Note: Unless otherwise noted, all references in this report exclude the secessionist region of Transnistria.
Moldova is a republic with a form of parliamentary democracy. The constitution provides for a multiparty democracy with legislative and executive branches as well as an independent judiciary and a clear separation of powers. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament. The 2014 parliamentary elections met most Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe, and other international commitments, although local and international observers raised concerns about the inclusion and exclusion of specific political parties. The significant number of parliamentarians switching parties in 2017 amid allegations of political pressure and bribery significantly reshaped parliament’s structure and the parliamentary majority. Two rounds of presidential elections in 2016 resulted in the election of Igor Dodon. According to the OSCE election observation mission, both rounds were competitive and respected fundamental freedoms. International and domestic observers, however, noted polarized and unbalanced media coverage, harsh and intolerant rhetoric, lack of transparency in campaign financing, and instances of abuse of administrative resources.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included torture at prisons and psycho-neurological institutions; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention by authorities; restrictions on freedom of the media; refoulement of political asylum seekers to a country where they had a well-founded fear of persecution; high-level corruption; cases of forced abortion; rape and other violence against persons with disabilities in state institutions.
While authorities investigated reports of official human rights abuses, they rarely successfully prosecuted and punished officials accused of human rights violations or corruption. Selective prosecution of officials for political reasons intensified. Impunity remained a major problem. Opposition parties reported increased pressure and politically motivated detentions during the year.
In 1990 separatists declared a “Transdniester Moldovan Republic” (Transnistria) along the border with Ukraine. A 1992 ceasefire agreement established a peacekeeping force of Moldovan, Russian, and Transnistrian units. The central government did not exercise authority in the region, and Transnistrian authorities governed through parallel administrative structures. During the year there were reports that police engaged in torture, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detentions.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape or forcible sexual assault and establishes penalties for violations ranging from three years to life in prison. The law also criminalizes spousal rape.
Rape remained a problem, and there were no specific governmental rape prevention activities. From January-September, police registered 179 cases of rape, compared to 58 total registered cases in 2017.
In one prominent case, in August, a 15-year-old Romani girl and her mother from Soroca were kidnapped, raped, set on fire, and murdered. The perpetrator pled guilty to committing a hate crime and faces up to 25 years in prison on multiple criminal counts. The case was under investigation at year’s end.
A study released in 2017 by the international NGO La Strada noted that the legal system in the country did not provide an effective remedy for victims of sexual abuse. According to the study, in many cases, rape was requalified as sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16, which reduced the potential penalty, and victims’ statements on the lack of consent were not taken into account. In one in three cases, law enforcement officers initiated criminal investigations for less serious offenses than the ones reported by the victims. In 90 percent of the cases, the victims were not present at the preliminary hearings or the first court hearing on the case. Victims were commonly forced to confront their attacker in court.
Sexual violence was the least recognized and reported form of violence. According to police statements, more than 60 percent of cases went unreported. Upon adoption of the new strategy in combating violence against women, police selected officers to attend specialized trainings to improve investigations of sexual violence cases. In addition, community police campaigns distributed informational pamphlets, entitled Victims Letter of Rights, to encourage the reporting of sexual violence. Victims of sexual violence continued to experience extremely long delays in their cases due to lengthy evidence collection procedures and prosecutions, while the need for numerous interrogations and confrontations with their rapist added to the trauma they experienced.
The law defines domestic violence as a criminal offense, provides for the punishment of perpetrators, defines mechanisms for obtaining restraining orders against abusive individuals, and extends protection to unmarried individuals and children of unmarried individuals. The law regulates five forms of domestic violence–physical, psychological, sexual, economic, and spiritual. This law served as a platform for the development of legal relationships necessary to ensure access to justice for victims of domestic violence. The maximum punishment for family violence offenses is 15 years’ imprisonment.
