Human Rights Report on Moldova: Conditions of detention

Under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there are 43 district police commissariats, municipal and sector, 7 transport police commissariats (in Chisinau, Balti, Bender, Basarabeasca, Ungheni, Ocnita and the Air transport) and a transport police station in Cahul.  Although, the detention of persons within the police institutions is short, yet, provision of adequate conditions of detention is the responsibility of the state authorities.  Several conditions would allow holding detainees without the risk of not meeting the rigors of article No. 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova:
1.    The rooms for detention must meet hygienic requirements, taking into account the climate, especially in terms of air space, minimum surface, lighting, heating and ventilation;
2.    In any room, where the detainees are required to live or work:
a) The windows must be large enough for the detainees to be able to read and work in natural light, the location of these windows must allow the entry of fresh air whether there is or there is not artificial ventilation;
b) The artificial light shall be sufficient to allow the detainees to read or work without spoiling their vision;
3. Sanitary facilities must allow the detainees to meet the needs of nature in clean and decent conditions;
4. Bath or shower facilities should be sufficient so that each detainee has the opportunity and is obliged to use them at a suitable temperature, depending on the weather, and as often as personal hygiene requires;
5. All rooms, regularly used by the detainees, must be kept in a clean and perfect condition.
All national and international standards governing the detention of persons establish minimum standards that protect the people in state custody, not to be held in conditions that are attributable to be inhuman or degrading.
To ensure adequate conditions of detention, a series of measures to minimize the effect of imprisonment and the feelings that arise in this connection are recommended:
a) every prisoner shall have a personal bed with necessary bedding, well maintained and changed in such a manner as to be clean;
b) the underwear shall be changed and washed as often as necessary to maintain hygiene;
c) every prisoner should be allowed to have available drinkable water;
d) the detainees should be offered good, qualitative  and well prepared food and served with a nutritional value sufficient to maintain their health and energy.

As a result of the visits made to institutions that provide the detention of persons in police custody, an improvement of the conditions of detention was found. The repairs and the reconstructions of temporary detention isolators, made in 2010, allow placing the persons deprived of liberty in cells renovated according to the standards required for the detention of persons. In most isolators, 3 to 6 cells were rebuilt, which allow the detention in conditions considered decent. Spacious windows were installed in these cells, which enable natural ventilation and access to normal light. Individual sleeping beds, sinks and toilets were set up in each cell; the floors were covered with planks, access to drinking water was provided.

However, the visits have also identified unrepaired cells, in which detainees were placed, and whose conditions are similar to those from the past: small windows that do not allow access to natural light, concrete floors, buckets and tanks designed to meet physiological needs. A critical situation was registered in the temporary detention isolator under Chisinau General Police Commissariat, where the conditions of detention can be qualified as degrading and can influence on the mental health of detainees. Most detainees have complained of the existence in the cells of harmful insects - lice, bedbugs. The cells were not ventilated, had a high level of humidity, caused by lack of adequate ventilation. The bathrooms were dirty; the water supply was made with interruptions. A similar situation was registered in all five isolators of temporary detention from the sectors of Chisinau Municipality.

Although, the detention lasts 1-6 hours in these isolators, even in this short period the physical and mental strength of certain individuals can be defeated. The cells have no windows and are poorly equipped with furniture. Food is not provided during the stay in temporary detention isolators inside the Municipality. The argument of the given Commissariat administration is based on the fact that the food for the persons, temporarily transferred to Sector Commissariats to hold the prosecution, was done only inside the General Police Commissariat.

It is necessary to modify the state of affairs in this respect; the situation can be essentially changed when the reconstruction of the Chisinau General Police Commissariat isolator, conducted with support from external donors, will be finished in the first quarter of 2012. The state of the places for the detention of arrested persons inside the courts is alarming. These rooms are small and allow the hosting of a limited number of people. As a rule, during the day, there is an increased number of detainees, who are escorted to courts for the deliberation of the criminal cases, in which they are listed. Given that the majority of the people smoke, it is difficult to breathe in these rooms. In these conditions, it is necessary to set up additional rooms that would allow detention under normal conditions, or guiding the process for appointing the review of cases and of summoning fewer people to court.

The obligations of the policemen to ensure the observance of fundamental rights of persons in state custody are provided by the European Code of Police Ethics,  as well by the Code of Ethics and Deontology of the Policeman,  according to which the police must guarantee the security of detainees, to ensure their health, to ensure satisfactory conditions of hygiene and proper nutrition. The police cells provided for this purpose must be of reasonable sizes, to have light and ventilation sources and be equipped so as to allow resting. Under these recommendations, the police are fully responsible for the material living conditions of persons deprived of liberty, detained in institutions subordinated to the police. The Police assumes full responsibility for the protection of detainees against any threat that comes from outside and from within the place of detention, including against the evil that detainees could cause to themselves.

