U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Moldova

MOLDOVA   Moldova gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994 it adopted a Constitution which provides for a multiparty, representative government with power divided among a president, cabinet, parliament, and judiciary. Multiparty elections were held in February 1994; independent observers considered them generally free and fair. The Democratic Agrarian Party achieved a majority and formed a new government with Andrei Sangheli as Prime Minister, a post he has held since 1992. The Democratic Agrarian Party lost its majority in August when 11 of its members joined a new party formed by President Mircea Snegur, the Party of Renewal and Conciliation. The alliance of the Socialist Party and the Movement for Equal Rights (Unitatea-Edinstvo) generally has voted with the Democratic Agrarian Party. Moldova remains divided, with mostly Slavic separatists controlling the Transdniester region. This separatist movement, though unwilling to accept the political and economic implications of Moldovan independence, has entered negotiations with the Government on the possibility of a special political status for the region. Progress was blocked, however, by the separatists' demands for "statehood" and the creation of a confederation of two equal states. The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Russian Federation act as mediators and were joined by Ukraine this year. Transdniester authorities continued to commit human rights abuses. The two sides have generally observed the cease-fire of July 1992, which ended armed conflict between them. The Modovan Government successfully resolved a conflict involving a separatist movement led by the Gagauz (Christian Turkic) minority in the southern part of the country by granting the region local autonomy. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has responsibility for the police. The Ministry of National Security controls the other security organizations. The Constitution assigns to Parliament the authority to investigate the activities of these ministries to ensure they comply with legislation in effect, and Parliament has excercised this authority on several occasions. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. Moldova continued to make progress in economic reform. A privatization program based on vouchers issued to all citizens is virtually complete. However, the economy is largely based on agriculture, and agricultural privatization continues to lag behind. In February Parliament passed a law slowing the conversion of land belonging to agricultural collectives into private property. Approximately 75 percent of collective farms have become joint stock companies, with shares being issued to collective farmers. Some 27,000 Moldovans registered as private farmers but the total number of private farmers is estimated to be from 47,000 to 50,000. The per capita gross domestic product is $367. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, however, there were problems in some areas. The police occasionally beat some detainees and prisoners. The new Constitution improved protection for basic human rights but incorporated language potentially limiting the activities of political parties and the press, especially Article 32, which forbids "contesting or defaming the State and the people," and Article 41, which declares unconstitutional parties that militate against the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Moldova. Addressing a minority concern, the new Constitution provides parents with the right to choose the language of education for their children. A 1995 judicial reform created a Constitutional Court and a system of appellate courts; however, the appellate court system is not yet in place. Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the prosecutor's office still has undue influence over the judiciary. Security forces monitor political opposition members and use unauthorized wiretaps.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no verified reports of politically motivated killings either in Moldova or its separatist region. Information from the Transdniester region is, however, limited. In September Moldovan authorities claimed that, since the beginning of the year 459 victims of violence have been buried in unmarked graves in a cemetery in Tiraspol, the capital of the separatist region.

