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11 July 2008

Chisinau -- In conclusion of their 7-day visit to Moldova undertaken upon invitation by the Government, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment, delivered the following statement:

“At the outset, we would like to express our appreciation for the full cooperation extended to us by the Government of Moldova. We are grateful to all our interlocutors, including senior State officials, representatives of civil society, and victims of violence, trafficking and torture. A list of places visited and meetings held is annexed to this statement.

The Republic of Moldova has come a long way in institution building and human rights protection since independence in 1991. By acceding to numerous international human rights treaties, it has sent strong signals about its commitment to put the rights of individuals at the centre of its public policy formulation and its legal system. In the area of violence against women as well as torture and ill-treatment, important steps have been taken to integrate these international standards in the national legal framework. Just yesterday the Parliament adopted a new law on labour migration. However, while we commend the Government for the numerous laws, action plans and programmes that lay down the standards for the rights and freedoms that everybody should enjoy, we are concerned at the significant gaps – acknowledged by all actors - between the normative framework and the reality on the ground.

Our findings will be discussed in a more comprehensive way in the reports we will submit to the United Nations Human Rights Council at a later stage, today we would like to share our preliminary observations.

Gender equality and violence against women

Whereas gender equality is ensured and promoted by law, in practice, women experience high levels of unemployment or are concentrated in low paid sex-type jobs, and encounter strong patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes that perpetuate the subordinate position of women in the family and in society. Violence against women, within the family and in formal institutions, is said to be a widespread phenomenon. Domestic violence, in particular, is experienced in silence and receives little recognition among officials, society and women themselves. Unless it results in serious injuries, domestic violence is, by and large, accepted as a normal aspect of private life by men and women alike and not considered as a problem warranting legal intervention. The protective infrastructure for victims of violence is insufficient, with only one shelter where domestic violence victims and their children can take refuge.

In addition, the challenges of the transition and the economic crisis that plagued the country have placed particular burdens on women, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, violence and ill-treatment. Notably in the context of irregular/illegal migration, women fall victim to slave-like work conditions and/or to trafficking networks. Voluntary or forced migratory movements are intimately linked with domestic abuse and economic deprivation. The need to feed their children or to escape an abusive family environment are strong factors that motivate them to go abroad.

Police ill-treatment and torture, the ineffectiveness of complaints mechanisms and the execution of punishments

On the basis of discussions with public officials, judges, lawyers and representatives of civil society, interviews with victims of violence and with persons deprived of their liberty, often supported by forensic medical evidence, we conclude that ill-treatment during the initial period of police custody is widespread. Torture methods such as severe beatings, with fists, rubber truncheons, and baseball bats, including on soles, electro-shocks, asphyxiation through gas masks, putting needles under fingernails and suspension are often used in order to obtain confessions from suspects, including in the Transnistrian region.

Although the legislation guarantees victims of torture and ill-treatment the right to file complaints, in practice, they have little chance of being heard. It is the victims who are asked to prove whether or not they have been ill-treated. Given the excessive periods suspects spend in police custody, this is impossible because, in the large majority of cases, no visible marks remain. One of the key international requirements when it comes to violence and ill-treatment is the need to prosecute the perpetrators. Whereas the rising number of indictments for the crime of torture is encouraging, in the light of the many allegations received, much remains to be done to ensure that prosecutors, judges, the medical staff and the staff of penitentiary institutions investigate promptly acts of ill-treatment.

Also conditions in police custody facilities are a source of major concern and in some cases, notably in B?l?i and Tiraspol police headquarters, where persons are held in small, badly ventilated and partly overcrowded cells without any daylight, amount to inhuman treatment. With respect to the detention facilities under the Ministry of Justice, it is notable that we have not received many allegations of ill-treatment. Progress has been achieved when it comes to improving conditions, including in the Transnistrian region. However, the long periods many spend in pre-trial detention violates the principle of the presumption of innocence. With regard to convicts, international standards require that the criminal execution system should aim at rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders – and many interlocutors were in agreement that this is not currently the case. On the contrary, the practice of severely restricting contacts among the prisoners as well as with the outside world based on various strict regimes, contravenes this idea. In this context, we would like to underline that the year-long confinement to cells for persons sentenced to life-imprisonment may amount to inhuman treatment. This applies even more to the Transnistrian region, where solitary confinement is required for those convicted to life imprisonment or capital punishment. Also, it is regrettable that the so-called “initial regime”, recently introduced into the Penitentiary Code of the Republic of Moldova, exacerbates the situation of detainees rather than constituting an improvement. Access to health care at all stages of deprivation of liberty is an issue of concern.

Two promising initiatives

Several measures have been taken by Moldovan authorities in recent years to prevent human rights violations. We would like to point out the following ones:

1) The Law on preventing and combating family violence, to enter into force on 18 September 2008, contains a number of important provisions, such as on the possibility of granting protective orders obliging the perpetrator to stay away from the victim, on cooperation between public administration and civil society organizations, on the protection of the security of the victim as a human rights principle, and on the possibility for third parties to file complaints. This Law, together with the Law on ensuring equal opportunities for women and men, will contribute towards improved prevention, protection and prosecution of incidents of violence against women.

2) We commend the Government for establishing a so-called “national preventive mechanism”, an independent committee chaired by one of the Parliamentary Advocates, which has the right to undertake unannounced visits to all places where persons can be deprived of their liberty and to conduct private interviews with all persons detained. Since such monitoring bodies are among the most effective means of preventing torture, this, in our view, constitutes a major step towards preventing torture and ill-treatment in the future.