As of September, police registered 1,742 cases of domestic violence, 604 of which were treated as criminal cases and 1,138 as misdemeanors. There were 15 cases of domestic violence that resulted in death. Police carried out prevention activities on persons who showed violent behavior in family relationships.
One case during the year involved two married former border police officers who had been divorced for three years because of domestic violence and had a five-year-old child. On March 8, after a restraining order on him had expired, the former husband visited his 29-year-old ex-wife, ostensibly to congratulate her on International Women’s Day. On March 9, the body of the ex-wife was found in a bag in the trash can. A criminal case was opened and was pending in court.
The law requires victims to prove they were subjected to violence, while the perpetrator is protected by the presumption of innocence. NGOs criticized that there is little chance to obtain protective measures in cases of acts of violence that do not involve physical violence, that result from physical violence committed for the first time, or that did not leave visible injuries on the victim’s body. According to NGOs, judges in the Chisinau Judicial Courts inconsistently applied the law by rejecting several applications requesting to issue a protection order for victims due to lack of evidence of violence. In cases where protective measures were applied, implementation continued to be a problem due to the lack of support networks and counselling services.
The law permits excluding an abuser from lodging shared with the victim, regardless of who owns the property. Law enforcement officials may apply emergency restriction orders requested by domestic violence victims.
A study published in September by the Women’s Law Center on domestic violence cases showed a decreasing number of victims received legal representation. The study attributed the decline to the misapplication of the law granting victims state legal support and representation. According to the study, defendants were represented by lawyers in 94 percent of the cases, compared to just 6 percent of cases where victims were represented.
The law provides for cooperation between government and civil society organizations, establishes victim protection as a human rights principle, and allows third parties to file complaints on behalf of victims. The NGO La Strada, for example, operated a hotline to report domestic violence, offered victims psychological and legal aid, and provided victims options for follow-up assistance. La Strada’s hotline registered 1,578 calls and assisted with legal and psychological counselling and advice for 545 victims of domestic violence. The Women’s Law Center offered legal, psychological and social support to 298 victims of domestic violence.
There was progress in building institutional capacity to protect women and children against domestic violence. The Ministry of Internal Affairs continued training for police officers handling domestic violence cases. According to various NGOs and UNICEF, the effectiveness of protective orders depended on the attitude of authorities. Police protection of victims and proper execution of protective orders improved slightly, with authorities issuing an increased number of protective orders within 24 hours as required by law. NGOs, however, expressed concern that authorities were insufficiently proactive in combating indifference toward domestic violence among prosecutors and social workers. There were cases reported of authorities not issuing protective orders until a month after the alleged mistreatment. NGOs also maintained that authorities relied excessively on them to publicize available remedies and to assist victims in requesting protection.
The law does not provide criminal penalties for abuse resulting in “nonsignificant bodily harm” (e.g., slapping, hair pulling, pushes) that does not leave marks or result in missed work. Under the law, abuse involving “nonsignificant” harm is punished administratively. According to NGOs, after release from detention, abusers commonly returned to their homes and continued to abuse.
During the year the Women’s Law Center in partnership with National Institute of Justice trained more than 100 judges, criminal investigators, and prosecutors on preventing and combating domestic violence.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a common problem. The law provides criminal penalties for sexual harassment ranging from a fine to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits sexual advances that affect a person’s dignity or create an unpleasant, hostile, degrading, or humiliating environment in a workplace or educational institution. According to NGOs, law enforcement agencies steadily improved their handling of sexual harassment cases, addressing harassment of students by university professors and several instances of workplace harassment. Civil society groups criticized the judicial system for displaying inadequate concern for the safety of victims and for not holding perpetrators accountable for their behavior.
In one example that received media attention, a university assistant in August accused a professor from the State Medical University of sexual harassment. The professor denied the allegations and demanded damage compensation of a million lei ($59,800) from the assistant. The ethics commission of the university requested additional evidence from the victim before completing its investigation, but she later refused to go forward with the case.