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, but there were credible reports that police sometimes beat prisoners or suspects. Conditions are harsh in most prisons. They are especially harsh in prisons used to hold people awaiting trial or sentencing. These prisons especially suffer from overcrowding, bad ventilation, and a lack of recreational and rehabilitation facilities. Conditions for those serving sentences are only marginally better. Jailers sometimes tolerate prisoners abusing other prisoners and occasionally beat prisoners themselves, ostensibly for disciplinary reasons. Following a recommendation by the Council of Europe, responsibility for prisons is being transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice. In the Transdniester region, four Moldovans, whose trial was criticized by international human rights organizations as flawed, are still serving their sentences. They have been allowed regular access to their families. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which visited these prisoners, on two occasions (1992 and 1993) in Tiraspol, was denied the possibility to repeat such visits despite numerous representations, most recently in July, to the Tiraspol authorities. However, the local Helsinki Watch chapter was able to visit one of the prisoners in March. In September a group of Moldovan doctors was allowed to examine all four prisoners. The doctors found that three of the four were debilitated enough for them to recommend that they be hospitalized. They noted that the prisoners' refusal to accept medication apart from that brought to them by their families may have contributed to their decline.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The former Soviet Code on Penal Procedure remains in force with some amendments. Prosecutors issue arrest warrants. Under the new Constitution, a suspect may be detained without charge for 24 hours. The suspect is normally allowed family visits during this period. The 24-hour time limit appeared to be generally respected. If charged, a suspect may be released pending trial. 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 new Constitution permits pretrial arrest for an initial period of 30 days, which may be extended to 6 months. The accused has the right under the new Constitution to a hearing before a court regarding the legality of his arrest. In exceptional cases, Parliament may approve extension of pretrial detention on an individual basis up to 12 months. According to figures of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 9,985 people are in detention in facilities designed to hold 12,400. However, foreign diplomats who visited one detention facility believed it to be overcrowded. According to the new Constitution, a detained person must be informed immediately of the reason for his arrest, and he must be made aware of charges against him "as quickly as possible." The accused is provided the right to a defense attorney throughout the entire process, and the attorney must be present when the charges are brought. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the State will provide one. In practice, the State sometimes impedes access to lawyers or provides a lawyer who is less than competent or energetic.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The independence of the judiciary has increased since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Constitution provides that the President, on the nomination of an expert judicial body, the Superior Council of Magistrates, appoints judges for an initial period of 5 years. They may be reappointed for a subsequent 10 years, after which they serve until retirement age. This provision for judicial tenure is designed to increase judicial independence. The 1995 judicial reforms approved by Parliament were not fully implemented. The reforms created a Constitutional Court to deal with constitutional issues and a system of appeals courts. The reforms call for district courts of the first instance and three regional appeals courts or courts of the second instance. There will be a higher appeals court as well as the final court of appeal, the Supreme Court. But staffs for the appeals courts have not been named nor facilities provided. The Supreme Court supervises and reviews the activities of the lower courts. By law, defendants in criminal cases are presumed innocent. In practice, prosecutors' recommendations still carry considerable weight and limit defendants' right to 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 to appeal to a higher court (currently the Supreme Court). In a number of cases, decisions of the lower court were overturned on appeal. To date, no pattern of discrimination has emerged in the judicial system. The new Constitution provides for the right of the accused to have an interpreter both at the trial and in reviewing the documents in the case. If the majority of participants agree, trials may take place in Russian or another acceptable language instead of Romanian/Moldovan. There continue to be credible reports that local prosecutors occasionally bring unjustified charges against individuals in retribution for accusations of official corruption or for political reasons. Prosecutors occasionally use bureaucratic maneuvers to restrict lawyers' access to clients. In the Transdniester region, four Moldovans, members of the "Tiraspol Six," remain in prison following their conviction in 1993 for allegedly assassinating two separatist officials. International human rights groups raised serious questions about the fairness of the trial, and local organizations alleged that the Moldovans were prosecuted for political reasons, solely because of their membership in the Christian Democratic Popular Front, a Moldovan party that favors reunification with Romania (see Section 1.c.).

