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Human Rights Developments

In 1992, Romania experienced none of the violence or political instability that had plagued the country during the first two years following the revolution. Both local and national elections were held in what observers viewed as a generally free and fair manner. The print media flourished, with a wide range of political views expressed. Human rights and election monitoring organizations, as well asa wide variety of professional and public interest associations, contributed to a strengthening of civil society. Nevertheless, Romania continued to confront human rights abuses, especially by local government officials and police, and to be hampered in the transition to democracy by weak judicial and governmental institutions. In addition, ethnic minorities continued to suffer discrimination.

On February 9, local elections were held in Romania for the first time since the 1989 revolution. Only minor irregularities were reported on election day, in contrast to the national elections in May 1990, when voters were subjected to intimidation, harassment and sometimes physical violence. Democratic opposition candidates won 251 mayoral and city council races, running especially strong in Bucharest and other major cities. However, right-wing nationalist candidates who have since taken numerous steps violating citizens rights to assembly and free expression were elected in Cluj, Baia Mare and Buzau.

Although the balloting took place in a peaceful and orderly manner, the Hungarian candidate for mayor in Tîrgu Mureş was barred from running by a local court decision that was clearly illegal and motivated by anti-Hungarian sentiment. The candidacy of Istvan Kiraly, who was running for mayor for the Democratic Union of Hungarians from Romania (udmr), was contested by seven ethnic Romanians who alleged that he had been involved in the March 1990 violence in Tîrgu Mureş. The court justified its decision, in part, on its findings that a) Kiraly "began the electoral campaign by attacking rival political formations, by exhibiting an attitude of partiality toward his ethnic Hungarian colleagues, inciting an anti-Romanian attitude, and thereby proving that he is not a reliable citizen with regard to all segments of the population;" b) Kiraly spoke at a session of the Executive Board of the Municipal Council of the National Union of Tîrgu Mureş on April 6, 1990, urging the exclusive use of the Hungarian language in the area, including the use of Hungarian for town names, street signs and store names; and c) Kiraly prepared a map of Mureş county with all names in Hungarian and permanently posted the map at the udmr headquarters in Tîrgu Mureş, and he entered only the Hungarian names of all cities in Mureş into a computer. Such findings, even if factually grounded, cannot justify disqualifying Kiraly, because all reflect no more than the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

The general success of the local elections was due, in large part, to the tireless efforts of over 7,000 domestic election observers. After these elections, the parliament passed a law that placed severe restrictions on the activities of domestic observers. For example, local election boards were given discretion to dismiss domestic observers, and only one observer was allowed at each polling place.

The national and presidential elections, held on September 27, were conducted without incident, according to international and national observers. However, Romania's electoral commission called for a recount on September 30, after reporting that over 3.6 million votes had been declared void. The Democratic Convention, the main opposition alliance, voiced concern that the counting procedure was inaccurate.

On October 4, the president of the Constitutional Court released the final results of the election: President Ion Iliescu won 47.34 percent of the vote, followed by Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention with 31.24 percent. Because no candidate obtained a majority, a runoff for the presidency was held on October 11. Iliescu defeated Constantinescu with 61.4 percent of the vote.

Helsinki Watch received reports that there were at least four attacks on Gypsies in Romania during 1992. In one instance, on July 3, approximately 50 masked and uniformed persons who identified themselves as soldiers entered Rahova Square, beat Gypsies and destroyed Gypsy businesses near the square. The group then proceeded to a restaurant on the corner of Calea Rahova and Strada Margeanului where they damaged the restaurant and beat Gypsies sitting on the sidewalk. Although formal complaints were filed with the police and the Office of the Prosecutor General, no individuals have yet been charged in the case.

Tensions between ethnic Romanians and ethnic Hungarians remained high throughout 1992, and increasing nationalism and xenophobia present a serious obstacle to respect for human rights. The right-wing mayor of Cluj, Gheorghe Funar, banned the use of Hungarian and bilingual signs and fined ethnic Hungarians for posting Hungarian signs in their businesses. In addition, on April 28, Funar issued an executive order requiring that anyone wishing to hold ameeting notify the town hall at least three days in advance, and provide the names of the organizers and participants, the goal of the meeting, and its location and duration. During 1992, Funar prevented several organizations perceived as supportive of the Hungarian minority's demands for greater rights from holding meetings in Cluj. For example, on April 24, the mayor cancelled a "Conference on Local Administration" organized by members of a Dutch foundation and the udmr. Similarly, a board meeting of the Soros Foundation was allowed to take place only with the presence of "observers" from the mayor's office.

