In April 2009, crowds of Moldovans protested what they believed to be a fraudulent parliamentary election. The large gatherings in Chisinau led to wide-spread beatings and mass arrests by law enforcement. In response, a group of public attorneys sought to represent those beaten during the protest and to file criminal charges against the offending police officers. Throughout the process, the attorneys faced significant procedural barriers.
A June 2011 continuing legal education (CLE) course, cosponsored by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and Amnesty International, gathered public defenders to train post-graduate legal interns and to share their perspectives on navigating Moldova’s criminal justice system and on representing victims of torture. Those public defenders who represented the 2009 victims led the training, which was attended by approximately 40 interns. Conducted in conjunction with the United Nations’ International Day In Support of Victims of Torture, the June 26 training aimed both to teach legal professionals how to defend torture victims and to raise awareness of torture.
The public defenders discussed procedural obstacles within the legal system, such as the requirement to file complaints of ill-treatment before the defendants were formally indicted. However, at that point, the attorneys could not access the necessary information to effectively represent their clients—police reports are only provided upon indictment. Further, the attorneys had to conduct their own investigation into the allegations of torture and carefully document their clients’ injuries. Criminal complaints against the police were to be filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office, the same office that was prosecuting the defendants. Initially, the office refused to file charges against the officers, resulting in a lengthy appeals process by the public defenders. The attorneys also discussed the challenges of working with victims who exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The training offered a reform-minded perspective and demonstrated the need for a strong defense for victims of torture and ill-treatment.
The event was held as part of ABA ROLI’s CLE series, which includes presentations for post-graduate legal interns. In Moldova, these interns are required to complete 80 CLE hours to become licensed attorneys. Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, ABA ROLI’s criminal law reform program in Moldova also trains criminal defense attorneys in practical legal skills and human rights, and supports broader reform within the legal profession.
To learn more about our work in Moldova, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].