Ion Manole: Political dialogue is very important and we will continue to encourage it, but we will insist that this dialogue definitely include real guarantees for the observance of human rights in Transnistria

IPN interview with Ion Manole, executive director of the human rights organization Promo-LEX

- IPN: Mr. Manole, you participated in drawing up a report on the impact of Russian troops on human rights in Armenia, Ukraine and Moldova, and whose presentation took place at the end of last week. What were the reasons for developing such a document? Has there been a change in the human rights situation in the Transnistrian region that required a special analysis in this regard?

- Ion Manole: On the contrary. There is no positive change, the situation remains complicated. Both the issue of respecting human rights and the presence of Russian troops on the territory of the Republic of Moldova are topics that are increasingly debated within society or discussed by the relevant actors and constitutional authorities. For this reason, we accepted the proposal of our colleagues from Armenia and Ukraine to try to make an analysis of the situation regarding the observance of human rights in the conflict zones and the impact of the presence of Russian troops. Finally, the purpose of this document is to better understand the situation and to start again to publicly debate certain issues in order to identify solutions that would guarantee human rights and security in the Eastern Partnership states.

- IPN: Is it true that your report includes not only the description of the human rights situation and conclusions for the Transnistrian region, but also the description of the actions taken by the Russian authorities and troops in this region, which are not necessarily related to human rights per se. Why?

- Ion Manole: From the beginning we should mention that in 1992, the Moldovan and Russian authorities initiated a negotiation process regarding the terms and conditions of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. This process was abandoned in a way. However, on the one hand, the foreign military presence on the territory of a state produces effects, including legal ones. On the other hand, human rights advocates have sounded the alarm for several years about the problems faced by the population in the conflict zones, including that of the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova.

Promo-LEX has used all national and international tools to defend victims of abuse and to convince constitutional authorities and relevant actors to change their attitude about this. The fact that there are numerous judgments of the European Court of Human Rights confirms our concerns and obligates us all to act in order to resolve and remedy the situation.

The presence of Russian troops on the territory of the Republic of Moldova must be analyzed not only from the point of view of political statements, which, in fact, sometimes occur spontaneously, sometimes formally and without any real result. It was quite impressive to analyze the way in which the process of Moldovan-Russian negotiations on the terms and conditions of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova regressed. The involvement of the Russian military and their decisive role in taking over and maintaining control over the territory of the region is described in detail in the findings of the European Court in the Ilașcu case as well. Subsequently, this space was practically closed for monitoring the situation, and in these conditions, public opinion can judge the real situation only through cases of serious human rights violations, including forcibly drafted persons.

The drawing up of the report implied tackling subjects on several dimensions: the relation of the constitutional authorities of the Republic of Moldova with the Russian Federation; the relation of the constitutional authorities with the de facto administration in the region; the relation of the constitutional authorities with their own citizens from the left bank of the Dniester; actions of the de facto administration in relation to the population in the region. On all these dimensions we find a constant and systemic degradation of the Moldovan-Russian dialogue, the lack of coherence as well as the unnecessary and unwarranted constant yielding of Chisinau authorities due to the incompetence or the total disregard of the state guarantees and obligations related to fundamental human rights.

- IPN: Maintaining Russian troops on the territory of the Republic of Moldova involves a financial effort for the Russian Federation, which has assumed the obligation to withdraw them. Why, nevertheless, is this process stagnating?

- Ion Manole: Through the Agreement of July 1992 Moldova managed to stop the war and practically established the Russian Federation as a party to the conflict. At the same time, a Moldovan-Russian commission was created on the conditions and terms of withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova. So far, we can say that things went in the right direction, but later we noticed the gradual shift of emphasis, the replacement or the emergence of new subjects in the negotiations, which complicated the process of clear and quick identification of solutions regarding the achievement of the initial objectives. As a result, the Russian Federation gradually drifted away from its main purpose, namely the setting of terms for withdrawing its troops and ammunitions from the territory of the Republic of Moldova, replacing both the purpose and the actors involved in the negotiations. So today, 28 years later, we are still discussing the presence of Russian troops in Moldova, and this presence continues to be a threat and will have a negative impact on both economic development and regional security, as well as on the human rights situation.

The foreign military presence can be compared to a weapon hanging on the wall that at first glance is not a danger, but in reality it can be used at any time. This is why Moldovan society needs clear information on the terms and conditions of the stationing of these troops on our territory. Constitutional authorities must provide information to the public and involve the relevant actors in solving the given problem. This is, first and foremost, our problem and no one else should have and will not have a greater interest in addressing it. Neither the population nor authorities should expect the issue to be discussed or resolved by international partners, it must be grappled systemically and consistently by us. Indeed, Russia is wasting huge financial resources to maintain its military presence in Moldova, but also to maintain control over the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova. As authors of the report, this is of less concern to us, instead we would prefer the timely execution of the European Court judgments and the payment of 5.5 million Euro to the 2200 victims of human rights violations.

