issues.

Several international human rights groups were active during 1993, with the Government generally receptive to their activities. Parliament sent draft legislation to the American Helsinki Watch, the Council of Europe, and other international organizations for expert evaluation.

The Government welcomed and supported the work of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which has a mission in the country to assist with finding a resolution for the separatist conflict. In January 1993, the Government requested the CSCE to send a mission of experts to investigate and provide advice on current Moldovan legislation and "implementation of minority rights and interethnic relations." In response, the CSCE's Office of Democratic Initiatives and Human Rights (ODIHR) sent a team of experts to Chisinau from January 31 to February 4.

The Transdniester separatist authorities stated that they will cooperate with the CSCE mission. However, on several occasions mission members were impeded from traveling freely in the separatist region or threatened by militia or paramilitary forces.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Women

Theoretically, women enjoy equal rights under the law. However, women are generally underrepresented in government and leadership positions and, according to statistics, have been disproportionately affected by growing unemployment. Several women's organizations are active politically and in charitable work.

Women who suffer physical abuse by their husbands have the right to press charges; prison sentences may be given to husbands convicted of such abuse (up to 6 months is not uncommon). Public awareness of the problem of violence in families generally is not very high, and no special government programs exist to combat spouse abuse.

According to knowledgeable sources, women do not generally appeal to police or the courts for protection against abusive spouses because they are embarrassed to do so. Police generally do not consider spouse abuse a serious crime, although, when cases do reach the court, they appear to be treated seriously. Spouse abuse is not identified by women or legal authorities as a common problem.

Children

Moldova has extensive legislation designed to protect children, including extended paid maternity leave and government supplementary payments for families with many children. The health system devotes extensive resources to vaccination programs and child care. No special problems with child abuse were reported in 1993.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Moldova's citizenship law, adopted in 1990, offered an equal opportunity to all persons resident in Moldova at the time of independence to adopt Moldovan citizenship. The CSCE's ODIHR praised the law as being very liberal. The law does not, however, permit dual citizenship except on the basis of bilateral agreement. No such agreements were in effect in 1993.

Moldova has a population of about 4.3 million, of which 65 percent are ethnic Romanians (also called Moldovans). Ukrainians (14 percent) and Russians (13 percent) are the two largest minority groups. A Christian Turkic minority, the Gagauz, lives primarily in the southern regions. They are largely Russian -speaking and represent about 3.5 percent of the population. Bulgarians, also mostly Russian speakers, represent about 2 percent of the population. About 600,000 people (14 percent of the total population) live in the Transdniester region, currently controlled by separatist forces. In this region, about 60 percent of the population is Slavic-speaking and 40 percent ethnic Romanian.

While some groups within Moldova continue to advocate unification with Romania, this idea has generally lost popularity over the past several years. This, in turn, has led to some improvements in the relations between Romanian speakers and Russian speakers. The latter express serious concern about the situation of Russian speakers if unification were to take place. The leadership of the separatist "Transdniester Moldovan Republic" sought to capitalize on fears of discrimination to gain support from the majority Russophone population of the region.

Although the two sides held negotiations on several levels during 1993, they made little progress. In January an "experts commission," including officials of both sides, agreed on a set of basic principles to guide the negotiations; however, the Transdniester "Supreme Soviet" subsequently rejected these principles. In November a bipartite commission was formed with the participation of a Russian mediator. No results from this effort were reached by year's end.

In the south, an autonomous Gagauz republic was also proclaimed in 1990. Although no solution to the conflict with the Gagauz region has yet been found, serious negotiations took place during 1993. The Government and parliamentary leadership proposed a draft law which gained the concurrence of much of the Gagauz leadership. It would have permitted significant territorial and cultural autonomy and would have allowed the Gagauz area to withdraw from Moldova if Moldova united with Romania. Parliament, however, rejected this version and prepared its own proposal, which was sent to the Council of Europe for expert evaluation. This version provides for significant cultural autonomy but does not give the Gagauz the right to leave Moldova if unification occurs. The draft had not been voted on by the end of the year.

Language issues remain a source of tension. Before 1989, Russian was the dominant language in Moldova. Moldovans were forced to use the Cyrillic alphabet to write "Moldovan," which was officially declared to be a different language from Romanian, although they are in fact the same language. In

August 1989, the then Supreme Soviet of Moldova adopted a law making Moldovan (Romanian) the official language of the Republic and replacing the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin. Although the law contains significant protection for the use of Russian and other languages, it is widely criticized by Russian speakers, who fear that its real intent is to drive Russian speakers from the country.