On February 12, the Romanian parliament passed the Law on the Organization and Operation of the Romanian Intelligence Service which provides that the archives of the former Securitate are to remain sealed for forty years. However, since then selective portions of the files have been leaked to the public, as they had been prior to the passage of the law. The files were used especially against government opponents, including the opposition press. In mid-April, according to Radio Free Europe, documents from the files on two journalists who were known for their criticism of the government and the secret police were sent to the press and foreign embassies in Bucharest.

Throughout 1992, Romanian human rights organizations, as well as the Association of Former Political Prisoners, called for a "trial of communism." However, there was no indication that substantial progress had been made in the investigation and prosecution of individuals responsible for serious abuses during the communist era. On April 20, the Romanian Supreme Court did reinstate prison terms ranging from eight to sixteen years for 21 former Communist Party officials accused of mass killings during the revolution in December 1989. The 21 had been acquitted by a lower court.

Detainees in police stations and lock-ups report a consistent pattern of abuse and physical mistreatment, as well as the absolute failure by the police to inform detainees of their due process rights as now required by Romanian law. Helsinki Watch has received numerous reports of physical abuse by police during the initial interrogation period. For example, Helsinki Watch interviewed detainees who reported that they had been beaten with rubber and wooden clubs, severely beaten while tied to a stick suspended between two tables, and jumped on after being rolled up in a carpet. Physical restraints such as leg irons and handcuffs continue to be used as means of punishment.

Although the Code of Penal Procedure guarantees a defendant access to a lawyer before any statement is taken and requires that the defendant be informed of that right, current and former prisoners report a systematic disregard of these guarantees. Most detainees do not see a lawyer before they are interrogated by the police and their statements are taken without counsel present, even when they request that a lawyer be present. Most detainees report that they were not informed of the right to see a lawyer even after several months of confinement.

Prison conditions in Romania reflect decades of neglect, as well as the disastrous economic situation in the country. Overcrowding makes it difficult to separate different categories of prisoners, or to provide each prisoner with his or her own bed. As in the police stations and lock-ups, methods of restraint such as handcuffs and leg irons continue to be used for very long periods solely as a form of punishment. Isolation cells are frequently used for punishment of relatively minor breaches of internal prison rules. There is also frequent use of such degrading treatment as shaving inmates' heads and requiring inmates to stand with their faces to the wall in the presence of visitors.

Helsinki Watch continued to receive reports of efforts by the government to restrict and intimidate journalists. For example, on April 9, the credentials of Gilda Lazar to report on activities of the President's Office were withdrawn. The President's Office criticized Lazar for her "permanently hostile and defiant attitude." In addition, journalists were occasionally threatened with criminal prosecution for libel for their critical comments about government figures.

The Right to Monitor

Helsinki Watch is unaware of any instance in which human rights groups or other independent human rights monitors have been hindered in their work by the Romanian government.

U.S. Policy

By 1992, the Bush administration had become convinced that Romania was makingprogress toward respect for human rights, and increased its efforts to reward Romania for its progress. Several high-level meetings were held between the U.S. and Romanian governments during the year. State Department reports indicated that human rights concerns were raised during these meetings, especially in the context of restoring Most Favored Nation (mfn) trade status to Romania.

In June, the Bush administration submitted a bilateral trade agreement to Congress that would restore mfn status to Romania. However, Congress postponed consideration of the trade agreement to await the results of the national elections in September.

On September 29, after the first round of the national elections, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs Thomas Niles testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East:

Enormous progress has been made in Romania, admittedly starting from a relatively low level beginning in December 1989 with the death of the dictator Ceausescu.

I would not today claim, nor would I think representatives of Romania claim, that a perfect situation has been achieved or that all levels of the country, for example, the administration, behaves in a way consistent with the guarantees of religious freedom and the absence of ethnic persecution that are in the constitution....

