I am very grateful for the chance to visit the Republic of Moldova last week. During my mission, I paid particular attention to the issues raised by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay during her November 2011 mission to the country. My mission coincided with the mid-point between Moldova’s first and second Universal Periodic Reviews. Also, six months ago Moldova was considered by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It was therefore an opportune moment to take stock of progress made and challenges remaining with regard to Moldova’s international human rights commitments.
During my visit, I have had open and friendly discussions on a range of human rights issues with the President, the Speaker and Members of Parliament, senior Government officials, the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), members of civil society organizations, UN colleagues and others.
I would like to thank the Government for its excellent cooperation during my visit. I very much appreciate the spirit of openness with which I was able to engage in dialogue with the Authorities. Let me share with you some of my impressions from the visit.
Combating Discrimination and Promoting Diversity
I noted with great interest Moldova’s remarkable diversity – ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic – and the need to cultivate this diversity in the interest of strengthening Moldova’s democracy. The principle of non-discrimination and minority rights are central to this effort.
I further noted the progress made in improving the domestic legal framework banning discrimination, as well as the establishment of the Council for Preventing and Combating Discrimination and Ensuring Equality. A number of positive steps have been taken by this body in its first months of existence, including important decisions in individual cases and policy guidance provided to the Parliament on the prosecution of hate crime. I have encouraged the authorities to ensure that the Council is provided with greater enforcement powers, and look forward to full implementation of its decisions. The UN Human Rights Office supports Moldova’s efforts to implement anti-discrimination laws in conformity with international standards. While here, I participated in the launch of an EU-supported action led by our Office, Support for Civil Society in Combating Discrimination.
I reminded the Authorities of the importance of standing firm on the side of equality and inclusivity, and of publicly affirming and acting – both in Moldova and in the international arena – on the right to non-discrimination on all grounds. I also praised Moldova’s efforts to ensure the right to peaceful public assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and groups, and in particular the actions of the Ministry of Interior in providing protection to Chisinau’s first ever Pride event in 2013. We are looking forward to Pride 2014.
I also discussed discrimination facing Roma, noting for example reports of some segregated school environments and the absence of Roma from positions of elected authority in Moldova. I welcomed recent improvements to policies relating to combatting discrimination and exclusion of Roma, while noting that these as yet lack impact in communities. In particular, I urged that the Government make durable progress in desegregating schools and to redouble efforts to protect Roma from all forms of violence. I urged serious attention to all dimensions of Roma inclusion, including gender-related aspects of these issues.
I have also reiterated High Commissioner Pillay’s call to improve efforts to ensure that members of all religious, racial and ethnic groups are better protected in the short and the long term. I further raised the question of tensions over linguistic minorities and continuing sensitivity over the place of the Russian language in public life. I encouraged Moldova to embraces its praiseworthy rich diversity and act to protect the rights of all minorities as a premise for an inclusive, stable society.
Rights of Persons with Physical, Mental, Sensory and Intellectual Disabilities
I praised the adoption in 2012 of the Law on the Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, transposing many aspects of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Moldova ratified in 2010. I visited the Chisinau Psychiatric Hospital and the UN’s extensive work in Moldova on the rights of persons with disabilities. I spoke with a number of the patients there and with hospital staff.
I congratulate the Ministry of Health for its decision last year to orient policy around a move to community-based care, with a view to implementing Article 19 of the CRPD. I discussed the extension of this policy to institutions under the competence of the Ministry of Labour, Social Protection and Family.
I was informed of the Government’s plans to establish formally the pilot Ombudsperson for Psychiatry and to pay for it from the state budget. This measure is as an innovative way to addressing concerns linked to human rights of people in institutions. The Ombudsperson should be given access to all facilities where persons with disabilities are currently institutionalized.
I also was apprised of plans to close the Pavlovca facility as recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. I urged the Government to move forward legal and policy reforms to amend the Civil Code to remove the institution of guardianship and legal incapacitation measures which are very worrying, and to adopt arrangements to better support decision-making by persons with disabilities. I was encouraged to hear that this will take place in 2014. Furthermore, I discussed the importance of including persons with disabilities in decision-making and of the establishment of the independent monitoring body envisioned under Article 33(2) of the CRPD. Everyone must give serious attention to making Moldova a more accessible place for people with disabilities.
