Ana Racu: Moldova has yet to work on detention conditions, quality and efficiency of justice. IPN interview

How are the respect for the human rights and administration of justice in the Republic of Moldova seen from outside the country? Did the authorities in Moldova make progress in fulfilling the commitments made to the Council of Europe in the field of human rights and justice sector reform? How efficient is the criminal justice? How do things in the penitentiary system of Moldova stand? Is there intimidation and corruption in the Moldovan justice system? Who intimidates who and who corrupts who? How can the justice system in Moldova be rehabilitated? Answers to these and other questions can be found in Sabina Rebeja’s interview with civic activist Ana Racu, a member of the UN Committee against Torture.

– IPN: Missis Racu, you have experience of work with the UN Committee against Torture. How are the respect for the human rights and administration of justice in the Republic of Moldova seen from there?

– Ana Racu: My professional profile includes over 20 years of work in a more specific field - prevention of torture, the rights of detainees - which are areas that are directly related to the field of criminal justice. From the perspective of what you asked, it is not a novelty. The Republic of Moldova has been under the permanent monitoring of the Council of Europe and other international organizations empowered to monitor the observance of human rights in general, in our country in particular. We have shortcomings in different areas. We are neither at the top of the list, nor at its end. If we look at things from a global perspective, we have systemic shortcomings and I refer here to those related to the detention sector that are known and that made us famous abroad as we are the torturers of Europe. On the other hand, we achieved particular results in this regard and these should be emphasized. The fact that we have cases of torture or inhuman treatment investigated shows not a rise in violations, but the fact that they are investigated and the victims are not afraid to denounce the torturers and, as a matter of fact, the investigation bodies and justice do their job. Another thing is that there are areas in which the made progress is rather modest and we have yet a lot to work.

– IPN: In what areas?

– Ana Racu: The traditional ones: detention conditions, quality and efficiency of justice. Now, I think we will have rather many allegations, complaints about the right to life and health in the context of the pandemic. It depends what criteria are used. If we take the criterion of type of cases that the Republic of Moldova lost at the ECHR, these are primarily related to the access to justice, detention conditions. These are at the top as the violations of the kind are more resonant. Many of these cases were brought into focus, including by the press. Let’s remember the case of Braguța and other resonant cases.

– IPN: What is your opinion about Moldovan authorities’ progress in fulfilling the commitments made to the Council of Europe in the field of human rights and justice sector reform? Have the expectations been met or not?

– Ana Racu: Progress has been made in parts. Let’s remember the fact that the hearings at courts of law are public and the court decisions are placed on portals and can be seen. A lot of technical work was done to achieve this. The fact that fewer applications were filed to the ECHR last year probably confirms a slight qualitative jump. If we speak from the exclusive perspective of justice, the cases are distributed at random and this is progress on which a lot of work was done. Such progress didn’t exist 15-20 years ago. On the other hand, the fact that representatives of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture pay rather often visits shows that many of the systemic things should be changed, improved, especially at residential institutions. I do not refer here only to penitentiaries, but also to the remand prisons of the police, psychiatric institutions, placement centers for persons with disabilities, all the institutions where persons are in state custody, where the persons do not go voluntarily. [...] Our commitments to the Council of Europe will remain under a permanent dialogue with this important body. You should know that any progress made by the Republic of Moldova is recorded and is supported by the Council of Europe. The problem is that it should be a systematic and wider effort so that we could be praised and commended. I hope the recent initiative that was created with the support of the Council of Europe – the working group for the justice sector reform - will have a positive effect on reforms, at least those that were started in the Republic of Moldova. It is expected that radical amendments will be made to the Constitution, which should contribute to optimizing the administration of justice and creation of a framework favorable to the work of judges in our country. What is obvious is that without the development partners, we will cope with difficulty and we need their support and will then realize the potential we have. We also need European expertise and funds.

– IPN: Do you think that in Moldova we have justice with elements of injustice or injustice with elements of justice?

– Ana Racu: We can often see from the complexity of a court decision that is very well argued that justice was administered correctly, objectively and efficiently. If we examine all the decisions, things become slightly more difficult. I would analyze very well the frequent mistakes because it is not necessarily bad intention or there are monsters in the judge’s robe and these judges aim to incorrectly implement the legislation. I would analyze the mistakes so as to detect those that are generated by the imperfection of the legislation and would try to put right the given mistakes as we have enough cases of the kind. I would try to adjust the training system and admit that this is probably done, but after discussing with judges, I realized that they would want something more at the practical level. […] I avoid cataloguing because, as I said above, the complexity of a case on which a lot of work is done means an act of justice done equitably and you cannot place everything on the same scale as this would be one of the criterion according to which the judges are assessed [...].