We have had problems with the activities of the mayor of Cluj, Funar, who was a presidential candidate....But I would argue, Congressman, that the trends in Romania are in the right direction, and that Romania has conducted elections which are judged by foreign observers, including those of the U.S., as being free and fair. And on that basis, it would be appropriate for the United States to continue the process of developing our relationship with this new Romania, and to give mfn treatment.

On September 30, Congress voted against ratification of the Romanian-American Trade Accord granting mfn trade status to Romania, in part because of continued concerns about the treatment of ethnic minorities in Romania and the lack of respect for Romania's own constitutional principles at the local level.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

At the end of 1991, Helsinki Watch conducted an investigation of conditions in Romania's prisons. A report entitled Prison Conditions in Romania, issued in June, concluded that although the Ministry of Justice and the Directorate of Prisons appeared to be committed to modernizing and humanizing the prisons, many aspects of the law, including the prohibition of the use of physical restraints as a form of punishment, and the ban on humiliating treatment such as shaving detainees' heads and forcing them to face the wall in the presence of prison personnel or visitors, are simply not implemented. Helsinki Watch recommended that, among other things, the Ministry of Justice and the Directorate of Prisons issue new directives to all prison directors making clear exactly what rules and regulations are currently in effect. Such directives should specify that the failure to implement current rules and regulations will result in disciplinary action and possible termination of employment. Specifically, all prison directors should be informed that no restrictions on food are allowed, physical restraints prohibited, and humiliating practices such as shaving heads and forcing prisoners to stand with their faces to the wall are not allowed. Helsinki Watch also recommended that confidential communications with a lawyer be guaranteed and that there be no restriction on a prisoner's right to discuss judicial issues, mistreatment or prison conditions.

On February 5, Helsinki Watch sent a letter to President Iliescu expressing concern that the ethnic Hungarian candidate for mayor in the town of Tîrgu Mureş had been disqualified by the local court. Helsinki Watch criticized the court's decision:

Instead of strictly applying the law to this case, the Tîrgu Mureş court appears to have engaged in a review of Mr. Kiraly's opinionsand, because of his allegedly pro-Hungarian views, appears to have determined that it did not find him a worthy candidate for public office. ...This is not a proper role for the judiciary. It should be left to the electorate to determine whether Mr. Kiraly is worthy of being mayor. That is the essence of the democratic process. Unfortunately, that process has been thwarted in this case.

Helsinki Watch sent a mission to Romania in July to investigate the treatment of detainees in police lock-ups. A newsletter was issued in November criticizing, among other things, the cramped and dirty cells in many facilities, the lack of ventilation, the detainees' infrequent opportunity to exercise, and the continued use of physical restraints as a means of punishment. During the mission, Helsinki Watch also received reports of frequent police beatings during interrogation, as well as the almost complete isolation of detainees from their families and legal representatives during the early stages of the investigation.

In July, Helsinki Watch representatives also conducted a follow-up investigation into conditions in Romanian orphanages. A newsletter with the mission's findings was released in December.

Throughout 1992, Helsinki Watch monitored the treatment of minorities in Romania. A Helsinki Watch representative was in Romania in November to investigate the treatment of Hungarians. A report will be issued in early 1993.

On September 24, Helsinki Watch sent a letter to President Iliescu expressing concern about reports that Romania and Germany had entered into a treaty providing for the deportation of Romanians whose political asylum applications in Germany had been rejected, although Helsinki Watch has documented significant discrimination and mistreatment of Gypsies in Romania. This treaty was viewed by refugee associations and the press as targeting Romanian Gypsies who make up 60 to 70 percent of the Romanian asylum population in Germany, and was seen as a discriminatory measure to deport the minority group that is most hated and least protected of all those seeking asylum in Germany. Helsinki Watch stated:

Many of the Gypsies who are seeking political asylum in Germany fled Romania to escape violent mob attacks, deep-rooted prejudice and discrimination. Should these individuals be returned to Romania, Helsinki Watch urges you, as the President of Romania, to take every measure necessary to guarantee their safety....

Helsinki Watch will continue to monitor the treatment of Gypsies in Romania and will make a special effort to monitor the treatment and living conditions of those being returned from Germany.

During November, Helsinki Watch also conducted a follow-up investigation of the treatment of Gypsies, focusing especially on efforts to investigate and prosecute those involved in attacks on Gypsy villages since 1990. A newsletter on the mission's findings will be issued in early 1993.

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