Torture and other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment, gender-based violence
I visited Moldova on the fifth anniversary of the events of April 2009, when hundreds of people were physically abused by law enforcement officers during post-electoral unrest. Moldova has been repeatedly urged by the international community and its own civil society to bring to justice those responsible for these abuses. However, it appears that few, if any, perpetrators have been brought to justice. Impunity is a threat to democratic society, tainting the credibility of the prosecution, judiciary and law enforcement. I understand that these concerns are shared broadly in Moldova, and that a hearing was recently convened in Parliament on this issue. At the same time, reports of physical and other forms of abuse in Moldovan penal, police and psychiatric places of detention persist, and arbitrary detention similarly remains of concern. I urge the authorities to strengthen efforts in upholding justice for victims.
Moldova has taken important steps to combat violence against women, including domestic violence, rape and trafficking for sex work. In my discussions with the authorities, I encouraged the adoption of emergency police-issued protection orders for victims of domestic violence to complement the existing system of court-ordered protection. I also urged the revision of prosecutorial guidelines for the investigation of rape. I discussed the need to stop punishing women who sell sex. All CEDAW recommendations should be considered carefully and incorporated into domestic policy.
Engagement with UN Human Rights Mechanisms and National Human Rights Framework
This morning I introduced a global conference convened by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, with the Government and our Office, on following up on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). I welcome plans to provide an interim report to the Human Rights Council on the implementation of Moldova’s UPR recommendations. Good practice involves substantive consultation with civil society on such a report.
Our Office has noted the incorporation of many of the first UPR recommendations into Moldova’s National Human Rights Action Plan 2011-2014. It will be important that all recommendations from the international human rights mechanisms, including the UPR, be implemented holistically. In this regard, due consideration should be given to reviewing the policy framework for the period 2015-2016. I also urged that the Government act on UPR recommendations to ratify international legal instruments, in particular the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
I have discussed the recent efforts to amend the legal basis for the Centre for Human Rights, Moldova’s “B”-status National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). I welcome efforts to bring the NHRI into conformity with the Paris Principles and enable it to function effectively as Moldova’s National Preventive Mechanism against torture. In the interest of the strength and independence of the NHRI, I also call upon the authorities to hold a transparent, public procedure to appoint the next Ombudspersons and to remove the legal barrier for individuals under guardianship to petition the NHRI.
My attention was also drawn to the need to depoliticize and simplify the process of registering civil society organisations. Avibrant civil society is crucial to a robust system of human rights protection. I note the need to heighten significantly the role of women in elected public life, including women from marginalized segments of society, such as Romani women and women with disabilities.
Transnistrian Region of the Republic of Moldova
Yesterday (10 April 2014) , I visited the Transnistrian region and had meetings, including with the de facto authorities. We discussed a broad range of human rights issues, in particular those identified in the groundbreaking 2013 report of UN Senior Expert Thomas Hammarberg, followingHigh Commissioner Pillay’s mission in 2011. I welcomed the adoption of a plan of action by the de facto authorities for the implementation of these recommendations and encouraged follow-up in a holistic manner. I also encouraged renewed attention to fostering wider space for human rights civil society organizations on the left bank of the Nistru, as well as their close involvement in the implementation of Senior Expert Hammarberg’s recommendations.
I raised a number of issues concerning freedom of religion or belief, following the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in 2011. I was encouraged to hear that the de facto authorities have recently established a civilian alternative to military service for conscientious objectors. Registration procedures for religious communities must be made simple, non-bureaucratic and non-discriminatory in practice, in conformity with international law.
I also discussed the need to adopt comprehensive rules on the protection of women from gender-based violence, in particular domestic violence. A victim-centred protection mechanism against domestic violence should be adopted without further delay.
Progress needs to be made on all aspects of the rights of people with disabilities, including those with mental or intellectual disabilities. In this regard, reform of guardianship and legal incapacitation measures, as well as serious consideration to adult and child deinstitutionalization, are also needed.
As already stressed by High Commissioner Pillay, human rights do not have any borders. Protracted conflicts, such as the one I have witnessed here, may involve a number of duty-bearers. States must respect and ensure the rights laid down in international human rights treaties of anyone within the State party’s power or effective control. On the other hand, non-State actors that exercise government-like functions are obliged to respect all human rights of the people living in this territory, irrespective of questions of legal or political status. It is vital to address human rights concerns and all protection gaps in situations of protracted conflicts.
I discussed with many interlocutors the importance of strengthening the rule of law, changing attitudes, and building a human rights culture. There was a clearly expressed need for strengthened human rights education as a part of the mandatory curriculum in schools, continued specific human rights training for the legal community, and awareness-raising for the public.
I was positively struck by the direction of human rights work in the Republic of Moldova but recognize that there is still considerable work ahead. I encourage Moldova to build on the positive steps taken in the recent period, and that it act to seal in these gains. Our Office stands ready to continue supporting human rights-based change in the Republic of Moldova, through the Human Rights Adviser, our representative here.