Preliminary recommendations

It is of utmost importance that effective implementation and monitoring strategies and mechanisms are developed in order to ensure that both the mechanisms mentioned above function in practice, including through allocation of budgetary and human resources. In order to prevent misconception and biases regarding the nature of violence against women, plans of action to implement laws and policies should be evidence-based. In this respect, a national database on violence against women and a prevalence survey are essential.

On the basis of the new law on labour migration as well as the mobility partnership with the European Union and bilateral agreements, decisive measures need to be taken to regulate migratory flows and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

With respect to preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, in view of its transnational dimension, we call for shared responsibility among States for developing bilateral and transnational solutions to the problem.

We express the hope that the Government views the “national preventive mechanism” as an ally in a collective effort of finding out the truth about what happens in places where persons are deprived of their liberty.

Introducing accessible and confidential complaints mechanisms, establishing an effective and independent criminal investigation and prosecution mechanism against alleged perpetrators of torture, reducing the time limits for police custody to 48 hours, granting access to independent medical examinations without interference by the prosecutor at all stages of the criminal process and the transfer of temporary detention isolators from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice should be considered priorities. The independence of lawyers should be further strengthened. The situation of conditions in police custody needs to be improved bearing in mind the presumption of innocence.

The system of execution of punishments should be conceived in a way that truly aims at rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders, in particular through abolishing restrictive detention rules, including for persons sentenced to long prison terms, and maximising contact with the outside world. Further steps should be taken to improve access to health care.

By and large the above concerns and recommendations apply to the Transnistrian region as well, although no independent torture monitoring mechanism and no law on violence against women have been enacted so far. Also, the death penalty should be abolished as well as the requirement for solitary confinement of persons sentenced to capital punishment or life imprisonment.

The Government’s recent initiatives, as well as the notable efforts of non-governmental organizations for the promotion and protection of human rights, are indisputable contributions towards the creation of an enabling environment for combating torture, ill treatment and violence against women. A life free of torture and violence is possible and all persons are entitled to it. In this respect, we fully appreciate that ensuring functioning protection systems for victims of domestic violence and in the migration context, as well as the implementation of a justice system in full accordance with international law are costly. We therefore call on the Government and the donor community to prioritize efforts aiming at eliminating torture and ill treatment and at empowering women and ending all forms of violence against them. We also recommend that, whenever possible, the Transnistrian region be included in the scope of such initiatives.”

Short biographical information about the two Special Rapporteurs

Yakin Ertürk, Professor of Sociology at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 2003 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Moldova is the seventeenth country she has visited.
For more information on the mandate, please consult: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm

Manfred Nowak was appointed Special Rapporteur on Torture on 1 December, 2004 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. He is Professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the University of Vienna, and Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights. Moldova is the twelfth country he has visited.
For more information on the mandate, please consult: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur


(A) Official meetings

The Special Rapporteurs held meetings with: Her Excellency, Ms. Zinaida Greceanii, Prime Minister; His Excellency, Mr. Victor Stepaniuc, Deputy Prime Minister; His Excellency, Mr. Andrei Stratan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration; Her Excellency, Ms. Larisa Catrinici, Minister of Health; His Excellency, Mr. Vitalie Pirlog, Minister of Justice; His Excellency, Mr. Valentin Mejinschi, Minister of Interior; Her Excellency, Ms. Galina Balmos, Minister of Social Protection, Family and Child; Mr. Valeriu Gurbulea, Prosecutor General; and Mr. Sergiu Sainciuc, Deputy Minster of Economy and Trade.

In addition, the Special Rapporteurs met with Members of Parliament, the Head of the Penitentiary Administration; representatives of the Ministry of Education and Youth, representatives of the Governmental Committee for Gender Equality and the Bureau for Interethnic Relations, members of the Supreme Court of Justice and governmental institutions at local level.

Outside of Government, the Special Rapporteurs met with representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism, including its Chairman. They also had discussions with civil society representatives, including non-governmental organizations, ethnic minorities, religious leaders, persons in places of detention and victims of violence, trafficking and ill-treatment and their relatives. In addition, the Special Rapporteurs held meetings with the United Nations country team, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Delegation of the European Commission, other members of the diplomatic community and the donors group on gender.

In addition, the delegation met with the so-called Acting Foreign Minister and the so-called Deputy Head of the Penitentiary Administration of the Transnistrian region.

(B) Places visited

Chi?in?u – Casa M?rioarei, Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Human Trafficking, Penitentiary institution n. 13, Central temporary detention isolator, Centre for forensic medicine, Centrul de reabilitare “Memoria
B?l?i – Penitentiary institution n. 11, Temporary detention isolator, Psychiatric hospital
Drochia – Maternal Centre “Ariadna”
Soroca – Centre for Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration of Vulnerable Children and Youth “Dacia”
Comrat – Temporary detention isolator
Cahul – Centre for Training and Counselling for Victims of Violence, Centre for Children and Youth with Disabilities
C?u?eni – Law Centre
Rezina – Penitentiary institution n. 17
Cimi?lia – Temporary detention isolator
Hînce?ti – Penitentiary institution n 7 in Rusca

Transnistrian region

Tiraspol – Headquarters of the militia
Hlinaia – Penitentiary institution n. 1, Investigation Isolator n. 1