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A $17 Million Legal Bill for Moldova

Over the past two decades, the European Court of Human Rights has found the country guilty in almost 400 cases. Who’s to blame? From Ziarul de Garda.

3 December 2018

In the 21 years since it has been part of the European Convention on Human Rights, Moldova has been found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 381 cases, out of which 27 verdicts were handed out since the beginning of this year. Following the decisions of the court, Moldova’s budget suffered penalties of 300 million lei (15.48 million euros, or $17.47 million). Since 2007, the ECHR received around 13,500 cases from Moldova, in which the Moldovan state stands accused of violating fundamental rights and freedoms. Ziarul de Garda, a news and analysis site based in Moldova, asked a group of experts to explain the situation.

 

 

Ion Manole, the Promo-Lex Association, a Chisinau-based NGO promoting human rights and the advancement of democracy

 

“I don’t think that the problem comes from the legislation. If it were applied correctly, we wouldn’t be in the situation that we are in. The problem comes from the judicial system. Although in the past few years we’ve had some serious assistance for judicial reforms, people are still victims of the system. A judicial system should defend the people, and not the other way around. Things can only change once those who are to blame for violating human rights become more responsible. They should either be made to pay fines for those cases [where Moldova was found guilty by the ECHR] out of their own pockets, or they should be stripped of the right to get promoted … Twenty-one years, I believe, should be enough to reach another level of upholding some standards that we would agree upon. The fact that Moldova lost almost 400 cases at the ECHR and some hundreds of millions of lei from its budget doesn’t seem to bother the authorities, nor the judges, since it’s not their money.

 

Sergiu Mocanu, from the Anti-Mafia Movement, a right-wing political party

 

The money lost following the ECHR verdicts is the tribute paid by us to a selective judicial system, subordinated to the political class and its interests, and not to the interests of the state and of the citizens. I felt it myself, when I was arrested on political orders and when Moldova had to pay a large sum of money because I was arrested for no reason. I’m saying this because right now we are facing a trial in which Moldova will be charged the way it has never been before. I am talking about the case of seven Turkish citizens who were neither held in custody, nor extradited, but kidnapped and sent to Turkey. Do you know what the problem is? That this politically involved judicial system cannot be made better, and that the judges working within this system cannot be made to work for the interests of the state [anymore]. We have gone beyond the point of no return where it would have been possible to make these judges loyal to the state again. And the young judges joining the judicial system do not solve the problem. What’s needed is a reform of the entire judicial system, and this cannot be done without the change of the political system.

 

The ECHR building in Strasbourg, France. Image via CherryX/Wikimedia Commons.

 

Natalia Molosag, a lawyer

 

I wouldn’t blame the law, and not just when it comes to judges. The prosecutors, lawyers, and bailiffs have their part of the blame. The political class is not blameless either. The parliament seems to be doing its job: it adopts, changes, adapts the legislation to the Convention [the European Convention of Human Rights]. The problem comes from putting those [laws] into practice. The Moldovan judicial system is dominated by the same vices as the political one: private interests, corruption, a lack of transparency, the involvement of the political class in the judicial process, the breaching of the right to defense, the selective application of the law. The Convention has the same interpretation and is shown the same respect as the Constitution. Nobody cares about the cases that we lost at the ECHR, the money is being paid out of the budget, and there are no sanctions or penalties. As long as the culprits will not be held responsible for the ECHR verdicts, things will stay the same way as they’ve always been.     

 

Vlad Gribincea, from the Center of Judicial Resources, a Moldovan judicial and human rights NGO doing research and advocacy work

 

The European Court of Human Rights came to the conclusion that, in most cases, the problems that led to the condemnation of Moldova didn’t come from the law itself, but from the way those who had to apply it did so. Although the authorities have been insisting that they drafted reforms, I didn’t notice any qualitative changes in the performance of justice. And those changes are not possible as long as there is no trickle-down effect consisting of a sign from above [from the ruling class] about the desire for qualitative changes in judicial system; without that, we shouldn’t wait for such changes. I cannot say that politics directly influences justice, but what I can say is that the judges are extremely wary of what is happening in politics, and I don’t think there are many brave judges that would go against the system and hand down sentences dictated by their conscience and the law. Systematic changes don’t come from the judicial system as the judicial system can only watch over the change of the system. This has been proven by all countries that underwent successful judicial reform.

This article was originally published in Romanian by Ziarul de Garda, a news and analysis site based in Moldova. TOL has done some editing to fit its style. Reprinted with permission. All images via Ziarul de Garda. Translation by Ioana Caloianu.

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