As of September, police registered 25 cases of sexual harassment, and eight cases were sent to trial. Victims reported that authorities sometimes failed to inform them about the progress and outcome of investigations of sexual harassment.
Coercion in Population Control: Cases of forced abortions and forced use of contraception were reported in prisons, psychiatric institutions, and social care homes.
Discrimination: Women and men enjoy the same legal status in family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance law and in the judicial system. The law requires equal pay for equal work, which authorities generally respected. The law requires that women fill a minimum of 40 percent of decision making positions in government and political offices; bans publicity that promotes discriminatory messages or stereotypes; prohibits sexist and discriminatory language and images in the media and advertising; spells out employers’ responsibilities in ensuring workplaces are free of discrimination and sexual harassment; and introduces two-week state-paid paternity leave.
In 2017 the government approved the Gender Equality Strategy for 2017-2021 to promote a complex approach to gender equality; improve institutional mechanisms for ensuring gender equality; combat stereotypes and promote nonviolent communication; promote gender equality in the security and defense sectors; and provide for gender sensitive budgeting.
The UN Development Program National Human Development Report 2015/2016, released in June 2017, noted that, although women represented half the work force of the country, they were mostly employed in low-paying jobs. Women earned on average 12 percent less than men.
Birth Registration: Persons may acquire citizenship through birth in the country, from citizen parents, or after adoption by citizens. Registration of birth is free of charge for all citizens. The lack of registration certificates for a number of children, especially in rural areas and in Romani families, remained a problem. Observers estimated that more than 1,000 children lacked identification documents.
Education: Primary education was free and compulsory until the ninth grade. Education of Romani children remained a problem; only half of Romani children attended school and only one in five attended preschool. According to Romani representatives, absenteeism and school dropout in Romani communities was due to poverty and fear of discrimination.
Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits child neglect and specific forms of abuse, such as forced begging, child abuse remained a problem. A special unit for minors and human rights in the Prosecutor General’s Office was responsible for ensuring that particular attention and expertise was devoted to child abuse victims and child offenders.
In June during the launch of a national dialogue for combating violence against children, authorities stated that children in the country continued to be subject to physical and psychological abuse. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection, the number of child abuse cases in 2017 increased by 11,000 over the previous year. Many children remained without parental care and social service authorities lacked effective tools for protection. The ministry also noted that social norms created an environment that is tolerant to violence against children at home and at school, and encouraged discrimination against children, teenagers and other vulnerable groups. According to the ombudsperson for children’s rights, many children admitted to experiencing abuse at school, in the family, and in society. Very few, however, had the courage to speak openly about their cases.
The Prosecutor General’s Office reported that 1,401 children were victims of various crimes in 2017 and noted an increase of cases of sexual abuse. The Prosecutor General’s Office reported the high number of children who were victims of crimes was due to the poor functioning of a social protection integrated system and inefficient tools to protect children at risk.
According to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research in the first half of the 2017-18 academic year, authorities registered 4,794 cases of violence against children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 16 for women and 18 for men. There were no official statistics regarding child marriages.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Prosecutor’s Office to Combat Organized Crime and Special Cases is responsible for investigating and prosecuting child sexual abuse cases. Authorities punished commercial sex with minors as statutory rape. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law prohibits the production, distribution, broadcasting, import, export, sale, exchange, use, or possession of child pornography, and violators face one to three years’ imprisonment.
Child prostitution is punishable by three to seven years imprisonment. Child pornography is punishable by one to three years imprisonment and fines of 150,000 to 250,000 lei ($8,970 to $15,000). Engaging minors in illegal activities is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment or a fine of 27,500 to 52,500 lei ($1,640 to $3,140). Engaging minors in illicit use of drugs, medicines, or other substances with intoxicating effects is punishable by up to six years in prison or a fine of 27,500 to 52,500 lei ($1,640 to $3,140).
Observers reported child prostitution and child sex tourism. According to UNICEF, about 10 percent of children in the country were exposed to sexual abuse, and prosecutors announced a high number of cases of sexual abuse of children.
