In 1999, ten years after the bloody overthrow of the Ceaucescu dictatorship, Romania continued to inch toward stability, democracy, and a market economy. But the legacy of communism remained, impeding rights protection. Roma and homosexuals continued to face discrimination and sometimes violence and were rarely able to obtain legal redress. There were, as before, cases of excessive force by the police, and criminal defendants faced long periods in pre-trial detention. Journalists, especially those reporting on corruption, faced growing intimidation, as well as prosecution, under Romania's criminal libel statute.
As in previous years, discrimination against Roma in the penal system, education, employment, housing, and social services continued to be widespread, and many Roma sought asylum outside the country. Despite continuing international pressure, Romania did not provide redress to Roma victims of the 1993-94 pogroms that occurred in at least thirty villages. Though some of the perpetrators had been tried, the charges against them were less than the evidence would have suggested; many more were arrested and released without being charged. InJanuary, in one notable exception, five men were convicted of murder and civil rights violations, including property damage, for their roles in the 1993 attack on Roma in the town of Hadareni, in which three Roma were killed. Although the men were sentenced to up to six years in prison, a 1997 clemency law guaranteed that they would serve no time. Four other men were sentenced to up to two years in prison for property damage but were also to receive clemency. Hundreds of other participants in the violence were never detained, investigated, or charged. The Roma victims did not receive promised reparations from the government, and many continued to be homeless.
The police continued to use excessive force in making arrests and pursuing criminal suspects, and such cases rarely resulted in prosecution or disciplinary measures. The Romanian Helsinki Committee reported that in 90 percent of the police abuse cases it had monitored in the past six years, the Military Prosecutor's Office ruled that there should be "no indictment."
Aurel Uluiteanu, aged forty-four, was charged with disturbing public order and arrested at his house in Barcanesti on the morning of September 25. That afternoon, his parents were informed that he had died in police custody. Aurel's father reported that the death certificate indicated that Aurel died due to injuries sustained during a violent beating.
Cristian-Venus Dumitrescu, detained on September 9 in Craiova on suspicion of theft, was reportedly severely beaten during several hours of interrogation at the municipal police station. Family and friends who saw Cristian briefly at the police station reported that he had been "kicked in the liver," and that he was suicidal. Later on September 9, while being transferred to the police lock-up, Cristian reportedly threw himself from a third-story window. He died the next day from his injuries. The case is currently under investigation by the Craiova Territorial Military Prosecutor's Office.
In June, however, three police officers were sentenced to up to two years in prison for having tortured a ten-year-old boy in 1997. The boy had stolen ice cream and refused to reveal his home address to the officers, at which point they dangled him off a bridge by his feet, beat him with batons, and threatened him with a pistol.
Blatant discrimination against homosexuals continued in 1999, and the government failed to provide protection to those who came under attack. The government did not act on its promises to the Council of Europe and others to repeal the articles of the penal code that criminalize same-sex sexual conduct and outlaw "propaganda" supportive of the rights of homosexuals. President Constantinescu failed to pardon all persons jailed under these laws, as he had promised to do in January 1998, and the numbers of persons imprisoned under these articles remained unknown.
The Agency for Media Monitoring noted a sharp increase in mid-1999 in the number of attacks on Romanian journalists investigating corruption cases. For example, in September, three journalists investigating illegal business deals were the targets of violence. Marian Tudor, a journalist for the Journalul de Constanta , was attacked and thrown from a moving train on September 23 as he carried manuscripts to Bucharest for printing. Only his manuscripts, which were about an illicit local business deal, were taken by the assailants. Four days later, Lorena Boros and Dorina Tartaran of the Gazeta de Nord-Vest were attacked at a construction site they were investigating in Satu Mare. When they called the police for assistance, the police detained them instead. The head of the Satu Mare police department publicly apologized after a story on the incident was published.
