Back October interview: Combating and preventing hate speech and hate crime among vulnerable groups and communities in the Republic of Moldova

October interview: Combating and preventing hate speech and hate crime among vulnerable groups and communities in the Republic of Moldova

Hatred, manifested in various forms, online or offline, has a major impact on the society’s cohesion. As among the most modern forms of discrimination, it can lead to other serious human rights violations. Challenging stereotypes and negative attitudes in favour of diversity, play an important role as preventive measures to hatred. The Council of Europe and the European Union are working together under a joint regional project aimed at “Strengthening the access to justice through non-judiciary redress mechanisms for victims of discrimination, hate crime and hate speech in Eastern Partnership countries”. In that context, to bring the results of the project closer to people at the local level, two grants to civil society organisations were awarded in the Republic of Moldova.

The grantees, NGO Roma National Centre and NGO Gender-Center contributed to changing the negative attitude towards Roma and other ethnic minority groups and implemented activities aiming at increasing equal opportunities without sexism. Increasing access to justice for groups that experience discrimination, hate speech, and hate crime was the compass that guided the organizations in carrying out the activities, as part of the grant awarded. 

Roma remains the most widespread discriminated group affected by negative societal prejudice. Inequal treatment affects their active role in many spheres of public life, such as in employment, in interacting with authorities, judiciary, and enforcement agencies as well as their overall contribution to developing democratic institutions. The NGO Roma National Center, in an effort to change the negative attitude towards Roma and other ethnic minority groups in the Republic of Moldova, implemented a 6-month project, targeting the regions most populated by Roma people, including Roma refugees fleeing from Ukraine. The project also aimed at raise awareness of the population about the negative impact of discrimination on the social and economic development of the country.

Focusing on the regions most populated by Roma communities and refugees, the Roma National Centre visited Roma families house to house in different regions of Moldova (Otaci, Edinet, Rascani, Glodeni, Hancesti and Ungheni), reaching a high number of beneficiaries, listening to their needs and providing help to the most vulnerable, contributing to promoting equality and non-discrimination by explaining complex concepts in simple words. We asked Nicolae Radita, founder of the Roma National Centre, Advisor to the Prime-Minister on Human and Minority Rights to share the team’s experience, what was achieved in face-to-face communication with the local population through free-legal assistance, consultancy, and litigation as well as the results of monitoring of cases of discrimination.

The ambiguous legislation and the lack of legal framework make the sanctioning of those who use hate speech difficult. Intolerance, discrimination and stereotypes have been affecting Roma communities for many years across Europe, including in Moldova. Intolerance can easily escalate into hate crimes against Roma. What are the statistics of hate crimes in Moldova against Roma, how many of these cases have been prosecuted and to what extent Roma communities know how to defend their rights when they face hatred motivated attacks?

Nicolae Radita: Indeed, there are things that we take for granted in the presence of an applicable legal framework. However, this is not enough when racism is rooted in the society. I will use the terminology of “anti-Gypsyism” to explain the historically perpetuating manifestation of prejudice and stereotyping, labelling, hate speech and hate crimes, discrimination the Roma population has been facing, in multiple forms. To the extreme consequences we assisted in the past, i.e., the Holocaust, that destroyed thousands of lives of Roma.

The social impact of anti-Gypsyism is still vivid in nowadays’ Republic of Moldova, a young and fragile state still struggling with the respect of human rights and the rule of law, building its legal framework, and dealing with institutions’ building. I must admit that the Roma community remains isolated and has low trust in the legal system, that's why the reporting of incidents to institutions is sporadic. This is also related to other factors: political instability with frequent change of the decision-making and the existing corruption in the judiciary, diminish the people’s trust in the decision-makers and in the law enforcement and justice-making institutions, demotivating reporting.

The existing legal framework does not offer adequate assistance to victims of discriminatory practices, and especially to the victims of hate speech and hate crimes. There is still the need to further seek justice, to support victims in addressing the relevant authorities, however this requires more time and efforts.

Although more than 300 Roma were counselled through this project, very few of them wanted to go to court to demand justice. And in this sense, it is our duty to continue this struggle to increase the degree of trust of the Roma in state institutions, trust in tomorrow, in justice. With the aim to maintain pressure on institutions and contribute to justice and rule of law, the National Roma Center continues to provide legal assistance and documents abuses committed against Roma.

