Human Rights Developments
In 1991, Romania continued to struggle with the legacy of its totalitarian past. Violent incidents persisted, especially against Romania's large ethnic minorities, although the violence received less attention in the Western press than in 1990, creating the misleading impression that the human rights situation was improving. In fact, significant ongoing human rights violations have been compounded by continuing political and economic instability, which has put in jeopardy the human rights gains made since the revolution.
The Romanian police in 1991 responded with excessive force and violence to demonstrators and appeared to target journalists in particular. On January 11, during a large demonstration in the center of Bucharest, ten journalists covering the demonstration were beaten by the police. The next day, nine journalists standing in front of the National Theater and apparently separate from the demonstrators were seriously beaten by the police after they showed their press identification cards. Andre Iliescu, a journalist for Agence France-Presse, was hospitalized for injuries he sustained at the hands of the police. Four journalists were beaten by the police on January 13 under similar circumstances. On February 4, Minister of Interior Doru Viorel Ursu acknowledged that excessive force had been used by the police during the demonstrations. Five individuals responsible for the violence were removed from the police force. However, no officer was prosecuted for this excessive use of force.
In general, members of groups critical of the Romanian government continue to be the targets of threats and intimidation. During 1991, Helsinki Watch obtained numerous reports from journalists and opposition activists who had received threatening telephone calls and letters. Individuals working directly with Helsinki Watch received threatening calls referring to specific Helsinki Watch projects in Romania. Helsinki Watch's correspondence to Romania was tampered with on several occasions during the year. Many other Romanians reported that their mail was opened regularly. Some believe, but cannot prove, that their telephones are tapped. Virgil Magureanu, director of the Romanian Information Service (RIS), acknowledged to Parliament in late 1990 that unidentified parties were continuing to wiretap telephones and open correspondence. Helsinki Watch has received no information that any individual has been investigated and prosecuted for illegal surveillance.
Intimidation occasionally became violent, as several well-known members of the opposition discovered. For example, on January 3, Banu Radulescu, editor-in-chief of the independent journal Memoria, was attacked by two men who hit him in the mouth and kicked him after he fell to the ground. Although he dropped his bag, neither assailant tried to steal it. Ten days before the attack, Radulescu had received two threatening telephone calls following a newspaper announcement that the first issue of Memoria would appear shortly. The attack occurred after that issue was released.
Similarly, Petru Cretia, a professor and a member of the Group for Social Dialogue, was attacked on the street on February 12 by unidentified men after receiving several threatening telephone calls to his house. The circumstances of the attack were similar to the Radulescu case. There was no attempt to steal Cretia's belongings.
It is difficult to determine which groups or individuals are behind efforts to intimidate the Romanian opposition. Such attacks and threats are by their nature difficult to document and prove. However, most opposition leaders believe the intimidation is the work of former Securitate members who may have ties to individuals within the reorganized security police, the Romanian Information Service.
Substantial evidence has emerged that former Securitate agents participated in violent events during 1990 and 1991. For example, some Romanians reported that they were able to identify former Securitate officers among the miners rampaging through Bucharest in June 1990, an incident which is described below. However, the Romanian government continues to ignore calls for a public investigation into the role played by the Securitate in Romanian society.
In May 1991, journalists discovered several thousand partially shredded Securitate documents that had been buried near the town of Berevoiesti in mid-1990. The Romanian Information Service admitted that its officers had buried the files but claimed that this was done without the knowledge of RIS head Magureanu. Western and Romanian journalists reported that the files contain information on the Securitate's surveillance of the opposition after the 1989 revolution. State prosecutors announced in late May that they had begun an investigation into the burial, but no indictment has resulted.
The violent events in Bucharest of June 1990 continued to reverberate in 1991. President Ion Iliescu responded to violent anti-government demonstrations on June 13, 1990, by appealing for assistance, which led to a violent rampage by miners on June 14 and 15. Thousands of miners terrorized opposition groups and newspapers, attacked opposition party headquarters and members, assaulted Gypsies, and committed random acts of violence against other innocent citizens.