The government also failed to rescind the prohibitions on "defamation of the nation" and "defamation of public officials" frequently used to harass and punish journalists who report governmental or bureaucratic corruption. Several journalists were arrested and tried during the year for reporting on corruption by local government officials. Cornel Sabou was sentenced to ten months of imprisonment for his article about a local judge who abused her position. President Constantinescu, under intense international pressure, pardoned him at the end of January. In September, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Dalbon v. Romania that the state had violated Ionel Dalbon's right to freedom of expression after he was sentenced to three months in prison and fined 300,000 Romanian lei (approximately U.S.$115) for publishing an article in 1992 alleging that the head of a state-owned agricultural company had committed fraud.
The status of non-traditional religious groups in Romania remained unclear and a source of concern. Under the current legal system, only a few, previously permitted religious groups have received official recognition, been granted government subsidies, and permitted to function as religions. Groups that were denied legal status were unable to own state-ceded property, operate independent schools, or receive state subsidies and tax exemptions. As of this writing, the draft law on religious affairs did not address these problems. Indeed, as currently drafted, religious groups are required to have at least 2,000 members (the size of the smallest currently recognized religious group) in order to register. Further, under the draft law, any religious group seeking recognition from the state would be required to disclose the names of its members, and anyone wishing to change his religious affiliation would be required to notify his former religious group and the state.
Romania also began to address abuses committed during the communist period. Marian Clita was sentenced to twenty years in prison for the 1959 murder of anti-communist dissident Gheorghe Ursu. Clita, who was in prison at the time of the murder for theft, shared a cell with Ursu and was apparently hired by the Securitate to kill Ursu. A law passed by the Chamber of Deputies in June will allow Romanians access to their secret police files and requires that the Romanian Information Service reveal if candidates for public office were members of the Securitate.
Defending Human Rights
Rights groups in Romania continued to work to bring attention to human rights abuses, particularly focusing on police brutality, prison conditions, and rights of minorities. Human Rights Watch was not aware of any attempts to hinder the work of these groups in 1999.
The Role of the International Community
In July, the Human Rights Committee commended Romania for progress in harmonizing legislation with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in strengthening judicial independence. It also welcomed the creation of an ombudsman and the Department for the Protection of National Minorities, particularly the National Office for Roma within that department. The committee expressed concern over a number of continuing human rights problems, including abandoned and homeless children, pre-trial detention practices, domestic violenceand unequal representation of women in public office, discrimination against Roma, prison conditions, and limits on free expression. Sir Nigel Rodley, United Nations special rapporteur on torture, visited Romania in late April, but at this writing his report had not been released.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media carried out its first assessment mission to Romania. Reporting to the Permanent Council in July, the representative praised progress over the past ten years, but expressed dismay that the Romanian parliament had recently voted down legislation that would have eliminated criminal libel provisions from its penal code.
Council of Europe
Although Romania continued in breach of its commitment to amend provisions of its penal code criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct, the Parliamentary Assembly did not restart its monitoring procedure on Romania. In March, the European Committee Against Racism and Intolerance issued its first periodic report on Romania, noting that "problems of intolerance and manifestations of racism persist, particularly as regards discrimination and violence against members of the Roma/Gypsy community."
In its November 1998 progress report on Romania's application for European Union (E.U.) membership, the European Commission concluded that Romania met the Copenhagen political criteria for membership (stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities). At the same time, the commission concluded that "much remains to be done in rooting out corruption, improving the working of the courts and protecting individual liberties and the rights of the Roma." At this writing, it appeared likely that Romania would by the end of the year be included in an enlarged group of states in active negotiations for membership. Romania joined the E.U.-led Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, which promised additional resources and assistance for its E.U. accession effort.
Romania garnered substantial political and economic support from the United States in exchange for its support of the NATO bombing in Kosovo, notwithstanding its strong historical ties to Serbia. It benefited from an estimated $5 million in U.S. military training and financing aimed at improving compatibility with NATO, as well as an estimated $21 million for economic development.