Note: Except where otherwise noted, all references in this report exclude the secessionist region of Transnistria.
The Republic of Moldova is a parliamentary democracy with competitive multiparty elections. The constitution provides for legislative and executive branches, as well as an independent judiciary and a clear separation of powers. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament. Parliamentary elections on February 24 met most Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe, and other international commitments, although observers noted allegations of vote buying and misuse of administrative resources. 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.
The national police force reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and is the primary law enforcement body, responsible for internal security, public order, traffic, migration, and border enforcement. The police force has two divisions: criminal and public order. The agencies under the ministry are the General Police Inspectorate, Border Police, the Civil Protection Service, Carabinieri (a militarized gendarmerie responsible for protecting public buildings and other national security functions), the Bureau for Migration and Asylum, and the Material Reserves Agency. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
On June 7, six weeks after the parliamentary elections, the country faced an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis when the Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve parliament, stating that the deadline to form a parliamentary majority had expired, and suspended President Dodon. The then ruling Democratic Party (PDM) refused to relinquish power to a newly formed governing coalition of the pro-Russian Socialist Party (PSRM) and the pro-Western NOW Platform or ACUM bloc. As a result, there were two parallel governments between June 7 and 14. Following intense negotiation and diplomatic engagement, power transitioned peacefully to the newly formed coalition, with ACUM’s Maia Sandu as prime minister and PSRM’s Zinaida Greceanii as speaker of parliament. On November 12, the Sandu Cabinet was dismissed in a no-confidence vote by a majority of PSRM and PDM legislators following an intracoalition dispute on the selection of a new prosecutor general. Two days later, a new PSRM-appointed minority government was sworn in, led by former presidential advisor Ion Chicu and supported by PDM.
Significant human rights issues included: torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; problems with judicial independence; acts of corruption; violence against and medical abuse of children and adults in psychiatric hospitals and residential institutions for persons with mental disabilities; and the use of forced or compulsory child labor.
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 continued. Impunity remained a major problem. Opposition parties reported pressure and politically motivated prosecutions and detentions.
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. There were reports that police in Transnistria engaged in torture, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detentions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, there were allegations that authorities did not always respect this right. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, threats, physical assaults, and politicized prosecutions, particularly around the February parliamentary election and during the constitutional crisis in June. Concentration of ownership of major media outlets in the hands of a few political figures and oligarchs further limited the independence of the press. According to media NGOs and journalists, the incidence of intimidation decreased following the inauguration of the Sandu government.
Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of expression and allows individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. Restrictions apply only in cases when such discussion poses a threat to national security, territorial integrity, public order, or safety.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to media NGOs and international monitors, independent media were active and expressed a plurality of views but were often marginalized by larger outlets owned or controlled by a few politicians and oligarchs. Large media outlets pressured smaller outlets, including by colluding to prevent advertisers from buying advertising space from those smaller outlets, which brought several to the brink of closing. Prominent journalists left key outlets acquired by oligarchs.
Oligarchs closely supervised content and maintained editorial control over reporting from outlets they owned or controlled. Russian news channels rebroadcast in the country continued to disseminate propaganda and presented distorted information about regional and international events. Journalists were blocked from covering certain political events, including Chisinau City Council meetings; the inauguration ceremony for Gagauzia governor Irina Vlah; and rallies by the Shor Party.
On February 19, authorities prohibited the entry into the country of crews from Russia’s NTV and Rossiya-1 television channels.
Two organizations controlled the Transnistrian mass media market: The “Public Agency for Telecommunication,” which controlled official news information agencies, newspapers, and one of the two most popular television channels, and Sheriff Holding, a business conglomerate with considerable influence in the Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet.” The Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet” passed a law restricting access of journalists to the institution’s plenary sessions.
Violence and Harassment: There were multiple reports of political and business interests using violence and intimidation against members of the media. During protests organized by the then-ruling Democratic Party on June 7-9, participants, including the bodyguards of party leaders, pushed, struck, and verbally threatened journalists covering the events.
In October 2018 the investigative journalism news portal RISE.md reported that law enforcement agents followed one of its journalists, Liuba Sevciuc, after she published an article on September 5 about vacation properties owned by Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc.
Censorship or Content Restriction: In many cases, journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflicts with the sponsors or owners of their media outlets, many of whom are politicians or oligarchs connected to political parties.
