Good morning and thank you for coming.
This is my first visit – indeed the first visit by any UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – to the Republic of Moldova, and it has been a great pleasure for me to be here. Since arriving in Chisinau on Tuesday I have been warmly received by everyone I have met including senior Government officials, Acting President, members of civil society organizations, UN colleagues working here in Moldova and many others. It has been a timely visit, and I believe an important one both for us in the United Nations and for the people and institutions of Moldova. The country is clearly on the road to strengthening its democracy, and aims at a number of ambitious reforms.
The economic circumstances of the country are troubling. I saw with my own eyes the poverty and material deprivation in which many Moldovans live. Issues such as very low pay and a weak public infrastructure have serious implications for the effective realisation of economic and social rights.
Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
It is, of course, not possible on such a visit to cover all human rights issues. Nevertheless, I believe we have made good progress on some key issues which were already highlighted during the review of Moldova undertaken last month in Geneva under the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Under the new UPR system which has just concluded its first cycle, each of the 193 UN member states has its human rights performance reviewed by its fellow states once every four years. During the process, states make a number of specific recommendations for improvement. I also believe that it has been widely noted that the UPR process was broad and inclusive and featured inputs from a wide segment of the public.
I welcome the justice sector reform strategy which cleared first reading by Parliament yesterday. I am firmly persuaded that an improved, fully independent judiciary is key to the protection and promotion of human rights in all areas. I also welcome hearing that the National Human Rights Action Plan will be revised to include the UPR recommendations. I urge specific action to meet international human rights standards with identified benchmarks, the required budgetary allocations, and a timeframe for successful implementation. The international community and the UN in particular are ready to assist this process and assist the Government in achieving its goals, making full use of best practices and lessons learned worldwide. We all look for real impact in this regard.
This morning I participated in the opening session of a joint Government/UN conference dedicated to following up on the UPR recommendations. One important priority for Moldova is to take decisive action in implementing all of the UPR recommendations. I was pleased to hear that the Government intends to set-up a high-level mechanism to monitor the implementation of these recommendations, and to coordinate action by various concerned ministries, state entities, and other public bodies, in close partnership with the Centre for Human Rights (Moldova’s National Human Rights Institution) and civil society organisations. I also welcomed hearing that Moldova will submit an interim report to the Human Rights Council in two years’ time.
Among these UPR recommendations, priority should be placed on strengthening the independence of the judiciary, as well as on the effectiveness of the administration of justice, and other rule of law institutions. My office looks forward to working with the relevant public authorities to reform the Centre, bringing it into full conformity with the Paris Principles and enabling it to function effectively as Moldova’s National Preventive Mechanism against torture.
Torture, Trafficking in Human Beings, Domestic Violence
Impunity is an issue I raised in connection with torture. Torture is a serious crime and cannot be tolerated in any circumstances. Any state official who carries out torture must be prosecuted and brought to justice. In addition, victims of torture are entitled to effective remedies, including reparations.
Trafficking, especially of women and girls, remains a major concern in Moldova, despite the evident efforts of the Government to combat it. Further measures are clearly needed to tackle this scourge, which ruins so many lives, including the prosecution of perpetrators, no matter who they are or how powerful they may be. While here, I launched the OHCHR Commentary to the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, in an event held jointly with the Government and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). I noted in my opening address that this comprehensive tool can be particularly important in guiding those working to combat this modern form of slavery. I also agree on the need for further action to reduce domestic violence – particularly by ensuring police and social workers intervene more often and more quickly to protect victims.
Rights of Persons with Physical, Mental and Intellectual Disabilities
One particular group I have focussed on during this visit has been those confined to psychiatric institutions. On Wednesday I visited the Chisinau Psychiatric Hospital, and spoke with a number of the patients there, as well as with hospital staff. I was particularly struck by the very limited extent to which forcibly interned patients have access to processes that could lead to their release. Although the law envisions review of detention every six months, apparently the patient is not heard by the review board. One patient commented bitterly that “The system is very good at locking people up, but getting out again is very difficult.” I also am very concerned at the system of entirely depriving persons with mental and intellectual disabilities of their legal capacity.
It is clear that comprehensive reforms are needed to ensure equality and dignity for people suffering from mental and intellectual disabilities. In general, people with disabilities need as far as possible to be integrated, not segregated, and strenuous efforts need to be made to help people lead an active life in the community rather than be locked away in institutions. I look forward to progress in ending guardianship arrangements, and moving toward assisted decision-making for persons with such disabilities. I also urge that the draft anti-discrimination bill include reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities.
While acknowledging that major steps have been made in reforms around media freedom, I noted certain new developments of concern in this area. I am very concerned at a punitive fine issued against the weekly journal Ziarul de Garda. This case is currently still the subject of legal proceedings. The mere fact of the threat of this fine has a troubling, chilling effect on independent media. Such measures are incompatible with democratic societies based on the rule of law. I encourage strengthened minority language use in the media.
Diversity, Discrimination and Impunity
Some of the key issues that came up under the UPR, and which have been a prime focus of my visit here this week have been linked to various forms of discrimination, as well as the problem of trafficking, issues relating to impunity, torture, gender equality and the treatment of persons with disabilities.
None of these issues are unique to Moldova, of course. Discrimination can be found in one form or another in every country in the world. But wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, discrimination lies at the root of many problems both for individuals and for society as a whole.