In this context, let me express my confidence in the possibility of a positive outcome that depends on the political will, but also the competence of the Moldovan authorities.

- IPN: What time period, what governance?

- Ion Manole: The statement probably refers to all periods and governments. Moldovan authorities have limited themselves to diplomatic statements, letters and speeches, whereas the Russian Federation continues to provide multilateral support to the illegal regime in Tiraspol, including by adopting documents that defy international law and the bilateral documents signed with the Republic of Moldova. For instance, contrary to previous international commitments, contrary to the numerous negotiations between the Russian and Moldovan authorities on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova, on March 20, 1998, the Russian Federation signed directly with the Tiraspol leaders "the Odessa Protocol on military and patrimonial issues". In this document, the Russian Federation already accepts the wording "Russian troops deployed in Transnistria" and thus unilaterally decides on the situation of military goods and properties. On June 15, 2001, the Russian Federation signed not with the Republic of Moldova, but with the administration of the region, a protocol on jointly carrying out the works for the disposal of weapons, military equipment and ammunition. Later, on September 24-26, 2002, Russia and the de facto administration of the Transnistrian region signed a protocol whereby Russia provided financial support to the de facto regime, under the pretext of allowing the process of evacuation of Russian troops and ammunition to continue. Do you notice the shift of emphasis? Great Russia does not withdraw its troops and ammunitions because Little Tiraspol does not allow it... Thus, the funding continued, and the troops remained there.

Therefore, the emphasis was shifted from issues concerning the withdrawal of Russian troops to "bilateral" negotiations that are dangerous for regional stability and security. Analyzing the Law of the Republic of Moldova on preventing and combating terrorism, the Venice Commission asked whether the notion of terrorist activity also covers the Transnistrian region, and whether the de facto administration, including the militarized structures supported by the Russian army, could be treated as terrorist formations.

Consequently, when addressing the issue of Russian military forces stationed on this territory, we highlight several aspects. On the one hand, the Russian Federation insists that its military presence in this region of the Republic of Moldova is nothing more than a peace keeping operation in the area, while it aggressively promotes this image, especially on the territory controlled by the separatist administration. On the other hand, the situation is differently perceived by the international community, the constitutional authorities and by the majority of the population of Moldova, who regard the Russian military presence as an occupation, while Russian troops refuses to evacuate despite Russia’s international commitments. A third point of view is that these troops represent real danger to regional security.

- IPN: From the point of view of international law, is anyone responsible for this situation?

- Ion Manole:
Considering the previously mentioned aspects, the lines between military formations stationed on this territory is somewhat blurred - on the one hand, you have Russian mixed military forces that consist of the Operational Group of Russian Forces, which is the former 14th Army, and the peace keeping mission forces, while on the other hand, you have paramilitary forces, which are under the control of the de facto administration. Thus, in the context of protection of human rights, including the rights of the enrolled personnel, we can only say that the Russian Federation must assume the observance of such rights. The evidence available in the public sphere supports this claim. For example, the GOTR military exercises continue on a regular basis, despite criticism from the Moldovan constitutional authorities. As of March 2018, these training exercises are announced on the website of the Western Military District General Staff of the Russian Federation, while the Russian military within the GOTR continues to promote and involve the region's population in military activities. The establishment in July 2018 of the first military-patriotic camp "Red Star" of military disciplines for children, serves as an example. Between August and October 2018, the GOTR, together with Transnistrian paramilitary forces, conducted extensive military exercises in the Transnistrian region. These are just a few examples of this kind, which show an unprecedented and open illegal activity of the Russian military on this Moldovan territory. It is obvious that these actions are in contradiction with the commitments made by the Russian Federation and with its status of mediator and guarantor in the Transnistrian settlement process. On the other hand, in the context of human rights, the Russian authorities reject any related issue by saying that human rights are political issues, which exclusively fall within the "competence of the Transnistrian authorities" and deny any responsibility for the abuses or violations that occur. Political dialogue is very important for us, that is why we will continue to encourage it, however, we will insist that real guarantees are offered within the dialogue regarding the observance of the human rights of the population of the Transnistrian region, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

- IPN: Although you have provided some concrete examples of human rights violations in the Transnistrian region, as far as I understand, you have mostly referred to the context, circumstances and the conditions under which a certain human rights situation occurs in the region. Let's talk about the situation itself.

