The guest of this episode is Ceslav Panico, the People’s Advocate, called also Ombudsman. In February 2022 Ceslav Panico was appointed as People’s Advocate for a seven year-mandate thanks to his professional experience that includes the position of former member of the Council for the Prevention of Torture, Deputy Director of the Institute for Penal Reforms and National Consultant of the Council of Europe Office and OSCE Mission to Moldova.

The People’s Advocate is an independent, autonomous institution responsible for the protection of human rights and freedoms by preventing their violation, by monitoring, reporting and improving the legislation and ensuring that human rights and freedoms are also observed by public authorities and persons in leadership positions.

Cu DREPTul: What should the State do for the human rights to be totally observed in the Republic of Moldova?

Ceslav Panico: First of all, there are some elements that have to be clear to the officials irrespective of the party in power. Usually, in countries where there is more poverty, there are more economic and social problems, human rights are even harder to respect, in the sense that these are not a priority. The Members of Parliament, heads of different state institutions should make human rights a priority followed by the right to education, right to health to make people understand their rights because many people do not understand when their rights are violated and they see one or another action as a normality. Legal education is an element that should involve the entire society starting from kindergartens up to state institutions. This is one thing. Second – the officials should have the will to change something in the human rights field and should start with consolidation of People’s Advocate Office because there are issues even with the building, remuneration and intervention elements in certain areas.

There is a minimum effort officials can make that would consolidate in parallel other mechanisms with new treaties, conventions to which the Republic of Moldova might become a party, which however, would provide a standard of protection to people.

Cu DREPTul: You come from civil society where things work a bit differently. What is the biggest challenge?

Ceslav Panico: The challenge is to bring in a new vision and not to change the person but try to see things differently than for instance, only papers and legal text. My colleagues and I are still struggling, hence, I will try to engage psychologists and social workers, who see the person, the human alongside with the legal professionals in the People’s Advocate Office. It is important for state institutions to see more than a text in the newsletter.

Cu DREPTul: How involved is the People’s Advocate Office in the matter of Ukrainian refugees and what kind of assistance do you provide?

Ceslav Panico: We work in several areas. First of all, we tried to raise awareness among other advocates and ombudspersons and we sent an open letter to Mrs Moskalkova, the Ombudsperson from Russia to contribute somehow to stop the war. We thought the lady can at least ask herself the questions from the human rights perspective, and namely, what kind of risks this war has for human rights observance because the war eliminates the mechanisms of human rights protection compared to peace time. 

Locally we visited the border crossing points for several days to monitor the border crossing points from the perspective of human rights protection and observance of the rights of refugees. We will continue this monitoring; we are busy drafting a new roadmap, a checklist to monitor the migrants both at the border and in the placement centers for refugees to establish whether services are provided, whether there are some critical aspects and to prevent violations.

We try to work on three dimensions: prevention of abuse, traffic in human beings or ill treatment of the persons who come to the Republic of Moldova and especially, of those who have been staying for a long time.

Also, we created a crisis unit with the Ombudsman’s Office and we analyze. We have a phone number that the refugees can call if their rights were violated so we can intervene. The third dimension refers to the times when the violations took place and we investigate to see what the State did in that regard. Another important element is the creation of the Advisory Council of the People’s Advocate Office with many actors from civil society, because alone we might be able to cope with all these risks that might arise. So we established this Council to work together.

The most important thing is that we did not leave our actual mandate, which we have of promoting, respecting, preventing various crimes in the Republic of Moldova for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, but this new element appeared and we had to adapt.

Cu DREPTul: The People’s Advocate Office publishes a report on the observance of human rights and freedoms in the Republic of Moldova every year. What are the main findings for 2021?

Ceslav Panico: These are the same problems that have been identified previously, we are talking about the right to health as I mentioned, we have not identified any progress here compared to previous years, we also have problems related to whistle-blowers. It is a very important element, new for the Republic of Moldova, when a person declares a certain act of corruption publicly or through different mechanisms he does not always feel safe. There is also a risk or problems with human rights activists, people who promote human rights, there has been no progress in this area, even if, let’s say, the current government is more open as a partnership, but this does not eliminate the risk of reprisals against people or human rights activists.

This is why we have to focus on progress, safety, guarantees and not the people who are or not governing at this moment.

Cu DREPTul: The People’s Advocate has been responsible for the protection of whistle-blowers during the last four years. The whistle-blower is somewhat of an innovation for Moldova. Simply put, this is the employee who makes disclosures about illegal practices within the entity in which he or she works that constitute a threat or harm to the public interest. What and how important is the role of the whistle-blower?

Ceslav Panico: It is a new element for the Republic of Moldova, it is relatively new. There is the Law on Whistle-blowers and there are two important institutions in this area: National Anticorruption Center and the People’s Advocate Office. The person when denouncing an act of corruption, either makes public disclosures or goes to the NAC and asks to be declared whistle-blower or the NAC determines that the person is a whistle-blower and there is a risk of retaliation by the person who has been denounced, then the Ombudsman must intervene and provide this protection from a human rights perspective, from the perspective of violation of certain elements, taking into account these denunciations.

Cu DREPTul: To what extent does corruption violate human rights? What is the relationship between the two?

In my opinion, the corruption goes hand in hand with the risk of violating human rights.

Ceslav Panico: When a police officer accepts a bribe for an unserviced car and the car breaks 500 m down the road and kills a person in an accident – corruption and human rights are very interconnected because corruption eliminates some guarantees and does not pay attention to certain phases or standards necessary to observe human rights. Another example is when the firemen either come or not because there are cases when they do not pay attention to all details related to fire safety and security and this can have a direct impact on the rights to health during an incident. So corruption can be seen when you turn a blind eye to certain elements or when you do not carry out your duties to the end, either with a direct or indirect interest in mind. 

Cu DREPTul: You are a promoter of legal education and human rights education. In your opinion, who should assume the role of educating and how, in practical terms?

Ceslav Panico: We do not have a general strategy or plan on legal education. There are a lot of non-commercial organizations that are involved in legal education of students, there are some optional lessons within the high school or school that offer such lessons, but we don’t have a clear system who takes over, who starts the work. That is, we need legal education and employees, adults at the university, at different faculties, not only at the law faculty, professionals not only in the state but also in the private sector, from several perspectives: one – how to work directly with clients or beneficiaries, as well as internally, when taking over or making certain practices or policies, to take into account the human rights-based approach so that elements of non-discrimination, gender equality, ill-treatment, the right to health, to education are integrated into certain policies at the institutional level.

As a first step, we should have a general state strategy on legal education.

Second, we should consider the innovation suggested previously by the colleagues from the People’s Advocate Office and we hope to implement it in the following years – it is about a human rights training center. It would be together with the Equality Council, together with exponents from different universities, to start a massive process of legal education right from kindergarten, as I said, and up to state institutions of different sizes.

This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.