The trials of those arrested for the June 1990 anti-government violence continued into the spring of 1991. From the outset, there were irregularities in the handling of these cases. In many circumstances, arrest warrants were not issued until a week after individuals were detained, and detainees were denied their right to immediate access to counsel. What is more, many of those arrested were seized by miners, rather than legitimate police forces. The evidence of criminal conduct was often weak.
By contrast, no miner was tried for the violent rampage through Bucharest. Nor was any soldier or police officer prosecuted for joining in the violence. No investigation was conducted into the role of former and current security police in the June events.
The majority of defendants charged in connection with the anti-government riots were either acquitted or given suspended sentences.7 Nevertheless, the trials have had a chilling effect on opposition activity, especially for those who lack international stature. Although no formal restrictions were placed on the former detainees' activities, the authorities advised all of them on their release not to attend opposition demonstrations or political meetings. Several have complained that uniformed police continue to visit their families and their neighbors. Many lost their employment and are having difficulty finding new jobs, possibly because of discrimination by pro-government factory directors against those involved in the anti-government demonstrations.
In mid-January 1991, the parliamentary commission established to investigate the June 1990 violence issued majority and minority findings. Although the commission left many important questions unanswered, one conclusion is inescapable: the Romanian government, including President Iliescu, must accept responsibility for the violence by the miners. The majority report presents unrefuted evidence that prior to the events the government considered the use of extralegal force, and neither President Iliescu nor former Prime Minister Roman registered opposition. The report also presents evidence that high-level members of the government, including Secretary of State Adrian Sirbu, who is an assistant to the prime minister, and the minister of transportation were involved in organizing trains for the miners to travel to Bucharest.
The government's failure to prosecute those responsible for the June 1990 miners' rampage had an ironic effect in September 1991, when miners went to Bucharest to protest the government's policies. The miners fire-bombed government buildings, rioted through the streets, and forced the government of Petre Roman to resign. A new prime minister, Teodor Stolojan, was appointed on October 1 and, on October 16, the Romanian Parliament approved a new cabinet, including representatives of the National Liberal Party, a traditional democracy party. Helsinki Watch received information that the Prosecutor General's Office was investigating approximately eighty people for their role in the September violence. However, by year's end no one had been arrested for taking part in the violence.
Violent attacks on Gypsies and the central government's utter failure to respond was another serious human rights problem in Romania in 1991. The Ethnic Federation of Roma, a federation of Gypsy organizations, estimates that over one hundred Gypsy homes were burned and one Gypsy killed in at least eight separate attacks in 1991. Since the 1989 revolution, over 250 Gypsy homes are estimated to have been burned and five Gypsies killed in at least twenty separate attacks.
In Bolintin Deal, for example, following the stabbing death of a Romanian villager by a Gypsy, villagers burned twenty-two Gypsy homes and destroyed another five on April 7. Helsinki Watch received eyewitness reports that the mayor and local priest were direct instigators of the arson attack. There is also substantial evidence that the mayor knew of the plan to burn the Gypsies' houses several hours before the attack occurred and, while he warned the Gypsies to flee, he did nothing to protect their property.
The central government has abdicated all responsibility for protecting the rights of Gypsies, despite a need for intervention. In Bolintin Deal, as in every other incident investigated by Helsinki Watch, the local police did nothing to protect the homes and property of Gypsy citizens. Nor have local authorities taken any steps to guarantee the safety of Gypsies who want to rebuild their homes. Several local leaders expressed a desire to prevent Gypsies from ever returning to their villages. Other local authorities implied that they were afraid to take a stronger stand in support of Gypsies because of the intense anti-Gypsy sentiment among Romanian villagers.
None of the various acts of vigilante violence against Gypsies has been punished. Helsinki Watch did not learn of a single Romanian villager who had been arrested or tried for attacks on Gypsy communities. Villagers' increasing confidence that they will not be held accountable for violence against Gypsies creates an atmosphere that only fosters further attacks.