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

Prosecutors may issue search warrants. In some instances, searches are conducted without warrants. Courts do not exclude evidence that was illegally obtained. There is no judicial review of search warrants. The Constitution specifies that searches must be carried out "in accordance with law" but does not specify the consequences if the law is not respected. It also forbids searches at night, except in the case of flagrant crime. It is widely believed that the security forces continued to use electronic monitoring of residences and telephones of opponents of the Government. 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 the security organizations and police and prevent them from using wiretaps illegally.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and the press, although with some restrictions. The Government does not abridge freedom of speech, and the print media express a wide variety of political views and commentary. National and city governments own a number of newspapers, but political parties and professional organizations, including trade unions, also publish newspapers. Several independent radio stations broadcast in Moldova, including at least one religiously oriented station. An independent television station started broadcasting in August. The independent media outlets maintain news staffs and conduct a number of public interest programs. The Government owns and operates a television channel and several of the major radio stations. The press law retains language (after some modification as a result of recommendations made by the Council of Europe and the OSCE) that forbids "contesting or defaming the State or the people." These restrictions are also contained in the new Constitution. They appear to be aimed at journalists publishing material in favor of reunification with Romania and questioning the legal right of the Republic of Moldova to exist. The Government does not restrict foreign publications. Western publications do not circulate widely since they are very expensive by local standards. Romanian and Russian publications also have become difficult to obtain due to their expense. Moldova receives television and radio broadcasts from Romania and Russia. Cable subscribers receive the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Super Channel, Euro-News, and a number of entertainment networks. In the Transdniester, print media, with the exception of a paper published by local Russian army units, are controlled by the local authorities. The one independent cable television station is under pressure from the authorities. Most Moldovan papers do not circulate in the Transdniester. A few copies of the Moldovan government paper and a paper sponsored by the ruling Democratic-Agrarian party do circulate there, but in extremely limited fashion. Circulation of all print media in Transdniester is greatly limited by the local economic crisis, which is more severe than in the rest of Moldova.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the right to peaceful assembly. The mayor's office generally issues permits for demonstrations; it may consult the national Government if the demonstration is likely to be extremely large. During the late summer, the Chisinau city government closed the large central square in front of the government buildings. The square was the site of major demonstrations for sovereignty in late perestroika times and is still the most popular place in the country for demonstrations. The city claimed that it was necessary to turn the square into a parking lot. It was forced to rescind its decision after a few weeks because of extensive public criticism. Nonetheless, permits are often issued for a nearby park or other central locations rather than the central square. Private organizations, including political parties are required to register, but applications are approved routinely.

c. Freedom of Religion

The practice of religion generally is free. 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 provides for 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 register with the Government in order to function and that denominations obtain specific government approval to hire noncitizens. The law also prohibits proselytizing. Some Protestant denominations are concerned that the prohibition on proselytizing could inhibit their activities, although many denominations hold large revival meetings apparently without official interference. To date, the authorities have taken no legal action against individuals for proselytizing. Protestant groups have increased their ties with coreligionists abroad; foreign missionaries are also established in Moldova. About 20 denominations are registered and active in Moldova, including Baha'i, followers of Krishna, and Jehovah's Witnesses. These groups had been denied registration in the past. A Protestant sect and the Salvation Army, however, have not been able to register as religious denominations because they do not meet the requirement of having a Moldovan citizen as the organization's legal head. Although Eastern Orthodoxy is not designated in the law on religion as the official religion of Moldova, it continued to be the strongest religious force and exerted significant influence. The Metropolitanate broke away from the Moldovan Orthodox Church, which is under the authority of the Patriarch of Moscow, to adhere to the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992. The Government has consistently refused to register the church, citing unresolved problems connected to the new church's property claims as the principal reason it will not register the group. In September a district court ruled that the Government's refusal to register the "Metropolitanate of Bessarabia--old style" was illegal. The Government is appealing the case. Harassment of the Metropolitanate by local authorities and priests of the Moldovan Orthodox Church virtually ceased this year. Officials of the Metropolitanate attribute this decrease to the support of international organizations and Western governments. The Jewish community, although small, is very active. Jewish leaders report that their relations with the Government and local authorities are cooperative. A Jewish secondary school was opened in September.

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 are able to travel freely, however there are some restrictions on emigration. Close relatives with a claim to support from the applicant must give their concurrence. The Government may also deny permission to emigrate if the applicant had access to state secrets. Such cases, however, are very rare, and none were reported in 1995.