Journalists voiced concern that a personal data protection law restricted journalists’ access to information. In addition, investigating journalists complained of problems accessing websites of legal entities.
In Transnistria, journalists avoided criticizing separatist officials’ goal of independence or their “foreign policy” to avoid official reprisals.
Libel/Slander Laws: Some newspapers practiced self-censorship and avoided controversial issues due to concerns that government officials and other public figures could use defamation laws to retaliate against critical news reports.
On March 29, Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky approved changes to the “criminal code” criminalizing public insults of the region’s leader, which may be punished by a fine of 5,280 lei ($300) or up to five years in prison. On August 8, blogger Tatiana Belova and her partner disappeared from their home; Belova’s friends believed she was arrested for insulting Krasnoselsky on social networks. Transnistrian officials have not confirmed Belova’s arrest, but intermediaries have informed human rights NGO Promo-Lex that she is in prison in Transnistria. No public information has been available about the case since August. According to Promo-Lex, Belova refused Promo-Lex representation in the Transnistrian court.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions.
In-country movement: Transnistrian authorities imposed some restrictions on travel by Moldovan officials to and from the region for official purposes. Chisinau and Tiraspol reached an agreement to lift restrictions on personal travel by government officials and Transnistrian separatist “officials” to and from the region in August. In December 2018, Transnistrian authorities simplified travel procedures for officials of foreign embassies accredited to Moldova and no longer require them to submit pretravel notification letters.
Foreign Travel: Although citizens generally may depart from and return to the country freely, there were some limitations on emigration. Before emigrating, the law requires individuals to settle all outstanding financial obligations with other persons or legal entities. The government did not strictly enforce this requirement. The law also provides that close relatives who are financially dependent on a potential emigrant must concur before the prospective emigrant may depart the country. Authorities did not enforce this law.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Refoulement: In June the European Court of Human Rights fined the country 125,000 euros ($137,500) for forcibly returning seven Turkish educators to Turkey in 2018, where they were imprisoned on unclear charges by Turkish authorities. The ruling noted the transfer of Turkish citizens undermined domestic and international law and that five of the seven were asylum applicants who had been unlawfully deprived of their freedom. A former deputy head of the Moldovan Intelligence Service and the head of the Moldovan Bureau for Migration and Asylum were put under criminal investigation following the ECHR ruling.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for protecting refugees. Obtaining formal refugee status was slow and burdensome. Authorities issued refugees identity cards valid indefinitely; beneficiaries of humanitarian protection received identification documents valid for three years; and asylum seekers received temporary identification cards. UNHCR provided refugees logistical, housing, medical and financial support. A temporary accommodation center administered by the Bureau of Migration and Asylum was available for asylum seekers.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country has a policy of presumptive denial of asylum seekers from Ukraine displaced by the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. The country had previously accepted Ukrainian asylum seekers but determined that Ukraine’s process for protecting and resettling internally displaced persons was sufficient. The majority of displaced Ukrainians preferred to transit Moldova, then seek asylum in the EU.
Temporary Protection: The government provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of July, there were 257 beneficiaries of humanitarian protection registered in the national asylum system.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government failed to implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Despite some improvement, corruption remained a serious problem. Corruption in the judiciary and other state structures was widespread. The government made progress in investigating corruption cases involving public officials and the judiciary, which resulted in several high-profile detentions.
The law provides the National Anticorruption Center (NAC) the authority to verify wealth and address “political integrity, public integrity, institutional integrity, and favoritism.” The National Integrity Authority (NIA), which was formed to check assets, personal interests, and conflicts of interest of officials, was not fully operational due to delays in selecting the 30 integrity inspectors required by law. The former ruling coalition harshly criticized both the NAC and the NIA for lack of action in investigating corrupt officials.
Corruption: The two key anticorruption institutions, the NIA and the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency, were not fully functional and there was no monitoring of the implementation of the National Integrity and Anticorruption Strategy. According to a May survey, 26 percent of citizens admitted to having paid bribes to those working in the public sector in the previous year.
Reports noted that authorities’ attempts to compromise anticorruption processes, including by legalizing possibly illegally acquired assets, remained high during the first half of the year. A much-contested law on capital amnesty expired; it had been adopted in 2018, and could allow the legalization of unreported assets, tax liabilities, and cash. Observers noted that there were few safeguards to prevent the legalization of criminally acquired assets, although the amnesty law nominally prohibited it.