During 1991, tensions continued to mount between the ethnic Hungarian minority and Romanian majority. Anti-Hungarian sentiment was prevalent in the Romanian press and broadcasting media. Human rights groups in Romania reported that Hungarian defendants were increasingly unable to obtain a fair trial, especially in areas of high ethnic tension such as Tirgu Mures, where violence erupted in 1990 between ethnic Hungarians and Romanians. Helsinki Watch also received reports from lawyers that their ethnic Hungarian clients were beaten and mishandled by the police solely because they were speaking Hungarian within hearing distance of police officers.
Government censorship of the press has been largely eradicated in Romania. Newspapers critical of the government flourish without government interference. However, the press continues to encounter serious economic difficulties due to problems of distribution and a lack of affordable paper and printing technology. On March 29, the Romanian government announced a sharp increase in the cost of newsprint. This was followed, on April 27, with a fifty percent increase in the fee charged for distributing newspapers. Opposition newspapers have accused the government of economic censorship by granting subsidies to the pro-government press that ensure its access to newsprint and printing technology. The increased costs have forced many independent newspapers and journals out of business, but the increases appear to have had relatively little effect on the pro-government press.
The Romanian Television, which is decidedly pro-government in tone, is the only television station with national broadcasting ability. Its political bias continued to be a focus of protest and controversy in 1991. In early February, its leadership announced a cut in broadcasting hours for financial reasons. However, instead of cutting programming across the board, the leadership reduced the air time for only opposition and minority programming. In addition, a portion of the Hungarian-language programming was transferred to a second channel, which is not received in Transylvania where the largest segments of the Hungarian minority live.
This reduction of minority programming underscored once again the necessity of establishing an independent television station in Romania. On September 11, after much delay, the Society for an Independent Television received authorization to broadcast one hour per day, four days a week, on Romanian Television. Several independent local television stations with limited broadcast range were also established in 1991. However, an independent national television station is still a distant goal.
In February, for the second time in the course of six months, the Romanian government introduced a draft press law which would have severely restricted freedom of the press. The draft, which had been approved by Prime Minister Petre Roman, provided, "Defamation in the media of the President of Romania, the judicial bodies, the courts, the government, the army, or any other public authority is punishable by a prison term of two to five years or a fine of between 200,000 lei and 500,000 lei [the equivalent of approximately $700 to $1,900]." After international and domestic protests, the government withdrew the draft law on March 19.
The Romanian Constituent Assembly completed its work on a draft constitution on July 9. On November 22, the Romanian Parliament approved the new constitution by a vote of 414 in favor, 95 against and 1 abstention, with the main opposition parties opposing the charter. A referendum was held on December 8 to approve the charter, amid protests by opposition political leaders that there had not been enough time for preparation. Some political leaders also protested that a referendum had not been called on whether Romania should have a republican or monarchial form of government. The Constitution is a considerable improvement over previous versions. In most respects it guarantees individual freedoms, but it weakens this protection by adding unnecessary and overly broad exceptions. For example, Article 23(4) provides that a person cannot be kept under arrest for more than thirty days, and adds that "an extension of the period of confinement shall be approved only by a court of law." But no limitation is set on the number of extensions that the court may grant or the circumstances under which an extension is permitted. Article 27 guarantees the inviolability of one's domicile and place of residence, but it also contains an extensive list of exceptions, including for any "defense against a common danger."
Legislative efforts to restrict intelligence gathering and surveillance have been inadequate. For example, while the Law on National Security requires a warrant from the prosecutor's office before telephones or mail can be monitored, the grounds for such a warrant are very broad. For example, telephones or mail can be monitored if there is a "threat to national security," defined to include "initiating, organizing, committing or supporting in any way, totalitarian acts, of a communist, legionnaire or fascist, racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist, or separatist type." Furthermore, the law provides that the Ministries of Interior, Justice and Defense may conduct their own intelligence gathering, without defining the scope of these activities. Such legislation has obvious potential for abuse, particularly given Romania's history of suffering at the hands of an unrestrained security police.
