What rights are violated and what problems the Roma face in Drochia, Bălți, Călărași or Otaci, we discuss with the lawyers and human rights experts Gheorghina Drumea and Dumitru Russu. Gheorghina is the secretary of the Coalition for Inclusion and Non-Discrimination, and Dumitru is program coordinator at the Human Rights Institute.
Within the Access to Justice in Moldova Project, Gheorghina and Dumitru visited a number of communities where the Roma live and offered free legal consultations, with the support of the National Roma Center. The two experts noted the pressing need for such services in the territory, but because no one offers them, people seek justice only in the most critical situations. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the respect for human rights as well, with the Roma being among the most affected categories, according to a recent study by the Ombudsman’s Office.
Cu DREPTul: Why the Roma, why Roma communities in this context?
Dumitru Russu: “They are socially the most marginalized ones i.e. marginalized by society.”
Cu DREPTul: What were your big surprises or discoveries, so to speak?
Gheorghina Drumea: “I have seen trips taken by different NGOs to the regions, which were held in the form of discussions with the authorities rather than direct contacts with the beneficiaries, as in our case. The need is pressing, taking into account that we have a very big problem in what concerns the Roma community, namely, with adult illiteracy. If we see that children somehow go to school, at least, their parents insist on it, the parents, on the other hand, not knowing the letters, are very vulnerable, as they do not know how to prepare an elementary application, let say, to claim social aid to which they are entitled. They do not know how to read an elementary thing when signing for something. They are very vulnerable before the law enforcement agencies. One can very easily draw up a contravention report, make them sign it, without them knowing what they have signed for, and then they cannot even prove it.
It is a violation by the police here as well, especially because it fails to provide them with a trusted person that would read for them and document it. It is as if they had their eyes completely closed. We have had cases when notaries refused to prepare certain documents because the person was illiterate. At least they did not even try to help the person by identifying a representative of the local public authority or from social assistance to serve as a witness, they do not complicate themselves with it, just flatly refuse to do it and that is it. Illiteracy also leads to the fact that people, although many years ago purchased real estate, houses, where they have lived for decades, do not have any related papers, and they cannot claim their rights at present, as they do not know how to submit a basic request. Nor do they at least know the procedures and are not even interested in knowing them. Not every community has a mediator to guide them for seeking state-guaranteed legal aid or a paralegal’s services in this regard.”
Dumitru Russu: “Honestly, the general impression has been that the overwhelming majority of beneficiaries, and here I am talking about the Roma community, regretfully encounter deficiencies and even the majority are on the verge of poverty, if not below the poverty line. The reality is that people with 3, 4, 5 or in some cases even with 6 children try to survive, somehow, and I have no idea how they survive with 700 lei. Why 700 lei? Because they cannot access many allowances or there are not so many kinds of support that can be offered to them. Why can they not access those kinds of support? Often, due to lack of documentation. Another thing is that the authorities do not come up to meet their claim to try to solve the problem, because, unfortunately, officials often fail to be proactive, they are not open, i.e. they are not even reactive, in the way they should react when asked for help and to try to solve the problem.”
Cu DREPTul: You mentioned poverty i.e. that most are below the poverty line. How does this affect the access to justice of such people and, in general, how do they perceive their own rights?
Gheorghina Drumea: “Their big concern is to seek help somewhere or to go somewhere to earn for a piece of bread or to have something to feed their children with tomorrow. That is why, even when I came to them and was telling them about this topic and this thing, they answered, ‘the Roma still have no rights, they boo us and even if we write we will not solve anything. You better help me write a request to receive social aid’. “Being so materially vulnerable, they lose their interest in pursuing defense of their rights somewhere else.”
