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Time to Thrive – Transnistria at Turning Point

© Author: kvitlauk using a CC license

New Delhi (India) - Transnistria, a breakaway territory land-locked between Moldova and Ukraine, is one of the least studied regions of Europe. Though independent in effect and carrying its own administrative tools, Transnistria is still craving for its own identity in the international forum. Its passports are not acknowledged by the United Nations and border disputes with Moldova continually erupt tense situations. In a national referendum of 2006, 97.2 percent of the population had voted in favor of ‘independence from Moldova and free association with Russia’. The result, however, was discarded by the European Union and other countries.

Russia, clearly, has its interests in the disputed region and but is reluctant on being involved - at least officially. However, boasted of as the peace-keepers, 1200 Russian soldiers, continue making their presence felt here. The number has considerably scaled down in terms of tonnes of ammunition and dangerous equipment, Russia had originally stored. According to OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Mission to Moldova, of a total of 42,000 tonnes of ammunition stored in Transnistria, 3 percent was transported back to Russia in 2001, 6 percent in 2002 and 39 percent in 2003. Despite several urges, Russia has been unable to clear off its troops from the region. In 2011, US Senator John McCain said in a visit to Moldova that Moscow is violating the territorial integrity of Moldova and Georgia and one of the ‘fundamental norms’ of ‘international behavior’.

A toxic territory

Human rights are universal legal guarantees for protecting individuals and groups against actions which interfere with fundamental freedom and human dignity.

Transnistria has, in this regard, been an important locus of discussion for international organisations and committees. The 2007 Freedom in the World report, published by US-based Freedom House, described Transnistria as a ‘non-free’ territory, having an equally bad situation in both political rights and civil liberties.

The Transnistrian Constitution enlists a range of democratic provisions and human rights that need to be protected. Although the country is disallowed from associating itself with the international human rights treaties, its de facto authorities have earned a unilateral recognition through treaties like UN Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the crime of Genocide, the European Convention of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and a few more. Yet, different findings chanced upon by UN experts show a completely different and an unpleasant picture.

In a blatant violation of legal rights, it has been discovered that detainees are tortured severely in prisons. Beaten with rubber truncheons on soles and ribs, subjected to elector-shocks and pinched with needles underneath nails, the sufferers have a lot more to tell. Privatization and illegal acquisition of land has led to several tenants leaving their homes on abrupt and undeserved notices. Appeals in courts have not precipitated any useful results. Farmers have been denied their ownership rights and several families are now scratching on meager income. Bearing on the Transnistrian Official Data of 2011, primary health care is an area of major concern and needs to be catered to as soon as possible. The rate of abortion is still very high. For 1000 inhabitants, number of doctors available is just 38, that too most of them are still unaware of latest up gradations in medical science. Pharmacies are mainly private and overall immunization rates are deemed as low. The right to health is still waiting for its fulfillment.

When topics like women’s rights and gender equality are raised, Transnistria does not have a real proud face to show. According to the 2011 HIV Vulnerability Survey, almost one-fourth of the interviewed women who were married or living in some union had been subject to physical violence from their partners. The fact that less than ten percent of the members of Supreme Soviet are women reflects the discrimination in employment. Trafficking is another major problem, wherein major targets continue to be women and children. Several old people complain of low pensions. The constitution provides for freedom of religion but there are few small Muslim communities which have been registered yet. They feel a loss of secularism when viewed with suspicion and placed under surveillance by the authorities.

Besides, proliferation of weapons and their illegal smuggling into the Russian countries has made Transnistria a dangerous zone. The longest-serving President, Igor Smirnov, was accused of converting the state into his own pseudo-empire and racketeering the public on the basis of false schemes. The education structure is more commonly called as a ‘propaganda machine’ producing textbooks that reek of hatred towards Moldova. Transnistria, in simple terms, needs help. And that in almost every realm – humanitarian, legal, political and economic just as much.

HRC lends a hand

The United Nations and its efficient arm – Human Rights Council, have been on their toes since the moment Transnistria featured on their red-alert radar. In collaboration with other organizations like WHO (World Health Organisation) and IOM (International Organisation for Migration), it has conducted surveys to reach to the root of numerous issues. Gladly, UN interference have bode well for the region. Various recommendations have been given by UN experts , some of them have been implemented also. One example is that many jails have been equipped with cameras to prevent any sort of torture on the inmates. A strategic plan is being worked upon to make the judiciary of the state more independent and competent. OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights) and IBA (International Bar Association) have jointly developed proposals for changes in this particular area. Changes not only here are highly necessary but steady improvements appear on the horizon and Transnistria is approaching an important turning point.

No man is an island

Transnistria is trying hard to secede itself from the external dominating influences in order to establish itself as a valid state. However, its self-proclaimed secession also has not been able to do good to its expectations. Russia, Moldova and Ukraine continue to harp on its resources for their own benefit. In such difficult times, Transnistria is required to successfully earn itself a legitimate statehood through focusing more on public welfare rather than petty politics. More importantly, people need to be made aware of the larger situation in order to be able to assess long-term benefits for themselves and decide what will be right for them. It’s the turn of Transnistria – now.

In a previous version the article stated that Transnistria is located between Romania and Ukraine. For a better understanding we changed that to Transnistria is located between Moldova and Ukraine, even though Transnistria is in the view of traditional public international law part of Moldova.

Cover Picture: Credit to sugarmelon.com via flickr using a CC licence

 Further Reading

Read more on Human Rights Violations in a UN report here.

Read more on Transnistria on minorityrights.org.

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