There is a high level of underreporting of hate crimes against Roma; victims struggle to get support in this, and for different reasons cases are often not registered by the authorities. This leads to difficulties in obtaining a clear view on the problem at the country level, but also on the adequate remedies for these crimes. The Roma National Centre worked closely with the Roma community in Otaci, Edineț, Râșcani, Glodeni, Hâncești and Ungheni, offering legal support and mediation in cases of discrimination and hate speech. From your experience and as a result of multiple interactions, what do you recommend as a good practice to Roma persons in terms of reporting and preventing hate crimes?

Nicolae Radita: Roma people face difficulties in finding legal support and advice in cases related to hate speech and hate crime as well as in gathering evidence of these crimes. In this context the project „Fighting Discrimination and Providing Justice for Ethnic Minorities in the Republic of Moldova” implemented by Roma National Centre with the financial support of the European Union/Council of Europe joint programme Partnership for Good Governance II (2019-2022) was relevant and necessary to our efforts to change the negative attitude towards Roma and other ethnic minority groups in Moldova, as well as to raise awareness of society about the discriminatory practices that lead to social and economic degradation of the country, as well as to increase access to justice for the respective groups and equal rights among the society.

In the framework of this project, the Roma National Center team could intervene directly in the community and help 33 victims of human rights abuses from different regions from Moldova such as Otaci, Edinet, Riscani, Glodeni, Ungheni, Hincesti, where people have difficulties in accessing justice and are living far from Chisinau. Also, it is important to mention that in the context of the war in Ukraine, the Roma National Centre got involved in supporting and assisting Ukrainian refugees in the placement centres, more precisely we consulted and advised over 150 refugees on legalization, documentation, transportation, etc, so the refugees could continue their route to other destinations.

The Roma National Centre has developed a Guide on combating discrimination, to help the victims  in addressing the competent authorities in the field of anti-discrimination, to offer guidance for the mediators of the Roma community, but also for all the interested stakeholders acting in the field of equality and diversity in the Republic of Moldova.

Along with the available tools and good practices, the most important in my view, it is the need to increase the level of legal culture. It is essential to continue working with the Roma community and advise them, and when doing so, to draw a list of successful cases when justice was re-established, thus creating a judicial practice that can increase both the level of legal culture and the degree of trust in law enforcement.

Hate speech is widespread in the Republic of Moldova and directly contributes to the perpetuation of discrimination on any grounds. Traditions, inherited sexist perceptions and outdated views and clichés related to the social roles of women in society lead to the fact that women are one of the most affected groups by hate speech, especially built on sexist attitudes, the use of stereotypes and gender prejudices. The NGO Gender-Center, as host organization of the Platform for Gender Equality, through the joint activities, raised awareness on the importance of combating sexist speech, gender-based discrimination and violence against women both online and offline.

The Public Dialogue on Hate Speech and Incitement to Discrimination - a hybrid event, brought together experts and representatives of civil society to address the current problems of hate speech against women in general and particularly the women refugees from Ukraine in Moldova, including Roma refugees. The eighth Feminist Festival with a March of Solidarity and the Europe Day, events that enjoy a high rate of visibility and public participation, were a great occasion for raising social awareness on sexist speech and violence against women. Partners from the NGO Gender-Center, namely Nina Lozinschi, General Secretary of the Platform for Gender Equality shared her impressions following the dialogue on the types of sexism, sexist language vs. gender balanced expression, masculinized professions, stereotypes, and prejudices in promoting gender equality, activity debated with the women from the regions.

In 2021, the Council of Europe published a mapping report on national responses to hate speech in the Republic of Moldova. This report makes a reference to the role of politicians in spreading and „normalizing” hate speech during the electoral campaigns. Cases of hate speech are increasing in society based on different grounds, including gender. The Gender-Centre carried out 15 workshops in different regions, attended by 300 women. We would like to ask you about their experience in combating hate speech in districts and villages, where a patriarchal vision of the society still persists, posing challenges in ensuring gender equality and rights of other minority groups, including the LGBTI community.

Nina Lozinschi: The information presented during the training focused on the definition of sexism, the forms of sexism and how sexism manifests itself in different areas of life, to raise awareness about related forms of violence against women in elections. The participants admitted that they only now have understood forms and wording related to sexism in language, which they also use in their official and private discourse. It is not only about generalizations and characterizations, using only masculine forms for positions and professions, having a masculine plural form, but also about jokes and labels related to physical appearance, clothing, civil status and the role of women in society. Some participants confessed that they often encountered sexist speeches and remarks from colleagues, but did not react, taking this as normal but being surprised by the effect of sexist and hate speeches.

