The UN Human Rights Senior Expert, Thomas Hammarberg presents his follow-up report on human rights in the Transnistrian region on 5 February 2019

On 4 – 5 February, the Senior Expert visited the Republic of Moldova to present his follow-up report after the initial one issued in 2013[1].  

The updated report focuses on the human rights situation in the Transnistrian region, based on his latest visit which took place between 28 May and 1 June 2018.

The report focuses on human rights issues only and terminology and/or language used, imply no political position.

Time constraints did not allow for thorough analysis of all areas covered by the comprehensive 2013 report. It was nonetheless possible to seek information and understand developments on implementation procedures such as the steps taken to promote a culture of human rights, gender equality, rights of persons with disabilities, measures against HIV and TB epidemics. Issues related to respect for Roma rights and rights of other minority groups were also covered.

I am pleased to note a growing human rights awareness in the Transnistrian region and that the situation had generally improved in some areas since my 2013 report. One such positive aspect was the increased civil society contribution to promoting rights of persons with disabilities and an increased awareness about those rights. There are positive developments in preventing and addressing issues of domestic violence, HIV and tuberculosis.

However, further systemic measures are required to address some of the outstanding challenges and to ensure full implementation of human rights standards. To this end, it is important to develop a comprehensive human rights plan of action; to strengthen human rights mechanisms (including the Ombudsman office) and complaints procedures; to develop systematic collection of disaggregated data on human rights facts; to promote human rights awareness and education in relevant settings and to work with mass media to bolster human rights culture. Creating a culture of human rights requires that people are aware of their rights and of avenues they could use to complain when feeling that these are denied or violated. For this, positive and constructive engagement with civil society is of key importance.

Decisions are taken in Transnistrian region that international treaties on human rights should be respected. This requires, among other aspects, that those performing the law making, law enforcement, prosecution, judiciary and penitentiary functions, act with professional competence and impartial objectivity.

I repeat my previous recommendation that the penitentiary system should be thoroughly reformed. High rates of arrest and imprisonment, as well as detention conditions remain an area of concern. It would be important to conduct an urgent priority review and reforms in the areas of pre-trial arrest, prison sentences and conditions of detention to significantly reduce the number of persons in detention.

I would recommend in this context that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights be welcomed to review implementation of the 2013 recommendations on these particular areas and give advice on further steps. One potential avenue of providing expertise in this field  would be to facilitate a visit of a UN special procedure mandate holder. I note the positive response on this suggested approach by the decision makers I met during my 2018 visit.

I witnessed more and stronger voices of civil society during my follow-up visit last year. This seemed to have improved the level of information and the quality of public dialogue around human rights issues.

Nonetheless, concerns among some of the civil society interlocutors about the interpretation and potential effects of recent legislative amendments concerning NGOs deserve proper attention. Ambiguous legegal provisions regarding political activities of NGOs need to be reviewed not to intimidate the broad range of issues covered by civil society human rights activism. In this context, it would be of importance that security services cease the practice of routine “discussions” with active NGOs. Funding procedures for such organizations need to be improved to allow easier cooperation with international development partners.

During my follow-up visit in 2018, I focused on some concrete areas which I considered of obvious importance and on which I hoped further positive results could be achieved without much delay. These issues were primarily gender equality and domestic violence, rights of persons with disabilities, health care with focus on HIV and tuberculosis, Roma rights and rights of other minorities.

Women experience inequalities in social, economic and political life, and domestic violence appears still to be widespread. However, I observed a broadening acknowledgement of domestic violence as a human rights violation. Launching of a temporary crisis centre and shelter for victims of domestic violence, as well as ongoing construction of a permanent facility give hope for further progress in prevention and combatting of domestic violence.

It would be important to address the root causes and key manifestations of gender inequalities and domestic violence through social dialogue, specific targeted programs, education and through promoting increased awareness of policy-makers, law enforcement and of general public.

Changes in perception of disability and in acknowledgment of the rights of persons with disabilities are noticeable. Emergence of a vibrant civil society platform of persons with disabilities, as well as successful initiatives on increasing accessibility of public buildings and spaces, are among the positive developments that are worth commending. However, several more reforms in the area of persons with disabilities are required, including on disability determination mechanism, inclusive education, legal capacity and deinstitutionalization reforms.

Conditions for identification and treatment of HIV and tuberculosis in prisons have improved significantly. Plans for consolidation of healthcare facilities within one specialized penitentiary institution present a good opportunity for overall improvement of healthcare service provided to persons in detention.

The situation of Roma people remains worrisome. Many Roma are illiterate, undocumented and poor. An absolute majority of Roma people are unemployed and many of those who are employed are discriminated at the workplace. Many Roma children, adolescents and adults turned hardly to be able to read and write and schools and the school dropout rate is very high. Many Roma live in poor houses, without electricity or gas, water and sanitation. Majority of Roma people have no access to quality and affordable healthcare services. Many suffer from chronic hepatitis, diabetes, asthma, arthritis for which they cannot access or receive affordable treatment. I provided a set of recommendations to suggest concrete measures to address human rights concerns and to support social inclusion of Roma people.

Some minorities and their cultures are in a vulnerable situation and appear to be in need of support and protection. Women are particularly affected in some settings. Law enforcement agents should be informed about international minority rights standards, including to prevent racial or ethnic profiling and targeting; Obstacles to registration of peaceful religious groups should be removed.

Among other measures, I recommended allocation of public budgetary support to programs on development of minority cultures and languages. Prejudices against various religious groups should be countered through information and awareness-raising activities, including for and through mass media.

During my 2018 visit I noted that political negotiations – bilateral, as well as in the “5+2” format – have advanced and brought resolution to some important human rights matters emanating from the 2013 Report, such as the recognition of diplomas and the functioning of Moldovan Latin-script schools on the left bank. It is important to maintain this positive trajectory and even more prominently instil human rights dimensions in the Transnistrian settlement process given apparent potentials of this approach to assist confidence-building undertakings.

I have brought my findings to the attention of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and to the broader United Nations system to encourage their active support and engagement in the implementation of the recommended actions. I call on decision makers to extend its cooperation to international organizations and development partners to join forces for the benefit of the affected people.