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

Moldova held its first multiparty parliamentary elections in February 1994. International monitors from OSCE member countries observing the elections deemed them generally free and fair. Some observers, however, noted several problem areas, including unequal access to the media and the use of state resources by the dominant party. The elections were based on straight proportional representation, with a 4-percent threshold for entry into Parliament. Four parties or blocs entered Parliament. The Democratic Agrarian Party, the largest bloc in the former Parliament, won 56 of the 104 seats. The Socialist/Unity Bloc won 28 seats and usually votes with the Agrarians. In August eleven Agrarian deputies left the ruling party (one later returned) to join a new political party, the Party of Renewal and Conciliation, founded by President Snegur. The Democratic Agrarian Party then expelled three of the defectors from their parliamentary posts. The Constitutional Court overturned the expulsion, saying that Parliament had not followed its own procedures in expelling them. Parliament accepted the decision, thus averting a constitutional crisis, and reinstated the deputies briefly to their posts. Parliament then expelled the defectors from their posts again, this time following its prescribed procedures. Other seats are held by the Peasants and Intellectuals Bloc and the Christian Democratic Popular Front. These groups emphasize the importance of increased use of the Romanian language in public life, closer economic and cultural ties with Romania, and increased privatization of agricultural land. Some members of these groups advocate reunification with neighboring Romania. The new Constitution provides for the division of power between the popularly elected President, the Cabinet, the Parliament, and the judiciary. The President, as Head of State, in consultation with the Parliament, appoints the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, who functions as the Head of Government. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place every 4 years, as are presidential elections. The Constitution states that citizens are free to form parties and other social-political organizations. A controversial article states, however, that those organizations that "militate against political pluralism, the principles of the rule of law, or of the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, are unconstitutional." Opposition parties, some of which favor rapid or eventual reunification with neighboring Romania, have charged that this provision is intended to impede their political activities. There are no restrictions in law or practice barring the participation of women or minorities in political life. But women generally are underrepresented in leading positions of political parties. Women hold only 5 of the 104 parliamentary seats. The Association of Moldovan Women, a social-political organization, competed in the 1994 elections but received less than 3 percent of the vote. Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Gagauz minorities are represented in Parliament; debate takes place in either the Romanian/Moldovan or Russian language, with translation provided.

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

Several local human rights groups exist. The local Helsinki Watch organization maintains contacts with international human rights organizations, as does the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, whose President is the Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission and leader of the minority rights movement Unity. Human rights groups operate without government interference. The Government has welcomed and supported the work of the OSCE, which has had a mission in the country since 1993 to assist with finding a resolution for the separatist conflict. The Transdniester separatist authorities have always stated that they would cooperate with the OSCE mission, but only permitted its representatives to participate in all meetings of the joint commission this year after more than 2 years of negotiations. The commission, composed of Russian, Moldovan, Ukrainian and Transdniester members, reviews violations of the cease-fire agreement. Previously, the commission had agreed to allow the OSCE to participate in only about half the meetings. The mission now enjoys full, though unofficial, access to the "security zone" along the river dividing the separatist- controlled territory from the rest of Moldova. Moldova has cooperated with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the past, permitting visits to prisoners from the 1992 conflict (since released). Transdniester separist authorities did not allow the ICRC access to the members of the "Ilascu Six" currently serving their sentences since 1993. Such visits took place in 1992 and 1993, but were suspended at the end of 1993, because the ICRC was not allowed to make them in conformity with its standard modalities.

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

Article 16 of the Constitution says that all persons are equal before the law regardless of race, sex, disability, religion, language, or social origin. There are remedies, such as court orders for redress of grievances, but these are not always enforced.


Women who suffer physical abuse by their husbands have the right to press charges; husbands convicted of such abuse may receive prison sentences (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 a court, they appear to be treated seriously. Women and legal authorities report that spouse abuse is not widespread. Through November the Ministry of Internal Affairs recorded 220 cases of rape or attempted rape. The law provides that women shall be equal to men. However, according to statistics, women have been disproportionately affected by growing unemployment. By law, women are paid the same as men for the same work. Though still victimized by societal discrimination, anecdotal evidence suggests women are now more employable than men (more flexible, better workers), and are working now in order to make ends meet. There are a significant number of women managers in the public sector.


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 child care. No special problems concerning child abuse came to light in 1995.

People with Disabilities

There is no legal discrimination against people with disabilities. However, there are no laws providing for accessibility to buildings, 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.