Unfortunately, the Republic of Moldova is still faced with discourses inciting discrimination on the basis of gender, based on prejudices and stereotypes. These are amplified in pre-election and electoral campaigns, where women candidates are the first target of sexist statements and hate speech, together with sexual minorities. Lately hate speech appeared more and more frequently among politicians, with aggressive statements, filled with personal attacks, incitement to discrimination and hatred, often directed to women.

The concept and term of „digital citizenship” is commonly used in public discussions. Furthermore, on 26 January 2022, the European Commission proposed a solemn interinstitutional statement on the rights and digital principles in the digital decade. Likewise, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a new recommendation on hate speech, among the newest tools in this area in Europe. In your view, to what extent citizens and people living in our country have a clear perception about freedom of expression and hate speech, especially in the digital dimension? Is there awareness on the dangers and effects of hate speech among the decision makers?

Nina Lozinschi: Many times, freedom of expression is used as "an excuse" to use humiliating language. Sometimes discriminatory language based on prejudices and stereotypes is intentionally used to influence citizens. Gender stereotypes are reproduced because a patriarchal society will absorb these messages better and gather an audience.

There is no willingness to take action against hate speech by people in decision-making positions or public figures, they simply do not care as long as they are not sanctioned. The Platform for Gender Equality reported cases of hate speech involving high-level politicians to the Council for the prevention and elimination of discrimination and ensuring equality, which in turn found them discriminatory. There are no other mechanisms are available to us or to the Council to react to such cases. We believe hate speech must be sanctioned, especially if it is used by a person who holds a public office. Otherwise, the use of messages that humiliate a certain group of people will be encouraged.

Through its support to the civil society organizations from Moldova, the European Union and the Council of Europe joint regional project “Strengthening the access to justice through non-judiciary redress mechanisms for victims of discrimination, hate crime and hate speech in Eastern Partnership countries” seeks to reduce the tolerance to hate speech both online and offline, boosting redress mechanisms and awareness-raising activities. With a focus on minorities and vulnerable groups, reaching ones in need, the joint European Union/Council of Europe project enabled civil society organizations in the Republic of Moldova to counter hate speech and foster an alternative speech which promotes human rights and democratic values online, at job, in the streets, home, in public etc.

The interaction between victims of hate speech and state institutions along the entire chain of investigation of both hate speech and hate crimes, is difficult in many cases. The barriers appear also because of the lack of awareness among decision makers, which affects the way hate speech and hate crimes are addressed from the perspective of the legal framework. What is the role of civil society organisations in supporting minorities and vulnerable groups, especially victims of hate motivated attacks, in a context where the state does not have a legal framework efficiently set up?

Project team: In the Republic of Moldova, as much as elsewhere in Europe, hate speech remains a prevalent challenge among the forms of discrimination people face. Hate speech has even more serious impact on vulnerable groups. Among the most affected groups are women, being harmed by sexism, gender prejudices and stereotypes related to their role in society. Through the study on Mapping responses to hate speech in the Republic of Moldova, the Council of Europe provided recommendations for actions to combat hate speech.

Through the mapping process and the provided analysis, the importance of civil society organisations in joining the fight against hate speech was confirmed – especially when it comes to raising awareness and bridging gaps between institutions and victims. Civil society organizations can inform the affected groups and individuals about their rights, and support victims – especially those from vulnerable groups - in accessing justice. Additionally, important aspects are other forms of support, such as consultancy and litigation, as well as monitoring of cases on discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes. All these efforts are essential to increase reporting of hate speech/hate crime. Civil society organisations are important actors to advocate for improving the national legislation in the field of anti-discrimination, in line with European and international standards. Therefore, the Council of Europe pays special attention to ensuring the inclusion of CSOs in our programs, in different forms, including by means of grants.

Cooperation with the NGO Roma National Centre and NGO Gender-Centre in the framework of two grants awarded by the joint European Union and Council of Europe project "Strengthening the access to justice through non-judiciary redress mechanisms for victims of discrimination, hate crime and hate speech in Eastern Partnership countries was very fruitful. It yielded important results in terms of increasing access to justice for groups that experience discrimination, hate speech and hate crime. With the project support, the two organisations offered concrete assistance to minorities and vulnerable groups, making people feel our work closer to their needs. By providing information and advice on exercising their rights, the activities also promoted European values and the importance of equality and diversity in the society, reaching out to a wider public (see more details on the results of our cooperation at this link: Promoting equality and non-discrimination in the Republic of Moldova).

This interview has been produced as part of a project co-funded by the European Union and the Council of Europe. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.