How Corruption Influences Human Rights? Interview with Moldovan Human Rights Activists from Promo-LEX
Every four years, countries that have ratified the UN Convention against Torture report on its implementation. At the 62nd session of the UN Committee against Torture, Moldova reported on the situation with human rights. One of the main questions to the authorities of the country was corruption in courts, and, as a consequence, the citizens’ critical distrust to the state system. Alexandrina Elagina spoke with Vadim Vieru, the lawyer of the human rights organization Promo-LEX, about corruption in Moldova, and how it affects the observance of human rights.
– You prepared an alternative report for the UN committee. Why one of the central questions to members of the Moldovan government was about corruption in courts?
– We do not have direct evidence, but we suspect that in some cases involving torture, there were agreements with the judges: the defendants were giving money for acquittals. But in general, this is not only the problem of cases involving torture, but in general of the entire judicial system in our country.
– So you are claiming that in cases where, for example, policemen tortured people, there was corruption?
– If such case comes to trial, then of course. But corruption begins at the stage of the criminal prosecution. We have statistics: according to the figures, out of 600 complaints of torture only 30-50 cases get to trial. This raises the question of the quality of investigation. It is possible that many cases are unreasonably suspended: due to corruption or due to the lack of professionalism of some prosecutors.
– On corruption in courts: what is the situation now?
– The situation is serious. In order to overcome corruption in this sphere, they raised judges’ salaries, somewhere up to 1 thousand Euros. Of course, when compared with the salaries of judges in other European countries, this is not much, but it is a significant amount for our country. But even after that, nothing has changed: the judges have not stopped taking bribes. If someone wants to solve something that way, the see a green light.
– Therefore, as I understand it, ordinary citizens do not hope for a fair decision.
– If we do not get fair solutions at the local level, we send cases to international courts.
– Well, how do you explain it to people? The fact is that these problems are familiar to us – the same thing is happening in Russia. People think why should I go to court and do something about it, if there is still no hope for justice?
– Of course, we are also not happy about the fact that we cannot achieve justice at the local level. And when people ask, we tell them that we are making a strategic case. That is, we are working on global changes to the whole system. And justice is in the European Court.
– Can you give an example of the most common corruption situation in your country?
– A typical situation is when a policeman stops a person on the street and starts hinting at a bribe. Or, for example, there’s another popular practice: a lawyer recommends the client to pay the prosecutor for a less severe punishment, for example. If a person refuses to bribe a policeman, nothing terrible will happen – he will not be tortured for this. And officials after recent sentences to ministers started taking money not so boldly, as before.
– And the “high-profile” corruption cases – for example, against the former prime minister of Moldova, who was convicted for nine years for corruption – is this really a punishment, or is it a political decision, a struggle within the elite?
– The problem is that we have never had a fight against corruption in the country. Something was done under the pressure of the European Union or other donor countries (financial donors – Ed.). As for the high-profile corruption cases, things are as follows: those who are detained really have something “to be taken for”. But usually this coincides with some political processes. For example, the Mayor of Chisinau: his party did not want to vote for a bill, two weeks later he was detained. But the offenses he committed took place four years ago.
– A coincidence?
– It always nicely matches. We have a center for fighting corruption. It arrives, detains the official – wearing masks, on style, like “agents 007”. In general, it’s a show. And then what happens to these cases? Many end up with acquittals or just fines. Because the quality of investigations is very poor: a lot of procedures are carried out with violations, there are many cases where a bribe provocation is used. Often, an official can get away with it because of a weak evidence base or because of human rights violations during the investigation.
– Violations against those who are suspected of corruption crimes?
– We had a case a couple of years ago, within which 15 traffic police officers were detained. It was an indicative case: the head of the police gathered everyone and began to read the names on the list out loud. These people came out, and they were immediately arrested. The main proof is the video showing them taking bribes. It turned out that it was a provocation: the same person in the car deliberately violated in front of them, the policemen stopped him, and then the driver himself offered 100 leu. Some took money, some did not. But this situation contradicts the sixth article of the UN Convention: it is a provocation. All the evidence is collected illegally. The case goes to court. But even those who are suspected of corruption have rights.
– The commission spoke of poor conditions in prisons. After the high-ranking officials were imprisoned, have conditions in the correctional colonies somehow changed?
– No. I would even say it got worse. For example, the former prime minister is in jail No. 13. This prison is very old, it was built in 1860. It contains about 1200 people, although the prison is designed for 500 people. In the European Court, Moldova lost 50-60 cases related to this prison. The government is now starting to build new facilities, but so far the problem has not been resolved. And it's not clear when it’s going to change: they promised to build it by 2018, but there is still no foundation.
– That is, the fact that there is a high-ranking official sitting there, does not change the situation?
– There were 15 judges, who were convicted in the Landromat case (money was being laundered through Moldova through a complex system, including from Russia – Ed.), sitting there. Nothing has changed.
– It's just that people probably have a myth that if a minister, for example, is imprisoned, then the prison will get better: the official will have, so to speak, a personal experience, call his influential friends and say “What is this all going on? Do something about it now!”
– As far as I know, they even mocked the former minister in prison: they put him in one cell, which he renovated at his own expense. As soon as he finished there, he was transferred to another cell. He again paid money for the renovation. And again he was transferred to another cell! People joked – let's constantly move him so that he finally repaired the whole prison.
– Why cannot they build a new jail? We, for example, cannot build the new Kresty-2 in St. Petersburg, because the money disappeared somewhere again. They even detained the deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, theft, they say.
– I would say that the problem is not corruption, but bureaucracy. The Bank of Development of the Council of Europe allocated money for the construction of the new prison facility. And so that this money does not get stolen, the bank insists on bureaucratic procedures that take a long time. And our officials are slow themselves. I think that when they start building, there definitely will be some kickbacks. However, the same goes for Russia.