The principle inherent in the language law is that, in dealing with any official or commercial entity, the citizen should pick the language to use and the entity should be in a position to accommodate him. Officials and employees are therefore obligated to know Romanian and Russian (and Gagauz, in the Gagauz regions) "to the degree necessary to fulfill their professional obligations." State enterprises, however, are expected to use Romanian as their working language, unless their local authorities obtain approval from the Government to use Russian or another local language (e.g., Gagauz). The law sets a deadline of January 1, 1994, for beginning to implement these requirements. Implementation of language testing to determine whether employees have reached the necessary levels of proficiency in the official language, however, was postponed to April 1994 by Parliament.

Russian speakers have criticized the Government for failing to provide sufficient support to those who want to learn Romanian. Officials note that they have tried to improve the assistance offered (usually to study groups in the workplace), but that requests for teachers and manuals have declined.

Moldova continues to offer Russian-language education through university level, although the number of places for Russian-speaking students has declined. The shortage of buildings for elementary and high schools contributes to the friction surrounding this issue. Education officials state that Russian will continue to be studied at all schools and that Romanian instruction in Russian-language schools will be improved. Although there is broad acceptance for continuing minority language education on the grade school level, there is less support for maintaining Russian-language sections in all disciplines at the state university.

In the Transdniester region, the separatist authorities have decreed that all schools must return to using the Cyrillic alphabet for the "Moldovan" language, which they insist is a different language from Romanian. Authorities have intensified efforts, begun last year, to confiscate textbooks in Romanian and have dismissed or threatened to dismiss teachers who oppose this policy. A number of students and teachers have protested, including by boycotting classes.

People with Disabilities

While there is no legal discrimination against people with disabilities, there are no laws providing for accessibility for them, and there are few government resources devoted to training people with disabilities. The Government does provide tax advantages to charitable groups that assist the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1990 Soviet law on trade unions, which was endorsed by Moldova's then Supreme Soviet and is still in effect, provides for independent trade unions. Moldovan parliamentary decisions in 1989 and 1991, which give citizens the right to form all kinds of social organizations, also provide a legal basis for the formation of independent unions. However, there have been no known attempts to establish alternate trade union structures independent of the successor to the previously existing official organizations which were part of the Soviet trade union system.

The successor organization, which at the republic level is called the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Moldova (FITU), broke with the Moscow-based General Confederation of Trade Unions in 1992. The FITU's continuing role in managing the state insurance system and its retention of previously existing official union headquarters and tourist facilities provide an inherent advantage over any newcomers who might wish to form a union outside its structure. However, its industrial or branch unions are developing as more independent entities, maintaining that their membership in the FITU is voluntary and that they can withdraw if they wish. Several threatened to withdraw in 1992 in a successful effort to block the election of a former Communist party secretary to its presidency.

The FITU has insisted on the right to have union representatives involved in the negotiations to set the minimum wage. It has opposed government measures to raise prices before back salaries were paid. In these matters, it has begun to leave behind its role as an accessory of the Communist party and to work on securing better treatment for workers.

Government workers do not have the right to strike, nor do those in essential services such as health care and energy. Other unions may strike if two-thirds of their members vote for a strike in a secret ballot. There was a 1-day strike by trolleybus drivers in November. The Government considered this strike by public workers illegal. The strike ended after the Government offered a small wage increase and pledged to discuss working conditions.

Unions may affiliate and maintain contacts with international organizations.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Moldovan labor law, which is still based on former Soviet legislation, provides for collective bargaining rights, but collective bargaining is only just beginning. There were no known collective bargaining agreements in 1993.

There were no reports of actions taken against union members for union activities. The 1990 Soviet law on trade unions provides that union leaders may not be fired from their jobs while in leadership positions or for a period after they leave those positions. This law has not been tested in Moldova. There are no export processing zones in Moldova.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is not specifically prohibited; there were no instances reported.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment under unrestricted conditions is 18. Employment of those aged 16 to 18 is permitted under special conditions, including shorter workdays, no night shifts, and longer vacations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is primarily responsible for enforcing these restrictions, and the Ministry of Health also has a role. Child labor is not used in Moldovan industry, though children living on farms do sometimes assist in the agricultural sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage, although it was more than tripled during the year, did not keep pace with inflation. It does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. At the end of November, the minimum monthly wage was about $3 (10,000 rubles, or 10 Moldovan lei in the new currency introduced then). The Labor Code establishes a workweek of 41 hours, including at least 1 day off weekly.

The State is required to set and check safety standards in the workplace. The unions within the FITU also have inspection personnel who have a right to stop work in the factory or fine the enterprise if safety standards are not met. In practice, however, the declining economic situation has led enterprises to economize on safety equipment and generally to show less concern for worker safety issues.

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