A 2018 report by Transparency International noted that the government hindered anticorruption efforts by: suppressing civic activists, whistleblowers, lawyers, and judges; initiating new criminal cases against political opponents at the local level; using the law on the protection of personal data to impede access to information of public interest; and amending election laws to benefit the largest, most organized political parties. The report concluded that these practices were indicative of high-level corruption and political corruption, which led to what it labelled “state capture” (i.e., private interests significantly influencing a state’s decision-making processes).
In 2018 the NAC detained 10 persons on corruption charges, including three judges from the Court of Appeals, two judges from the Chisinau Central Court, and a prosecutor from the Chisinau prosecutor’s office. During preliminary hearings in April, only seven out of the 10 suspects showed up in court. The cases were ongoing at year’s end.
In September the Superior Council of Magistrates (SCM) refused to endorse a request from the interim prosecutor general to criminally investigate five judges suspected of involvement in laundering more than 352 billion lei (20 billion) from Russia through the country’s banking system. The SCM postponed the request examination. On September 24 the SCM accepted the interim prosecutor general’s request to lift the immunity of Supreme Court of Justice head Ion Druta, who was being investigated on charges of illicit enrichment. On October 30 anticorruption prosecutors seized several assets (real estate and cars worth 12.9 million lei ($735,000)) belonging to Druta.
In a separate case, anticorruption prosecutors detained and then released on bail Oleg Sternioala, judge at the Supreme Court of Justice, on charges of money laundering and illicit enrichment. Sternioala tendered his resignation in December.
Financial Disclosure: Laws require financial disclosure by public officials, including state officials, judges, prosecutors, civil servants, and officials holding leadership positions. The NIA has the legal power to apply sanctions. The law provides that officials who fail to declare their assets may be dismissed from office and barred from holding public office. NIA integrity inspectors have authority to alert relevant authorities (Tax Office and Prosecutor’s Office) and request seizure of illegally acquired assets by a court decision. The law requires the heads of state enterprises and local councilors to submit income statements and provides for an online system for wealth and interest statement submissions. By law officials must make public income statements within 30 days of their appointment and before March 31 of each year for the duration of their term in office. The NIA was not fully functional, and the government enforced these requirements inconsistently.
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.
Authorities in Chisinau did not have full access to or control over the Transnistrian region. According to local and international experts, authorities in Transnistria continued to monitor and restrict activities of human rights NGOs. There were credible reports that no human rights NGO in the region investigated serious human rights violations due to fear of repression and harassment from authorities.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman was fully operational and active in reporting on human rights issues. The law provides for the independence of the ombudsman from political influence and for his or her appointment to a seven-year, nonrenewable term. The Office of the Ombudsman may initiate an investigation based on complaints or on its own authority. Although the Office of the Ombudsman lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of human rights violations, including monitoring conditions in prisons and other places of detention. A separate ombudsman for children’s rights operates under the same framework within the Office of the Ombudsman.
Parliament also had a separate standing committee for human rights and interethnic relations.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The government generally respected these rights with limitations. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law does not allow government workers and workers in essential services, such as law enforcement, judges, holders of public administration offices, health-care providers, and public utility employees, to strike. The law prohibits strikes during natural disasters, epidemics, and pandemics as well as in times of state emergency. Authorities may impose compulsory arbitration at the request of one party to a dispute. There are no particular groups of workers excluded from or covered differently by relevant legal protections.
The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were independent of the government, political parties, employers, or employers’ associations. There were no reports that the government, political parties, or employers interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations. Prosecutors may reject appeals by trade unions alleging antiunion behavior, and authorities did not punish alleged violations of the trade union law. Workers exercised the right to strike by conducting legal strikes.
There is a mechanism to monitor and enforce labor laws through the State Labor Inspectorate (SLI) and the Prosecutor General’s Office, but it failed to monitor effectively and enforce the rights to collective bargaining and to organize. The law does not provide effective sanctions for violations of freedom of association, or stipulate penalties for violating trade union rights. Penalties for the deliberate failure to negotiate and amend collective agreements or the violation of negotiated terms were not sufficient to deter violations.