On September 4, the Romanian Parliament considered a bill which would ban public demonstrations that, among other things, propagate totalitarian, fascist or chauvinistic ideas or "any other action running counter to national security, infringement on public order, security or morals, on civic rights and liberties or endangering of citizens' health." The draft law is troubling because it would prohibit citizens from organizing peaceful demonstrations solely because of the ideas being espoused, thus restricting a whole range of speech that is protected under international law.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights organizations were not formally barred from operating in Romania during 1991. These groups, including Helsinki Watch, were able to maintain staffs in Romania for extended periods without open government interference. Fact-finding missions were conducted by international and Romanian human rights monitors. Nevertheless, as discussed above, human rights leaders received threatening telephone calls and letters in 1991. Individuals working with Helsinki Watch were threatened over the telephone to stop working on issues concerning minority rights. The Bucharest-based League for Human Rights continued to receive death threats in the mail and over the telephone.
In many respects the Bush Administration has supported the cause of human rights in Romania by keeping pressure on the Romanian government to improve its human rights record. Relations between the Bush Administration and the Romanian government cooled decidedly after the miners' rampage in June 1990 and remained icy until the middle of 1991. On several occasions in early 1991, the Bush Administration publicly expressed serious reservations about the human rights record of the Romanian government. For example, on March 13, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the U.S. government had questioned the necessity of a press law in Romania, and added that the Bush Administration was concerned about recent statements by Romanian officials that appeared designed to intimidate the independent press. Interpreted by Romanian and foreign journalists as a symbolic gesture, Vice President Dan Quayle did not visit Romania during his tour of Eastern Europe in early June.
Secretary of State James Baker received Prime Minister Petre Roman in Washington on April 16. During a press conference following the meeting, Secretary Baker announced that he had used the occasion "to encourage the Romanian government in [its] efforts toward reform and the efforts that [it is] making toward political pluralism and to establishing a free market economic system."
However, the Bush Administration has failed to raise publicly the violent attacks against the Gypsy minority in Romania. Given the extent of the violence and the frequency of its occurrence, this omission is troubling. The violence against Gypsies, like the miners' violence in June 1990 and September 1991, is in part a direct consequence of the Romanian government's inability or unwillingness to apply the law equally to all segments of society.
As the year progressed, relations between the two countries gradually improved and contacts increased. Visits to Romania in early July by U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Thomas Pickering and Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Richard Schifter seemed to indicate a thaw in U.S.-Romanian relations. During his visit, Secretary Schifter met with President Iliescu and later stated, "I can say that America will change its attitude towards Romania in the very near future."
The Romanian government continued to raise the question of Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status. By late July, Administration officials were beginning to hint that Romania could expect to receive MFN status in the near future. During a visit to Bucharest on July 30, John Robson, U.S. deputy secretary of the Treasury, stated, "I'm optimistic that the restrictions can be waived in a matter of weeks, not months." Finally, on October 28, representatives from the United States and Romania signed a new commercial agreement in Washington granting Romania MFN status. The agreement must still be ratified to take effect.
The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest has maintained contact with a wide range of Romanian citizens and has worked to support human rights groups and civil society. U.S. financial assistance to Romania has been directed largely to support democratic institutions and political pluralism. In August, the U.S. Information Agency sponsored a workshop in Romania which brought together American and Romanian judges to discuss freedom of the press, criminal procedure and other legal issues. Two lawyers arrived in Bucharest in mid-October under the auspices of the State Department to spend a year working with local lawyers and judges. The National Democratic and Republican Institutes actively worked with Romanian political parties in preparation for the constitutional referendum and the elections now scheduled for early 1992.
In fiscal year 1991, the United States appropriated $40 million worth of food assistance and $1.5 million for assistance to institutionalized children in Romania. Fourteen Peace Corp volunteers also serve in Romanian orphanages.
The Policy of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe has played a positive role in supporting respect for human rights in Romania and has exhibited a commitment to continued monitoring of human rights issues. Throughout 1990, the Romanian government sought observer status in the Council but consideration of the application was delayed due to Romania's poor record on human rights. In June 1990, the Council representatives reported that they had outlined to the Romanian government the Council's human rights concerns. Members of the Council paid several visits to Romania during 1990. According to statements made by Council envoys in Bucharest, they continued to raise human rights issues with the government.