During my talks with the Acting President, the Prime Minister and other senior ministers and officials I have discussed a range of problems related to discrimination against certain groups in Moldova, and discussed ways of combating it – most notably by enacting without further delay a truly comprehensive law banning discrimination on all grounds. My message to the Government – and to the public – is that diversity is among our highest values. A democracy is only as strong as its ability to protect its most vulnerable. This law will elaborate norms already at the heart of Moldova’s Constitutional order, to ensure that all people have equal dignity, and are entitled to equal respect for their fundamental rights.
I expressed concern at attacks on, and stigmatization of, various religious minorities, especially Muslims, Jews, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and also similar problems facing people of African descent. I have urged the Government to redouble its efforts to tackle anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim attitudes, and to ensure that members of all religious, racial and ethnic groups are better protected in both the short and the long term. It is also vital to continue to protect the rights of linguistic minorities, in a country as linguistically rich and diverse as Moldova, as well as the rights of other excluded or stigmatized groups such as people with HIV and disabled persons.
Another group facing discrimination and in need of enhanced protection are the Roma. I appreciate that there are on-going efforts to improve policies relating to Roma, but regret that they continue to be systematically excluded in a number of areas, and are almost completely unrepresented in Government. I call on the Government and UN agencies to correct the disparity in Roma access to health insurance, as well as in other key social inclusion areas, such as employment and education. I also believe that serious efforts should be made to improve infrastructure in excluded rural Romani settlements.
I also expressed concern about the hostility facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in Moldova. I heard troubling accounts of hate speech against LGBT persons and groups, including by politicians and public officials. I cannot understand why it has been impossible to guarantee the right of peaceful public assembly for LGBT groups, nor why the state television station has been barred from broadcasting a film on the rights of sexual minorities. If the public is denied information about this issue, how can positive change in the treatment of these groups come about? In my meetings, I emphasized the growing consensus that ending discrimination and violence against LGBT persons and groups is among the highest global equality priorities.
The education system can and should play a key role in combating discrimination and promoting diversity. But well-constructed and properly implemented laws are also essential. It is deeply troubling that, despite all the problems facing the wide range of groups I have mentioned, the legal system in practice remains inert in redressing discrimination and violent acts motivated by intolerance.
Many of the discrimination issues we heard particularly effect women and girls. Women are underrepresented in positions of power, and work in worse jobs than men. I raised with senior government officials the case of a woman incarcerated for twenty years as a result of a late-term abortion, despite serious concerns about evident gender discrimination in the legal proceedings against her. She has already spent five years in prison. I welcome commitments at the highest level to moving swiftly toward a pardon for this person and others in her circumstances.
As part of my visit to the Republic of Moldova, yesterday I visited the Transnistrian region and had meetings with the de facto authorities. We discussed a broad range of human rights issues. These included matters that were raised following visits by three independent UN experts, namely the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and – most recently – the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Issues raised included follow-up to conclusions by the Special Rapporteur on Torture concerning violations of minimum international standards relating to conditions in places of detention, as well as persistent allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment in custody. I also discussed troubling new rules in the Transnistrian region preventing any public communication by religious communities during the first ten years after they are officially registered, as well as other issues raised during the September 2011 visit by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. I was informed of steps taken by the Transnistrian authorities to address trafficking in persons, especially women and girls. I also had the opportunity to visit a newly-renovated centre for the rehabilitation of alcoholic women.
I welcomed the release on Monday by the Transnistrian authorities of detainee Mr. Ilie Cazac. I met with detainee Mr. Iurie Matcenco, a person of repeated concern to my office because of extreme abuse while in custody. I urged the authorities to release him on humanitarian grounds, and I also urged them to release a person currently serving a one-year prison sentence for refusing military service on grounds of conscience. I raised a number of other cases of concern as well. I welcomed assurances that these and other cases will be reviewed, and that new provisions will be adopted on alternative service for conscientious objectors.
I have reiterated my view – expressed in my opening statement to the last session of the Human Rights Council on 12 September – that more attention needs to be paid to the situation of human rights in areas which, for various reasons, are controlled by de facto authorities. This means that there should not be human rights protection gaps, and that my general mandate under United Nations General Assembly Resolution 48/141 is about protection of all human rights for all. I therefore need to have access to and work with all those who are in effective control of a territory in order to reach out to people in need, because protecting human rights – especially for the most vulnerable – is my priority.
I would like to point out that my office’s work with de facto authorities on human rights issues does not amount to their legitimisation. My presence in Tiraspol reiterates the responsibility, if not the obligation, of the de facto authorities to respect human rights and the need for them to cooperate with all relevant international and regional human rights mechanisms. I have expressed the hope that my Office will be able to follow up with a strengthened attention to human rights in Transnistria, particularly through the assistance available from the UN Human Rights Adviser, my representative here.
I was particularly moved by my meeting with Moldova’s vibrant civil society, including those coming from the Transnistrian region. NGOs spoke powerfully of their frustration that, throughout Moldova, human rights are often viewed as a luxury.
I welcomed the positive spirit of my meetings, as well as the engagement of the Government to seriously contemplate human rights reform. I was nevertheless troubled by the message of some that certain groups must wait for human rights. I have been clear in emphasizing that, where human rights are concerned, the time is now. I expect the Government and Parliament to exercise leadership in emphasizing our common value of diversity. I hope to hear of renewed efforts by the Government and Parliament and all sectors of the public to affirm a message of human rights for all. I look forward to hearing about positive changes here in the future, so that I may one day share the excellent example of Moldova with the rest of the world.