The SLI does not have the authority to enforce penalties for violations of workplace health and safety concerns; this was delegated to 10 other state agencies according to their areas of expertise.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with exceptions. The law and a government decision allow central and local authorities as well as military bodies to mobilize the adult population under certain conditions, such as in the event of a national disaster, and to employ such labor to develop the national economy. The government did not invoke this provision during the year. Penalties for persons who engage workers in forced labor were sufficiently stringent to deter violations and were seldom imposed.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation for forced labor were generally inadequate. Men and women were subjected to labor trafficking to Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, and the United Arab Emirates. Internal trafficking occurred in all regions of the country, focused mostly on farms and begging in larger towns. Internal trafficking for begging and labor exploitation, particularly in the agriculture and construction sectors, was steadily on the rise. Official complicity in trafficking continued to be a significant problem that the government attempted to curb by prosecuting those involved.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 15. The law permits juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 to work under special conditions, including shorter workdays (35 hours per week and no night, weekend, holiday, or overtime work). With written permission from a parent or guardian, 15-year-old children may work. Work for children who are 15 or 16 should not exceed 24 hours per week. Children younger than 18 are not allowed to perform hazardous and dangerous activities in 30 industries, including construction, agriculture, food processing, and textiles. The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for persons engaging children in such activities. Under aggravated circumstances, courts can increase the sentence to life imprisonment. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Parents who owned or worked on farms often sent children to work in fields or to find other employment. Children left behind by parents who had emigrated abroad also worked on farms. The vast majority of child laborers worked in family businesses or on family farms.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on sex, age, race, color, nationality, religion, political opinion, social origin, residence, disability, HIV-positive status, and membership or activity in trade unions, as well as other criteria. The law requires employers to provide for equal opportunity and treatment of employees without discrimination, to apply the same criteria to assess each employee’s work, and to provide equal conditions for men and women relating to work and family obligations. The law defines and prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, minority status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The National Trade Union Confederation (NTUC) reported frequent cases of employers denying employment to pregnant women, since such employment was associated with additional benefits payable after childbirth.
The law also stipulates that the Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring Equality be responsible for reviewing complaints of discrimination and making recommendations. As of September the council made decisions on 191 cases of alleged discrimination, 43 percent more than in 2018.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
According to NTUC, as of October, salary arrears were more than 40 million lei ($2.27 million), with almost half the sum accounted for by the state forestry service.
The law sets the maximum workweek at 40 hours with overtime compensation; provides for at least one day off per week; and mandates paid annual leave of at least 28 calendar days (government holidays excluded). Different paid leave plans may be used in some sectors, such as education, health care, and public service. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Foreign and migrant workers have the same legal status as domestic workers.
The government sets occupational safety and health standards. According to labor law, workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The labor code requires work contracts for employment. There were no reports of work contracts in the agricultural sector, where the central government did not have an effective mechanism to monitor compliance.
Government efforts to enforce requirements for minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards were limited and ineffective. The law requires the government to establish and monitor safety standards in the workplace, but there is no public reporting available on inspections for compliance with health and safety standards. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations.
Inspectors from the SLI were required to give advance notice before conducting labor investigations and were generally prohibited from conducting onsite inspections if information sought could be obtained in writing, which undercut their enforcement ability. This legal change also distributed responsibility for occupational health safety controls to 10 sectoral inspection agencies, most of which did not have sufficient trained staff to carry out inspections. As a result, the SLI did not conduct any unannounced or onsite inspections in 2018 or from January to June, and the sectoral agencies conducted fewer than 100 such inspections. Authorities did not effectively enforce legal protections, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the agriculture and construction industries.
A thriving informal economy accounted for a significant portion of the country’s economic activity. According to the International Labor Organization, 30.9 percent of the total employed population had an informal job and 68.7 percent of those jobs were in the agricultural sector. Workers in the informal economy did not have the same legal protections as employees in the formal sector. There were no government social programs targeting workers in the informal economy.
Poor economic conditions led enterprises to spend less on safety equipment and to pay insufficient attention to worker safety. There is a consensus among stakeholders that after the change in the legislation governing labor inspections, occupational safety and health standards in the workplace worsened during the year. In the first nine months of the year, the SLI reported 352 work accidents involving 366 victims. The SLI also reported 18 work-related deaths. Enterprise committees investigated 266 cases of temporary incapacitation resulting from work accidents, involving 274 persons.