Cu DREPTul: Provided that they know, if we assume that they know them…
Dumitru Russu: “When we talk about access to justice, we can look at this in a narrow or a broad sense. In the strict sense, it is about access to justice, especially the court phase, the examination, how the examination process goes, how a problem is solved, in fact. In the broad sense, access to justice includes the stage preceding the examination in court. When we speak about legal education, which is completely missing from school education or, at least, when we speak about the Roma – at the same time, the lack of this education beyond school – I mean that the authorities, especially the local public ones or not only, do not make an effort to increase the level of training of the population in the field of justice or how should one defend their right.”
Cu DREPTul: In the context of this type of consultations that you offered in localities, which targeted the beneficiary directly, in some, even at their doors or gates – to which locality have you been, Gribova, Drochia? – for example, an ordinary man, a man who thinks he might have some kind of a problem, what option does he have, where should he go?
Gheorghina Drumea: “We have paralegals in each locality…”
Cu DREPTul: Tell us about those you have been to, as the paralegals do not cover the entire country.
Gheorghina Drumea: “There is at least one paralegal in each district of the country, while in these districts, there is one or two paralegals even in villages. However, it is easier for people in the village to travel to the district center. Where appropriate, we provided the contact telephone numbers of the paralegals, we confirmed that all mediators have the contact details of the paralegals and of the state public lawyers and so, an ordinary person in need of assistance can go to a paralegal or to a public lawyer. If he does not know about their existence, there is the local community mediator or, at least, he can go to the local public authority and ask, ‘Where can I go to solve a specific problem?’ and the latter have the data of both the paralegals and of the public lawyers.”
Dumitru Russu: “But let’s not forget that paralegals and mediators are still people and they are few. Let’s be serious! Let’s see what the population of a district is and try to report it to one paralegal. Speaking about the mediator – if you look at the number of deficiencies in which he should get involved to solve or provide support as a bridge between the Roma community and the authorities – the amount of work they have to do is extremely high and only one person cannot handle it. What is absolutely necessary in the interests of the authorities, of the Roma communities as well as of the Moldovan society is to strengthen this system.”
Cu DREPTul: Here we are talking about both legal culture and legal empowerment of people, to know what, how, when they have rights and what rights. Why is it important for a person to have a certain legal culture? We are not necessarily referring only to the minority groups or different ethnic groups, but, in general, to the entire population – what is the ‘temperature’, the legal culture of the people and what do we have to do?
Gheorghina Drumea: “The legal culture is almost missing, even if the person somehow senses that a right has been violated, he will not go anywhere else, because he knows he is Roma and nobody will rule in their favor. They always feel frustrated and they are very well acquainted with the discrimination issue. They know that they are constantly discriminated against, they feel that and in many cases, they know that what has happened to them is discrimination but they do not know what to do with it next. They do not think how they could try to prove it so that to take their case further i.e. they have many other concerns. That’s why legal culture is practically nil and, in this sense, we explain to them how important it is to fight discrimination, to report an act of discrimination, regardless of who it comes from and how it is possible to prove it.
Given that we are now in the technological age, virtually everyone has mobile phones, and an audio or video recording would be enough to prove an act of discrimination before the council. Legislation is very light in this sense. As for what would be necessary in the case, first, to increase the number of mediators, as well as their legal training, because for the most part, they do it intuitively or in consultation with someone, but not always do they have someone to consult with in the field. There is a lot to do, because practically there is nothing in place, all it takes is will.”
Cu DREPTul: We talked a lot here about the Roma as a vulnerable group but there are other vulnerable groups in the Republic of Moldova and, from this perspective, have you interacted with many?
Gheorghina Drumea: “The target groups, people with disabilities, especially psycho-intellectual ones, we also have people with HIV/AIDS. There are certain groups, for example, single mothers with children, the elderly and, so to speak, the violation of their rights somewhat correlates with their standards of living. For example, a single mother with two or three children is much more vulnerable and it is easier to violate one of her rights, and similarly, it is more difficult for her to claim a right when she takes care of her children and needs to know on what she would live tomorrow. Or an old man who has a miserable pension, he will not bother how to find a lawyer to pay to claim his rights.”