As a result of the monitoring visits to institutions subordinated to the police, it was found that some detainees were placed in repaired cells. Such cases were identified in Police Commissariats from Ocnita, Comrat, Drochia, Orhei, Balti, etc. Although the leaders of these institutions have been summoned not to hold persons deprived of liberty in unrepaired cells, they argued that they have a high flux of detainees and because of various reasons they cannot put them together with the remanded that figure as accomplices within the same criminal case. Another reason was the small number of repaired cells. The findings continue to keep the issue of ensuring detention conditions in the subdivisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the agenda of MIA executives.

Thus, a woman, suspected of committing a crime, was placed in a totally inappropriate cell in Ocnita Police Commissariat. The detention of this woman in this cell, even for a short period of time, is regarded as degrading treatment: instead of a bed there was a wooden platform, the cell was dirty, the window was covered with a metallic net with holes, and the cell was dark. There  was no drinking water in the cell, the detained people made reserves of water in plastic bottles, the access to the toilet, which was outside the cell, was provided when needed. The situation, regarding the endowment of places of detention under police subordination with pillows, mattresses, blankets, remains alarming. These are missing from Drochia and Hincesti Police Commissariats or are worn out in Comrat and Orhei. Bed linen is missing in the majority of Police Commissariats.

Another aspect that denotes simplistic attitude towards people in police custody is insufficient nutrition. The majority of the detainees, who were involved in the discussion during the visits, said that they were served only a full lunch, as for breakfast and dinner, they were served a cup of tea and a few pieces of bread. While being escorted from the isolator and when in the investigators’ offices or during the hearings, no prisoner is provided with food. The ombudsmen agree with the authorities’ position, that the duration of stay in police custody is relatively short and, respectively, the conditions of detention are not meant for being held for long periods and to be equipped with all conveniences, including performing leisure or work activities. Yet, the persons held in institutions, subordinated to the police, should be provided with basic living conditions. The Standards of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture recommend providing decent conditions in the places of rest, food at appropriate times (and at least one meal a day to include something more substantial than a sandwich). CPT also recommends keeping people in police custody in cells with the size of at least 7 square meters, with at least 2 meters between walls, and 2.5 meters between floor and ceiling. 

The situation, confirmed in 2011 in the institutions subordinated to the police, where persons deprived of freedom are kept, is in many cases similar to that found in the previous years and identical to the situation described in the judgments of sentencing the Republic of Moldova by the European Court of Human Rights. So, the conditions, for which Moldova was sentenced by ECHR in connection with the violation of Article 3 in the case Malai vs. Moldova,  in which the claimant was detained in preventive custody in the isolator of the Commissariat from Orhei, remained unchanged. During the visit to this institution in June 2011, it was established that the conditions in cell no. 3 were similar to those described in the judgment of the Court. Though, the administration of the Police Commissariat assured the working group that the given cell was not used for the detention of persons, the ombudsmen recommended taking necessary measures for the complete cessation of the activity of this room, either by sealing it or by re-equipping and using the space for another destination.

Given the existing gaps, the ombudsmen have submitted a number of recommendations aimed at improving the conditions of detention in institutions subordinated to the police. The provision and equipment with everything necessary for decent conditions and to permanently maintain the basic conditions of detention depends on the managerial capacities of the leaders of the institutions subordinated to the police. Such a situation was observed in the Centre for Temporary Placement of Foreigners, a subdivision under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The accommodation provided to the persons placed in this Centre may be considered as a model: there are needed leisure facilities, the residents, who are in custody, are provided with adequate food and hygiene products sufficient to maintain personal hygiene. Many leaders of Police Commissariats argue that the satisfactory conditions in the Centre for Temporary Placement of Foreigners are due to external donor support. The ombudsmen are of the opinion that effective management would ensure adequate conditions of detention even with limited financial means. An example of effective management is that of the police in Poland.  Here, by an Order of the Minister of Interior of 14.09.2001, smoking and keeping tobacco products in cells was banned. Unlike Poland, in the Republic of Moldova, there are no prohibitions on smoking in cells. Non-smokers are forced to bear cigarette smoke, a situation which might serve as basis for the Republic of Moldova being sentenced by the ECHR. Having examined the experience of National Preventive Mechanism in Poland, the members of the groups of visitors have recommended the police institutions to set up appropriate shower rooms: in the Police Commissariats from Briceni, Orhei, Drochia; to place some WC front doors to ensure the privacy of the people for their physiological needs in the General Police Commissariat from Chisinau, the Police Commissariats from Orhei, Singerei, Comrat, and Ocnita.
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