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8/24/04 - TRANSNISTRIA DEFIES O-S-C-E - 2004-08-25

Separatist elements in Moldova established a breakaway republic in Transnistria following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The population of seven-hundred-fifty-thousand is made up of ethnic Moldovans, Russians, and Ukrainians.

Recently, authorities there refused to allow members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the O-S-C-E, as well as UNICEF, to reenter Transnistria with humanitarian supplies. As a result, orphans attending the Benderi boarding school risked going without food and water. Fortunately, Moldovan police have generally been able to get food and water to them. The orphanage was seized by militia in July, but the children forced their way back in and have since maintained a vigil in the building. Until the Transnistrian authorities blocked the deliveries, the children had been getting food and water supplies from the O-S-C-E and UNICEF.

As Neil Brennan of the O-S-C-E said, “Children should never be exposed to something like this and should certainly never have to argue with militia to be given access to food and water. This could all be ended very easily and quickly if the militia and police were to withdraw and the most basic human rights principles were followed.”

The Benderi school uses the Moldovan language and the Latin script. Over the past several months, authorities in Transnistria have been forcibly closing such minority schools. Militia seized two schools, in one case by using chain saws to cut down doors inside the building to remove parents and teachers locked inside. Seven parents were arrested and sentenced to short prison terms. Other threats of the use of force have been made against schoolchildren, parents, and school staff.

The United States condemns the school closures. The O-S-C-E and UNICEF should be permitted to reenter Transnistria in order to provide humanitarian support. The Transnistrian authorities should take no further action against Moldovan language schools and immediately reopen the schools that were closed. Russia, with its considerable influence over the region, should also urge the Transnistrian leadership to permit ethnic Romanians to preserve and develop their linguistic, ethnic, and cultural identity.