In January 1991, the Romanian parliamentary commission investigating the June 1990 events released its findings, satisfying one of the Council's conditions for considering Romania's application. On February 1, the Council granted Romania observer status but amended its rules to provide for periodic review of human rights developments in Romania. As one Council member reported, members were aware that "Romania was not up to the Council's mark when it came to democratic reform and the implementation of human rights."8
The Work of Helsinki Watch
Helsinki Watch closely monitored human rights developments in Romania during 1991. Helsinki Watch sent four missions to Romania during the year and stationed a staff member in the country for extended periods.
Helsinki Watch began the year by reviewing the human rights situation in Romania one year after the revolution. A report entitled Since the Revolution was issued in March 1991. It concluded that the human rights situation in Romania did not meet the high expectations that existed after the violent overthrow of the Ceausescu government and that Romanians continued to live in fear that they might lose their fragile freedoms. The report documented numerous violent events during 1990, and criticized the Romanian government's failure to seek accountability for gross human rights abuses committed under the Ceausescu government and its failure to clarify the status of former Securitate members.
Two Helsinki Watch representatives visited Romania during February and March 1991 to follow up on the aftermath to the violent events of June 1990 and the parliamentary commission's report on that violence. In May, Helsinki Watch issued a newsletter entitled Aftermath to the June Violence, which provided additional testimony on the treatment in detention of those who had been arrested in June. The newsletter criticized the Romanian government for having failed to investigate the role of the police and army, as well as the many acts of violence committed during the rampage by miners and unidentified people in plainclothes.
Helsinki Watch focused much of its efforts in 1991 on the treatment of Gypsies in Romania. In May and July, Helsinki Watch conducted missions to Romania to interview Gypsies who had been victims of violent attacks. Helsinki Watch representatives also met with government officials at the local and national level, as well as with police and parliamentarians responsible for minority issues. In October, Helsinki Watch issued Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Persecution of Gypsies in Romania. The report concluded that violent attacks against the homes and persons of Gypsies, and the failure of the Romanian authorities to provide protection against such violence, are a serious human rights concern. Helsinki Watch reported that police and local officials played a questionable role in many of the attacks and apparently participated in several attacks by calling villagers together and urging them on. Helsinki Watch called on the Romanian government to guarantee the security of all persons from bodily harm regardless of ethnic origin, including Gypsies who want to return to their villages and rebuild their homes. Helsinki Watch also called on the Romanian authorities to conduct an investigation into the official failure to protect Gypsies under attack and into each incidence of violence against the Gypsy community.
In October, Helsinki Watch sent a mission to investigate conditions in Romania's prisons. Representatives visited eight prisons, a reform school for juveniles, and several police lock-ups. They also met with representatives from the Ministry of Justice and members of the Directorate of Prisons. In addition, they conducted interviews with lawyers, current and former inmates, and human rights groups monitoring prison conditions in Romania. A report on the mission's findings will be issued in early 1992.
A Helsinki Watch staff person was in Romania for extended periods during 1991, to monitor human rights developments firsthand and to keep in regular contact with local human rights organizations, as well as minority rights groups and civic associations. Helsinki Watch representatives raised human rights concerns during numerous meetings with Romanian government officials. Helsinki Watch reports were discussed in the Romanian media, and interviews with Helsinki Watch representatives were broadcast in Romania. Helsinki Watch's office in Bucharest also tried to facilitate the dissemination of information on human rights abuses by working with other international organizations interested in Romania. In December, Helsinki Watch honored Nicolae Gheorghe, a sociologist and Gypsy leader from Romania, at its annual events honoring human rights monitors from various parts of the world.
On January 28, 1991, six defendants were acquitted and five given suspended sentences in the "File 2" trial. On April 15, thirteen defendants were acquitted, eleven were given suspended sentences, three were sentenced to "mandatory work" for periods ranging from two years to two years and eight months, and one who had a previous record was given a prison sentence.
Radio Free Europe, February 22, 1991.