– IPN: Can you provide more details about the justice or injustice in the penitentiary system: where are we and why and what can be done yet? 

– Ana Racu: Evidently, the detention conditions prevail and these changed a lot in the penitentiary system during the past 15 years. Progress was made in parts. For example, repair works were carried out in the medical units of almost each penitentiary. They are trying to get accreditation. The fact that there are not so many cases of COVID-19 means an effort is being made there and the people try to cope with the pandemic as they can, with the modest resources they have. Particular progress was made in introducing the progressive system of serving the punishment. They are trying now a number of elements for the social reintegration of the convicts. We continue to face problems generated by the architecture of the detention places we inherited, the so-called “gulag” system. We do not have many penitentiaries with cells. Most of the penitentiaries have large bedrooms, large areas that do not enable the convicts to enjoy intimacy and to not meet the standards as regards the number of meters required by the Council of Europe and other international organizations, and from a number of perspectives. […] But we have yet a lot to do. There is the fluctuation of personnel. No one wants to come voluntarily to work as a guardian as it is psychologically testing and financially these professions are not the most attractive ones. What is important is that the situation that existed 15-20 years ago, when the prisons were overpopulated and the people slept in turn in remand prisons, is no longer of such a scale. Twenty years ago, it was a disaster […].

– IPN: Is there intimidation and corruption in the Moldovan justice system, including criminal one? Who intimidates who and who corrupts who?

– Ana Racu: When I was coming to your office in the morning, I read the statement of the Association of Judges where the judges say they regret a lot the political interference in the appointment of judges at the Supreme Court of Justice. It primarily goes to the case of judge Puică and they confirm this. They express their concern and bewilderment at the direct interference by the political class in the procedure for appointing judges, at the fact that the position of the Superior Council of Magistracy was inexplicably ignored. If they confirm it, this is probably true. In our country, we have always witnessed political interference in justice. Polls carried out by NGOs show this and this made some of the judges be docile. With this conditional appointment of judges for a five-year term, which is followed by the assessment and the eventual definitive appointment, makes them be obedient and convenient, be somehow compliant, and this often discouraging them from  excelling as this limit keeps them in suspense.

– IPN: Do you think the justice system of Moldova can be rehabilitated or it should be fully replaced? What should be done at practical level first of all?

– Ana Racu: To my mind, very clear criteria should be stipulated in the legislation, concerning the taking up of the duties and promotion to posts by removing the five-year period that makes the judges obedient and prevents them from excelling as they know they could do more after they are confirmed to posts following the five-year period, including be more harsh or critical in particular situations, from legal viewpoint I mean. The subjective assessment criteria used during years by the justice chiefs should be removed. These chiefs should do executive, managerial work only and should not be directly involved in the assessment of judges [...] The legislation on the integrity of judges should function. If you cannot prove how you gained your property, you should leave. On the other hand, there are voices in justice that want the justice system to be improved from inside. This critical mass of people who want the change can ultimately obtain the improvement of the system. […] Until external assessment becomes available, we can do things that do not imply such a great effort. We can change the assessment and promotion criteria, do changes to the national legislation and amend the Superior Council of Magistracy’s regulations concerning the assessment of judges. These things can be done without considerable effort as they do not imply the amendment of the Constitution.

– IPN: In general, do the persons have access to equitable justice? Do you think the persons can count on fair justice, including while in custody?

– Ana Racu: Yes and no as, again, if we speak about the legal provisions, from legal viewpoint, there are no obstacles to the access to justice. As regards the quality of justice, we can go into details here. If we speak about the quality of civil documents, it is one approach. If we speak about criminal cases, the perception is different. It’s hard for me to say to what extent... According to the Public Opinion Barometer, our population has trusted justice to a very small extent during the past few years and this is regrettable as this points to particular perceptions existing in society and also demotivates the judges. […] On the other hand, the image of justice is also influenced by the effort made by judges in the communication with the press and the general public. The judges are often to blame for the erroneous interpretations or for the fact that too great emphases are placed on some of the cases as they do not clearly explain the situation. You will not understand much if you hear a court decision, but do not have legal education. That’s why for justice to be closer to the people, explanations are often needed.

Other aspects related to the human rights, access to equitable justice and the role played by politicians and the authorities in improving things in the justice sector can be found in the interview given to IPN by civic activist Ana Racu, a member of the UN Committee against Torture.

The interview was held as part of IPN Agency’s project “Exposing Injustice Though Multimedia”.

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