Religious Minorities

Drunks vandalized 40 headstones in the Jewish cemetary in one incident in Chisinau in May; police reacted quickly, arresting and jailing the perpetrators. In Bender, largely controlled by separatists, several Jews were reportedly beaten. Local Jewish leaders do not view either incident as part of a pattern of anti-Semitism.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Moldova has a population of about 4.3 million, of which 65 percent are ethnic Romanian Moldovans. Ukrainians (14 percent) and Russians (13 percent) are the two largest minorities. 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. 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 OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights praised the law as being very liberal. The law permits dual citizenship on the basis of a bilateral agreement, but no such agreements were in effect. In 1994 the Parliament voted to delay until 1997 the implementation of the language testing foreseen in the language law of 1989 and due to begin in 1994. The principle inherent in the language law is that, in dealing with any official or commercial entity, the citizen should be able to choose the language to use. Officials are therefore obligated to know Russian and Romanian/Moldovan "to the degree necessary to fulfill their professional obligations." Since many Russian- speakers do not speak Romanian/Moldovan (while all educated Moldovans speak both languages), they argued for a delay in the implementation of the law to permit more time to learn the language. Parliament also decided to review the procedures for testing and the categories of individuals to be tested. The Constitution provides parents with the right to choose the language of instruction for their children. In the separatist region, however, discrimination against Romanian/Moldovan-speakers continues. In most areas of the separatist region, Moldovan schools must use the Cyrillic alphabet when teaching Romanian. (The Cyrillic script was used to write the Romanian language in Moldova until 1989, since "Moldovan," as it was then called, was officially decreed during the Soviet era to be a different language than Romanian, which is written in the Latin alphabet. The 1989 Language Law reinstituted the use of the Latin script.) A few schools finally obtained permission to use the Latin alphabet, but this permission is now being rescinded. Many teachers, parents, and students objected to the use of the Cyrillic script to teach Romanian. They believe that it disadvantages the children for higher education opportunities in the rest of Moldova or even Romania. They further object since it is a return to one of the more oppressive and despised policies of the pre-Gorbachev era.

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 laws passed 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. The new Constitution further declares that any employee may found a union or join a union which defends workers' interests. 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 is the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITU). FITU's continuing role in managing the state insurance system and its retention of previously existing official union headquarters and vacation 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 becoming more independent entities; they maintain that their membership in FITU is voluntary and that they can withdraw if they wish. Virtually all employed adults are members of a union. 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 the members vote for a strike in a secret ballot. There were several labor actions for payment of back wages, including a number of strikes by teachers in various parts of the country. High hidden and official unemployment made workers concerned about job security. Unions may affiliate and maintain contacts with international organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Moldovan law, which is still based on former Soviet legislation, provides for collective bargaining rights. However, wages are set through a tripartite negotiation process involving government, management, and unions. On the national level, the three parties meet and negotiate national minimum wages for all categories of workers. Then, each of the branch unions representing a particular industry negotiates with management and the government ministries responsible for that industry. They may set wages higher than the minimum set on the national level and often do, especially if the industry in question is more profitable than average. Finally, on the enterprise level, union and management representatives negotiate directly on wages. Again, they may set wages higher than negotiators on the previous level. 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.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The new Constitution prohibits forced labor, and no instances of it were reported.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment under unrestricted conditions is 18 years. Employment of those ages 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, although children living on farms do sometimes assist in the agricultural sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The current minimum monthly wage is $20.50 (90.3 Moldovan lei). The average wage of $30.50 (138.2 Moldovan lei) does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The new Constitution sets the maximum workweek at 40 hours, and the Labor Code provides for at least 1 day off per week. Due to severe budgetary constraints, the Government and enterprises often did not meet the payroll for employees. The State is required to set and check safety standards in the workplace. The unions within 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. Further, workers have the right to refuse to work but may continue to draw their salaries if working conditions represent a serious threat to their health. 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. Workers often do not know their rights in this area.

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