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Closed Institutions during the Pandemic: Preserving Human Rights in Moldova

18 November 2021

“For us, any opportunity to improve the quality of life of the beneficiaries is acceptable and important.” – Ina Vutcariov, Head of Department, Activities for People in Conflict with the Law, Positive Initiative.

The regional EU COVID-19 Solidarity Programme for Eastern Partnership 2020-2022 was launched with the financial support of the European Union and in partnership with People in Need and AFEW International to support Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) already working with closed institutions. The sub-granting programme aimed to respond to the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and to influence longer-term policy reforms that support vulnerable groups and those disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Persons living in closed institutions (both prisons and other facilities in the criminal justice chain, and places of confinement of persons with a mental health problem) are included in the vulnerable groups covered with this programme.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) has provided grants to two CSOs working with prisons and mental health institutions. The latter being the Moldovan Institute of Human Rights (IDOM), to monitor compliance with COVID-19 related measures, and for the former, namely prisons, was Positive Initiative to deliver IT equipment to mitigate the short-term risks. According to Ina Vutcariov, “this project allowed all Civil Society Organsations that want to work in penitentiary institutions and either do not have the resources or have limited access to the institutions because of the pandemic, to provide all the services that they can provide online: Information, groups activities, and so on.” Hear more from Vutcariov on the importance of the project and its result below in an interview conducted by NHC’s partner People in Need.

The organization “Positive Initiative” has been cooperating with the National Penitentiary Administration for 11 years and has conducted prevention, psychosocial support, rehabilitation and reintegration activities for vulnerable categories of prisoners, such as, drug users and people living with HIV. It is one the few organisations in Moldova that has had partial access to penitentiary institutions throughout the pandemic and continued to help prisoners and address their difficult situations. The goal of the Positive Initiative’s project was to increase prisoners’ access to educational activities, prevention activities, and meetings with relatives and lawyers; to reduce the burden of the pandemic on penitentiary institutions in general and prisoners in particular.

The organisation has successfully completed the project in June, 2021 and provided IT equipment, namely:

  • Mini PC
  • Camera with 190 degree view angle
  • Speakers / microphones for a distance of 5 meters
  • Keyboard and mouse

For two 2 prisons – Penitentiary institution Nr.15, Krikova (approximately 550 male prisoners) and Penitentiary institution No. 7, Ruska (390 women prisoners). Positive Initiative has also conducted 2 training sessions on procedures for using the equipment and programs that can be used, as well as the mechanisms for securing the equipment.

The Moldovan Institute of Human Rights (IDOM) is an independent, non-profit organization founded in 2007 by a group of lawyers and defenders of human rights. The mission of the organization is to promote democratic changes and to contribute towards attaining international human rights standards by offering premises and tools for legal and institutional reforms for the well-being of each individual and the society at large. At the moment IDOM continues its project which aims at monitoring COVID-19 situation and human rights in Chișinau Psychiatric Hospital Codru, 2 institutions from Orhei, 2 institutions from Balti, and one from Edinet. Based on partnership agreement with the Judicial Police Service of the General Police Inspectorate, IDOM has been granted an access to police detention facilities. IDOM is also monitoring the observance of human rights in the context of COVID-19 in pre-trial detention place (PDP) from Chisinau, Balti, Drochia, Cimislia and Cahul police inspectorates. The monitoring team is conducting interviews and will offer consultations and decide if some identified cases can be taken under litigation.

In September NHC’s project team paid a monitoring and evaluation visit to Moldova and met with both organisations. During the visit, the NHC project team has also visited Chisinau Police Inspectorate and observed monitoring of IDOM in the institution. The result of the Covid-19 monitoring and recommendations will be published in a separate report in December 2021.

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union