-Ion Manole:
Certainly, the situation as a whole has always been very worrying. The Moldovan-Russian ceasefire agreement of June 21, 1992, had virtually no positive impact on human rights. Although it expressly provides for the right to free movement, in reality, contrary to all Russian guarantees, the de facto administration has strengthened its control over the occupied territory, setting up control posts, thus limiting the movement of persons, goods and services. Due to limited access to the controlled territory, the region's population became the hostage of the de facto regime and still remains its hostage. To this day, there are no national or international organizations that would monitor the situation regarding human rights, which allowed the administration and paramilitary structures to act as they please, with total impunity.

- IPN: What about Moldovan authorities?

- Ion Manole:
The constitutional authorities from Chișinău have not discussed either the problems related to the situation of the persons that remain on the territories controlled by the separatist administration and, respectively, did not outline any action plan, did not create effective institutions and did not include these topics on the political agenda, with very few exceptions.

Basically, the issue of the functioning of schools was the only issue which was addressed by the constitutional authorities, that demanded guarantees and insisted on respecting the rights of a group of people. In general, however, the Moldovan authorities were not able to hold in any way the Transnistrian administration responsible for serious human rights abuses and violations, nor to identify peaceful and effective intervention tools in order to protect the inhabitants of the region. Thus, the human rights situation is a problem ignored and blatantly excluded from any format of negotiations. Throughout this long period, basically, there were no missions to monitor the situation in this area. There was no insistence on the establishment of mechanisms or instruments for monitoring, measuring and rectifying the situation regarding fundamental human rights and freedoms. It is important to understand that the territory controlled by the Transnistrian administration is not the private property of those who govern it or those who have de facto control. Hundreds of thousands of people live on this territory. These people have fundamental rights and freedoms and must have guarantees and access to effective legal instruments in order to protect these rights.

We took note that constitutional authorities continue to sign various documents with the Transnistrian region administration, however, these documents have no positive impact on the human rights situation. These agreements do not offer any guarantees for the observance of human rights. Therefore, constitutional authorities continue to make certain mistakes, perceived by the public opinion as concessions which violate national law. Additionally, we took note that the documents that are signed only benefit the Russian side, which has sought from the very beginning to replace itself at the negotiation table with the Transnistrian administration and to cancel its status of a party involved in the conflict. The constitutional authorities, unfortunately, did not request access for the relevant institutions to the region in order to know the situation on site. Similarly, no document provides for the monitoring of the human rights situation by specialized national or international organizations. The real reasons for these concessions by the constitutional authorities are not explained to nor understood by the public. Under these circumstances, we are still concerned about the absence of discussions and signed documents on human rights issues. These problems represent the most serious challenges for the population in the region and in the security area, which, as I said, don't have access to any effective legal instruments for the defense of their rights, nor any real guarantees from the constitutional authorities.

- IPN: What is the "reaction of the negotiation partners"?

- Ion Manole: Having obtained an unexpected but sufficient recognition for blocking the process of political negotiations, the de-facto administration of the Transnistrian region, hiding behind numerous documents signed by the constitutional authorities, consolidated and maintained control over the territory under conditions of total impunity for violation and abuse of human rights. Additionally, in the above-mentioned Report, we followed the interest of the Russian Federation and its constant efforts to maintain its troops presence on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, in contravention of the norms of international law, bilateral agreements with Chișinău, international commitments and to the detriment of human rights and freedoms, of economic interests and social needs of the population. The human rights situation has not received the attention of neither the Russian and the Moldovan authorities nor of the relevant international organizations. I found that during the 28-year political negotiations process, all the attention of the constitutional authorities and other involved actors focused on issues of military, political, economic or geopolitical nature, ignoring the daily problems that include very serious human rights violations and the absence of efficient tools to defend or protect the victims of these abuses. I say this with great regret, because without awareness and respect of human rights, real and lasting results cannot be obtained in the 5 + 2 negotiation format. Unfortunately, this is not fully understood by all the negotiation participants.

- IPN: The report also includes a chapter on the violation of human rights related to the Russian military presence. You have described cases examined by the European Court of Human Rights, which the Russian Federation has lost. What are the arguments which show that the Russian Federation is responsible for the violations on a territory that does not belong to it?

- Ion Manole:
The report contains a list of important cases examined by the ECtHR, which found the Russian Federation responsible for violations of human rights. Indeed, until now the Promo-LEX Association has litigated cases in which the violation of various rights provided by the Convention was found. There are over 50 cases. In some cases, such as the Ilașcu and the Pisari ones, Russian soldiers directly participated in the violation of human rights. However, let us not forget that the Russian army is indirectly involved in violating human rights. The military element is crucial in determining the Russian Federation's commitment to responsibility in general. Along with the economic control and political support it provides to the separatist regime, the Russian military presence was the element that allowed the Court to conclude that Russia has absolute control of the region. Under these circumstances, since these elements are perpetuated, Russia must bear the consequences.

Interviewer: Valeriu Vasilică

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