Since January the Cybercrimes Unit of the National Investigation Inspectorate and the Prosecutor’s Office to Combat Organized Crime and Special Cases opened 10 criminal cases on charges of child pornography. Over 5,000 child pornography files were found featuring children between the ages of three and 14. From the files, seven victims were identified. The court was examining the criminal cases.
During the year, La Strada assisted 40 children that were victims or witnesses of sexual exploitation or sexual abuse. Four were cases involving child pornography, six involved child sexual exploitation, 23 involved child sex trafficking, four involved child rape, and three were cases of violent actions of sexual nature. Assistance from Child Services ensured measures were taken to protect children during court proceedings, including providing legal and psychological assistance during the investigation and criminal phases.
During the year, law enforcement agencies, in cooperation with civil society organizations, organized a number of events and movie screenings to educate the public on how social networks and the Internet are used to recruit and sexually exploit children. The international center La Strada operated a hotline and an online platform for children, their parents, and teachers to educate them on online safety.
Institutionalized Children: During the year, there were 1,119 children in government residential institutions, including 476 children with mental disabilities, 377 orphans and children without parental care, and 266 children with sensory disabilities. Children in residential institutions were at greater risk of employment, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and suicide compared with their peers raised in families.
Legal protection mechanisms for street children were not functional.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community numbered between 25,000-30,000 persons, including 2,000 living in Transnistria.
According to the Jewish community, anti-Semitic discourse and attitudes increased during the year, particularly on social media. No acts of vandalism or Jewish property destruction, however, were reported. The political infighting and participation of people of Jewish descent in domestic politics ignited hate speech in the public space. Property restitution continued to be a problem for the Jewish community and there was no law to address it (see section 1.e., Property Restitution).
In 2016 parliament endorsed the Elie Wiesel Commission’s Report on the Holocaust. It condemned attempts to deny or ignore the Holocaust and paid homage to its victims and survivors. The government implemented most of the activities included in the Holocaust education and commemoration 2017-19 action plan. During the year the Ministry for Education, Culture, and Research began working on opening a Jewish History Museum at the Jewish Library. The museum will include a permanent exhibit, thematic exhibits, an educational center, and a library. The government also launched an initiative to restore the Jewish cemetery in Chisinau and build a Yad Vashem-style Jewish historical cultural center that will include Jewish historical sites in the country.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to public facilities, health care, or the provision of other government services, but authorities rarely enforced the law. It prohibits construction companies from designing or constructing buildings without specific access for persons with disabilities and requires transportation companies to equip their vehicles to meet the needs of persons with disabilities. The law also requires that land, railroad, and air transportation authorities provide access for persons with disabilities and adapt public spaces and transportation to provide access for wheelchair users. The airport administration must provide an escort for persons with disabilities. Authorities implemented the provisions of the law only to a limited extent.
The restructuring of the National Council to Determine Disability and Work Capacity, continued during the year. Under the reform, disability status will be determined based on both medical and psychosocial criteria. The reform was designed to increase transparency and reduce corruption within the system. Persons with disabilities will be able to request determination of their disability status online and special expert committees will examine the requests.
Human rights observers criticized the country’s guardianship system. A person placed under guardianship loses all standing before the law and cannot perform social and legal acts, such as marriage, voting, claiming social benefits, and consenting to or refusing medication.
Human rights NGOs reported cases of violence, abuse, involuntary confinement, forced labor, forced medication, and humiliating and degrading treatment in segregated institutions for persons with mental disabilities. Most residential institutions had a shortage of medical staff, inadequate housing and sanitation facilities, and lacked proper accommodation for persons with mobility impairments.
According to the Promo-Lex presidential election observation mission, in the 2016 presidential elections, 36 percent of polling stations were not accessible for persons with mobility impairments and 33 percent lacked proper conditions for persons with vision disabilities.
