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Europe: Human Rights Court Hears Complaint Against Russia, Moldova

The European Court of Human Rights is considering whether to hear the case of a Romanian parliamentarian who spent the last nine years imprisoned in Moldova's separatist Transdniester region. Ilie Ilascu lodged a complaint yesterday at the Strasbourg court against both Russia and Moldova. He says that he and three others have been subjected to a series of serious human rights abuses.

Prague, 7 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ilie Ilascu, one of the central figures in Moldova's separatist war of 1992, appeared before the European Court of Human Rights yesterday to lodge a complaint of human rights abuses by Moldova and Russia.

The Strasbourg-based court is expected to decide within a month whether a trial is warranted over the accusations raised by Ilascu and three other pro-Romanian activists who are still imprisoned in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region.

The rights court's deliberations are taking place behind closed doors. If the court decides the case is valid, procedures are expected to last several months before a final judgment is reached.

The European Human Rights Court is a major organ of the Council of Europe, in which both Moldova and Russia are members. Council members are obliged to implement decisions by the court or face sanctions from the 43-nation body.

Ilascu and the others were arrested by the separatists in 1992 during a brief but bloody war in Transdniester between Moldovan security forces and pro-Russian separatist militias. A self-styled court in the Transdniestrian capital of Tiraspol sentenced Ilascu to death on terrorism charges in 1993, but his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Ilascu was elected to Moldova's parliament twice while in prison. Last year, while still in prison, he acquired Romanian citizenship and was elected to the parliament in Bucharest. He was released last month after intervention by Moldova's newly elected communist and pro-Russian President Vladimir Voronin.

Ilascu and the other pro-Romanian activists -- Alexandru Lesco, Andrei Ivantoc, and Tudor Petrov-Popa -- say they were denied a fair trial in 1993. They also say they were detained illegally and that they were repeatedly treated in a degrading and inhumane manner.

The complaint says Moldova is responsible for human rights abuses because previous Moldovan governments did nothing to win their release or prevent the violation of their rights.

The complaint also says Russia shares responsibility for the rights abuses. That allegation is based on the charge that Russia aided the 1992 Transdniester separatist rebellion and that Moscow retains de facto control of the region.

Moscow has kept military equipment and thousands of troops in Transdniester since the Soviet era. Separatist violence ended in 1992 under Russia's mediation.

Representatives of both Russia and Moldova formally denied the allegations yesterday. Moscow's representative told the Strasbourg court that the Russian Federation was not involved in the arrest of the men and that Russian military forces did not play any role in the 1992 conflict.

Moldovan representative Vitalie Parlog reportedly asked the rights court to withdraw a memo that was submitted in the case last October by the previous government in Chisinau. Parlog is asking for changes to be made to the document in order to exonerate the Kremlin.

Parlog says the memo in its current form could have a negative impact on negotiations aimed at resolving the separatist dispute. The court has not yet ruled on whether it will keep the old document or accept the modifications proposed by Moldova's current pro-Russian government.

Last month, following his release from prison, Ilascu told RFE/RL that Transdniester's security chief, Vladimir Antyufeyev-Shevtso, had demanded a series of conditions in exchange for his freedom.

"[Antyufeyev-Shevtsov] explained to me the conditions under which I could be released: First, not to seek revenge. Second, not to lay hands on a weapon ever again. Third, not to take legal action against anyone, including those from Chisinau who contributed to my arrest. And fourth, to withdraw my suit from [the European Court of Human Rights in] Strasbourg. Of course, I said I will not observe any of these conditions."

The Transdniester region is a narrow stretch of land to the east of the Dniester River (Nistru, in Romanian). Transdniester effectively broke away from Moldova in 1990 -- a year before the then-Soviet republic declared independence from the USSR.

The breakaway region is not internationally recognized as a separate state. But it maintains border patrols, its own currency, and a presidency.

At the time of its break with Chisinau, many in the Transdniester region feared that Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania. Moldova was part of Romania until World War II.