Human Rights Developments
The Romanian government took steps to improve Romania's human rights record during 1997, reflecting newly-elected President Emil Constantinescu's electoral promise to make human rights a priority for his administration. However, while progress was made in addressing the concerns of the ethnic Hungarian minority, serious human rights abuses, especially against Roma, homosexuals and prisoners, persisted, and accountability for police ill-treatment and excessive use of force remained rare.
On a positive note, the government made an effort to improve the status of the ethnic Hungarian minority. Its new coalition government is the first since World War I to include an ethnic Hungarian party; additionally, the government appointed three Hungarian prefects and in July allowed a Hungarian consulate to be opened in Cluj, satisfying several long-held demands of the Hungarian minority. However, the Hungarian flag on the front of the consulate was stolen soon after it opened and, when the consulate replaced the flag, Mayor Gheorghe Funar himself arrived with a crane to remove it, announcing that he would make the thieves honorary citizens of Cluj.
The Roma minority continued to face significant discrimination and ill-treatment in 1997, including high levels of police brutality. Although to a lesser extent than in previous years, Roma villages continued to be attacked by their Romanian neighbors, and the state's response remained inadequate. On January 16-17, 1997, for example, between fifty and one hundred ethnic Romanians, reportedly armed with pistols and shotguns, chased Roma out of the town of Tanganu near Bucharest and vandalized their homes. Although three individuals were arrested in connection with the attack, no charges were filed against them, and they were soon released. Two police officers who allegedly did nothing to halt the violence were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Contrary to the Romanian government's assertion that it swiftly and even-handedly responded to racially motivated attacks on Roma, there was little evidence in 1997 of a more aggressive effort by the government to prosecute police or private individuals accused of committing such crimes. As in previous years, police officers or individuals accused of ill-treating Roma were rarely charged with a crime. In the few cases where charges were brought, the cases dragged on in the judicial system.
Article 200 of Romania's penal code, which previously outlawed all homosexual acts, was amended slightly in September 1996 to punish only homosexual acts "committed in public, or which cause public scandal." However, the vague wording of the amended article remained of concern in 1997 because private homosexual conduct that becomes publicly known may still be prosecuted. In a number of cases reported during 1997, such "private" conduct was made public by a privateinformant, an individual who witnessed or even participated in a homosexual act and then gave this information to the state. The vague wording of article 200, which criminalizes homosexual conduct that "incit[es] or encourag[es] . . . sexual relations between persons of the same sex, along with propaganda or association or any act of proselytism committed in the same scope," may also be employed to limit expression, assembly, and association.
Homosexuals also continued to be the victims of widespread police brutality. In a case from June in which three men from Constanta were arrested on charges of having sex in a deserted storage cabin, all three complained of being beaten by civil guards and by a major in the municipal police. One of the three men has not been allowed to see his family since the time of his arrest; one man also said that, under threat of further beatings, he was coerced into signing three statements-the contents of which were unknown to him. Gay men also reported that police often waited in known "cruising areas" in order to extort money in return for not arresting them.
There continued to be a lack of accountability for law enforcement officials accused of using excessive force. In one such case, a policeman who was accused of the 1994 murder of Ioan Rus was finally brought to trial after international organizations protested the early closure of the murder investigation. He was acquitted in December 1996 after trial by a military tribunal. This acquittal is currently under appeal.
From February 7-11, 1997, prison inmates in nine Romanian cities went on a hunger strike to protest poor conditions within the prisons. For the most part the protests were peaceful, but some violence did erupt.
The Right To Monitor
There were no reported violations of the right to monitor.
The Role of the
In 1997, Romania pressed to be included in the first round of NATO expansion and to begin talks with the European Union about future membership. Romania was not successful on either count during the year. However, Romania's goal of integration with Western Europe gave European governments and institutions significant leverage to influence human rights developments. The European Commission, for example, praised Romania for the strides it was making, but underscored the necessity for it to improve its treatment of the Roma minority before it would be ready to begin membership talks with the European Union. On April 29, 1997, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly announced that Romania "honored the most important obligations" with regard to human rights and that it would end its special monitoring of Romania. It did warn, however, that monitoring would be resumed if the Romanian government did not fulfill its pledges to amend the penal code provisions related to homosexuality and to continue to fight discrimination.
Romania also improved its relations with two of its neighbors, Hungary and the Ukraine. A friendship treaty was signed last year between Hungary and Romania, which included significant provisions for the protection of minorities. On July 23, 1997, Hungary was allowed to open a consulate in Cluj. There were numerous visits of high ranking officials between Romania and Hungary including visits between the prime ministers and presidents of both countries, which showed the desire of each country's government to have friendly relations.
In July 1997, the United States said that Romania needed to improve its human rights record in order to join NATO. The United States recognized the important steps Romania had made in the field of human rights and said that if Romania's record continued to improve, it would be selected in the next NATO expansion. The U.S. State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996 was largely accurate in its portrayal of the human rights situation in Romania.
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