Most schools were ill equipped to address the needs of children with disabilities. Some children with disabilities attended mainstream schools, while authorities placed others in boarding schools or they were home schooled.
In Transnistria, children with disabilities rarely attended school and lacked access to specialized resources.
While many newly built or reconstructed buildings were accessible, older buildings often were not. More than 70 percent of public institutions lacked access ramps for persons with disabilities. Persons with limited mobility complained about the lack of access to public transportation and public institutions as well as the shortage of designated parking places.
Although the law provides for equal employment opportunities and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (with the exception of jobs requiring specific health standards), many employers either failed to accommodate or avoided employing such persons.
In Transnistria, legislation provides for protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the areas of education, health care, and employment. Reliable information about the treatment of persons with disabilities in Transnistria was unavailable.
Roma continued to be one of the most vulnerable minority groups in the country and faced a higher risk of marginalization, under-representation in political decision making, illiteracy, and social prejudice. Roma had lower levels of education, more limited access to health care, and higher rates of unemployment than the general population (see section 7.d.). Romani women were particularly vulnerable to social exclusion and discrimination.
Authorities lacked an effective mechanism to address vulnerable families whose children did not attend school.
Approximately 60 percent of Romani families lived in rural areas. Some Romani communities lacked running water, sanitation facilities, and heating. Other problems facing Roma included lack of emergency health-care services in secluded settlements, unfair or arbitrary treatment by health practitioners, lower rates of health insurance coverage, and discrimination in the job market. According to the most recent statistics, only 21 percent of Roma were actively employed. Throughout the year, Roma groups reported being denied service at restaurants in Soroca and Riscani.
Latin-script schools in Transnistria continued to be a matter of dispute between the Moldovan authorities and the de facto Transnistrian authorities, although a formal agreement was signed to reduce the rent paid by Moldovan authorities operating Latin-script schools in Transnistria.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continued. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported cases of verbal and physical abuse. In most cases, police officers were reluctant to open cases against the perpetrators. In September, President Igor Dodon stated that the LGBTI “phenomenon offended the country’s values and public morality,” and stressed that the organization of festivals, parades, and events contributing to the “dissemination of immoral principles must be strongly condemned and even outlawed.”
The NGO Genderdoc-M reported multiple verbal and physical assaults against LGBTI individuals during the year, including 11 crimes motivated by anti-LGBTI prejudice, 19 cases of discrimination and incitement to discrimination, and 19 cases of hate speech. Genderdoc-M reported 13 cases of discrimination, hate speech, hate crime, infringement upon family rights, and freedom of assembly based on sexual orientation or gender identity were under examination at the ECHR, including two filed during the year.
Civil society organizations reported that, although transgender individuals were allowed to change their names (e.g., from a male to a female name) on legal identity documents, including passports, the government did not permit them to update gender markers to reflect their gender identity. Transgender individuals also experienced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).
In May Genderdoc-M organized the 17th annual LGBTI festival, culminating in a solidarity (pride) march on May 19. Despite counterprotests organized by anti-LGBTI demonstrators and some religious groups, the event enjoyed a significant level of police protection, which prevented violence and allowed pride march participants to safely complete the route.
In Transnistria, consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and LGBTI persons were subjected to official as well as societal discrimination.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons living with HIV continued to face societal and official discrimination. A 2015 study on equality perceptions and attitudes by the Council to Prevent and Combat Discrimination and Ensure Equality and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that persons living with HIV/AIDS represented the second most stigmatized group in the country after LGBTI persons. According to the study, persons with HIV were mostly perceived negatively, labeled as “leading a disordered sexual life” and frequently associated with drug users.
The law prohibits hospitals and other health institutions from denying admission or access to health-care services or requesting additional fees from persons with HIV or suspected of being HIV-positive. Prison inmates with HIV/AIDS faced high levels of discrimination by both prison staff and other inmates.
Hospitals disclosed HIV status without consent to persons not entitled to have such information.